by Michael C. Lowe | April 01, 2012

Few things bring people together like food and drink -- as some hotels have discovered when it comes to creating a team-building agenda for groups. "Food-related activities are growing in popularity," notes Andrew Roenbeck, executive chef at the Boca Beach Club in Boca Raton, Fla. "In addition to team building, food events can give groups their entertainment for the night while acting as a meal or cocktail hour, so they can serve several purposes at once."

The trend now, according to Bree Benson, director of conference services at the Lansdowne Resort in Leesburg, Va., has groups moving away from the "heady trust-building activities where everyone is sharing their feelings with each other" and toward engaging, interactive, hands-on programs where delegates can showcase their leadership, communication and teamwork without being ostentatious about it. Besides, Benson adds, "Food creates a lot of buzz and, when you get the opportunity for a group to have some fun and get to know each other in a low-stress environment, you get moments that will resonate with them back at the office."

Following are some creative food-related activities as practiced at some key meeting hotels, which can be adapted to many other locations.

BAJA CHALLENGE Terranea Resort, Palos Verdes, Calif.

Perched atop the cliff-lined Palos Verdes Peninsula overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the 582-room Terranea Resort offers a novel twist to TV's Iron Chef formula by throwing a trivia component into the mix.

At the outset, teams are given the basic ingredients to make margaritas and guacamole and tasked with making the tastiest duo. What makes it tricky (and fun) is that the culinary process is intermittently interrupted by trivia and other contests that reward winners with mystery ingredients that must be used in the dish. Teams have to figure out on the fly how to creatively integrate items such as gummy bears and nacho cheese chips into their recipes.

The judges panel might include the event facilitator, the property's director of F&B, an on-site chef or company leadership. Among the key criteria are taste, presentation, creativity and how well teams integrate ingredients. The winning margarita is featured at the lobby bar, where the top team gets to enjoy it on the house.

In all, the resort offers 135,000 square feet of function space.