Five Ways to Make F&B More Fun

Here are tips that meeting planners can use to make mealtimes more interactive and experiential for attendees

Forget what your mama told you: You should, in fact, play with your food. Especially at meetings and events, where food and beverage is an ideal medium through which to satisfy attendees' appetite for interactive learning and hands-on experiences — literally and figuratively. Here are a few signature ways to serve up the F&B fun:

1. Turn it into teambuilding.

Because everybody eats, food is a natural bonding agent. To get a bigger return on your F&B investment, harness that potential by turning your meeting's mealtime into a teambuilding opportunity.

Example: Hawaii's Turtle Bay Resort — located on the North Shore of Oahu — offers a "Poke Challenge" wherein teams are tasked with recreating the authentic Hawaiian poke that's served at the resort's signature restaurant, Pa'akai. Participants receive all the basic ingredients needed for their dish and at the end of the challenge face a panel of judges from the resort's food-and-beverage staff.

2. Offer a cooking class.

Chefs aren't just masters of flavor. In order to put out a successful dish, they also have to have superior organization, time management and communication skills. You can help attendees develop those same skills — and have a great time doing it — by enrolling them in a cooking class with your venue's chef.

Example: Essex Resort in Burlington, Vt., offers hands-on cooking classes at Cook Academy, its onsite cooking school. Taught by the resort's kitchen staff, classes typically include a three- or four-course meal for groups of up to eight students who learn how to prepare the food and, ultimately, get to eat it. Students even get to take the recipes they learn home with them. Although class offerings vary according to season, past courses have included cooking with Vermont beer, making fresh pasta, indoor grilling and vegetarian cooking.

3. Put on a show.

It's said that people eat with their eyes before they eat with their mouths. Use that to your advantage by offering attendees a culinary performance, like a live cooking demonstration by a masterful chef. Not only will they get a delicious meal out of the experience, but they'll also get a heaping serving of entertainment.

Example: At its onsite restaurant, Three Embers Restaurant, the Chicago Marriott Lincolnshire Resort in Lincolnshire, Ill., offers a chef's table for groups of up to 10 people. There, attendees have a rare opportunity to see chefs bring their creations to life in the kitchen, where they enjoy unobstructed views of the restaurant's wood-fire grill and charcuterie station so they can see their meats being sliced, their steaks being grilled, and their meals being plated — all while enjoying a prix fixe dinner.

4. Make it social.

When it's shared amongst friends, food is one of the most effective social lubricants there is. And the truth is: Good conversation and belly laughs with friends is all the entertainment most people need. To unlock food's social potential, consider meal types and formats that lend themselves to socializing, like family-style meals.

Example: At its restaurants nationwide — each of which has private and semiprivate dining areas for groups — Del Frisco's Grille offers a variety of "made to share" plates on its menu. Options include tuna tartare, chilled shrimp, thick-cut bacon au poivre, charred octopus and stone crab claws.

5. Make a treat out of tasting.

A major goal of many meetings and events is getting attendees to embrace innovative thinking. Food and beverage tastings accomplish that goal in a fun way by encouraging participants to consider and compare unique flavor attributes. In other words: Tastings stimulate new thinking about food, which makes the mind more susceptible to new thinking at work.

Example: Round Pond Estate in California's Napa Valley offers a 90-minute "Private Olive Mill Tasting Experience" at its on-premise olive mill, where attendees can sample hand-crafted estate-grown and milled olive oils, barrel-aged red wine vinegar and citrus syrups — all of which are paired with small bites inspired by ingredients grown in the estate's private gardens.