The role that food can play in incentives and team-building is not to be underestimated. The right culinary activity or programme can not only motivate attendees but also increase creativity and confidence. It can additionally provide enduring experiences that will have staff talking about how fabulous the activity was for months – or even years – later. Those that deliver exciting, unusual or unique culinary opportunities for corporate groups can also generate brand loyalty.
So where do planners begin? The best option is to consider the culinary interests of the group and arrange activities accordingly. Are they a bunch of knowledgeable foodies that are unlikely to be impressed easily? Do they hunger to learn a new skill? Or do they want to know more about wine, a particular dish or certain cuisine?
If impressing delegates is a priority, then consider enlisting the services of a celebrity chef to add some wow factor to an event. Leading Hong Kong restaurant group Dining Concepts has access to a number of rock star culinary personalities including Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich, Michael White, Greg Malouf, Laurent Tourondel, and later this year, Michael Mina. These chefs visit their respective restaurants – opened in conjunction with Dining Concepts – in Hong Kong on a regular basis, which is when the restaurant group receives most requests from corporate groups. “We have undertaken a number of demonstration and presentations for large corporate companies. Usually, the hosts require the chef to present dishes, discuss the ingredients and cooking procedures and later, return for comments from the guests,” explains Dining Concepts director of marketing, Garry Bissett. A corporate client can also arrange for these restaurateurs to visit Hong Kong outside planned visits if they are prepared to pay for first-class flights and five-star accommodation. Batali will be in Hong Kong late October while Bastianich – who often focuses on wine as he owns several vineyards – and Tourondel are also planning trips to the city.
Bissett believes that celebrity chefs add post-programme added value by dispensing gourmet tips that delegates can use at their next dinner party. “Apart from bragging rights, most guests experience and appreciate the details and professionalism required to be a good chef and learn more about a cuisine. Probably of greater importance, though, is the opportunity of learning more about wine, and wine pairing with food.”
Marina Bay Sands in Singapore also has access to celebrity chefs, including Nancy Silverton, Daniel Boulud, Tetsuya Wakuda and Justin Quek, with each having a restaurant at the resort. Demonstrations by chefs are one of the most hotly requested activities by planners. Boulud, for example, has shown groups how to prepare two of his signature dishes while Quek has demonstrated how to cook fish perfectly and the correct usage of kitchen equipment. The restaurants’ own executive chefs are additionally on hand for cooking demonstrations. “Classes, demos and special events – such as our immersive dine-around in six celebrity chef restaurants in one night – are activities that we can explore with corporate groups,” says a spokesperson for the resort.
For groups looking for a more hands-on gourmet experience, cooking classes not only present a fun, team-building activity but also offer delegates the chance to sharpen their culinary skills.
One popular offering in Hong Kong is the sausage making class from The Butchers Club, which debuted this July. Available for groups of up to ten, it is taught by an experienced butcher and chef. The three-hour class covers butchering skills, selecting ingredients for the perfect sausage, grinding meat, stuffing into natural casings and forming links, after which participants sit down to a meal of bangers, mash and onion gravy with free-flow wine, and take home 1kg of sausages.
Kirstin Gourlay, events manager at the Butchers Club, says it is currently sourcing outside venues to meet demand for its classes. Companies that have made sausages with the Butchers Club so far include high-profile clients such as HSBC, Disney, Puma, and Credit Suisse.
Gourlay adds: “Our classes are great fun and promote natural team building, giving attendees the opportunity to lead the group. They also take people out of their comfort zone and quite often office roles are reversed, which can be a fun way for participants to experience different character attributes of their colleagues.”
Thai restaurant Saffron at the Banyan Tree Macau launched its monthly cooking class this June and can work with companies to arrange a private class for around six persons outside of this schedule. The chefs demonstrate quintessential Thai dishes such as Tom Yum Goong and share tips on how to prepare and cook authentic Thai cuisine. After each demonstration, participants take to their cooking stations to replicate the dish with the chefs offering their feedback. Then comes the most enjoyable moment for many – sampling what has been prepared. A recipe booklet is also provided, and a market tour to purchase Thai ingredients can additionally be arranged.
Sweet-toothed delegates can consider the chocolate-making class at Sofitel So Bangkok’s Chocolab, which is so popular that it’s held twice a day for groups of up to 15. Sirinate Meenakul, director of marketing and communications, says that private classes can be arranged, and there is flexibility in terms of what is covered. Like Gourlay, she believes that the key benefit for corporate groups is team building, which can translate to the office environment. “Participants help each other and share ideas in the class, which reflects what takes place in real working life,” adds Meenakul.
Out of the box
A Unique Dining Experience For the ultimate incentive or team-building dining experience in Hong Kong, the Krug Room at the Mandarin Oriental is hard to beat, with thought-provoking tailor-made menus of up to 14 courses prepared by one of the city’s most creative chefs, Uwe Opocensky. Here, nothing is quite what it seems: the Afternoon Tea dish looks like a typical afternoon tea but is in fact a savoury course, while what appears to be a floral arrangement is entirely edible. A great icebreaker, says the chef, is a dish called Hand, where sour cream, a crouton, caviar and lemon is served into each diner’s hand, then eaten in one bite.
Opocensky says: “When event planners want something niche and different, they always come to us. We tailor each menu to suit that group and it can be as fun and interactive, or as decadent and luxurious as they want.”