It was a sight even Blue Harbor Resort’s Susan Engler couldn’t believe. The sun had set, and a group of corporate lawyers that the director of sales had seen earlier in the day in their suits and ties were now frolicking on the glow-in-the-dark mini golf course. With putters in one hand and a drink in the other, the group attempted to get bright neon golf balls through the resort’s Mayan Temple and Egyptian Pyramid courses, all the while laughing and sounding like kids on the fi rst day of summer.
“They were having a grand old time,” laughs Engler, recalling the occasion. “Throw in a bar area, and the mini golf course turned into their playground.”
It’s a theme that is becoming commonplace in venues and at events throughout the state, with meeting and planning executives continuing to find ways to tap into the popularity of activities that bring back the child in all of us. From video games and surfboards to bonfires and s’mores, the fact is that team-building suddenly has gotten really immature in the best way possible, allowing even the most buttoned-up business executives to have a good time once in a while.
“It’s amazing to see abusiness man with his tie thrown over his shoulder playing a with a huge smile on his face,” says Michelle Fratto, group and event sales manager of the 42,000-squarefoot PAC-MAN-inspired venue called—what else—Level 257. “You know that his younger, carefree self is shining through, attempting to get to the unbeatable level 256!”
Located in Schaumburg, Level 257 offers five private event rooms, a semiprivate room, bridal suite and an elevated VIP booth area. There’s also a private boardroom with 84-inch collaborative/touch-screen monitors and a conference room featuring stadium seating and projection syncing capabilities. The real heart of the action, though, is the more than 40 new and vintage video games (Centipede, Galaga and Frogger, just to name a few) and 16 bowling lanes dividable for varying sized parties, all of which have become quite the popular attraction for corporate groups since the spot opened in 2015.
“It was amazing to see all levels of employees interacting and enjoying themselves over a wide variety of games including air hockey, racing, and of course, PAC-MAN,” remarks Gina Reggi, supply chain supervisor, Great Lakes Region at Pepsi Beverages Company, which hosted an employee’s appreciation event recently at Level 257. “By the look on everyone’s faces, I could tell they truly were having a great time. While others were taking their turns in the 3-D Dark Escape game, some of us went to play Ping-Pong, a game I did not realize I enjoyed so much until I almost knocked my drink over to avoid losing the point!”
Reggi adds that this fun-filled atmosphere worked wonders on the camaraderie between the employees, too, who ranged in age from 25 to 50 years of age. “Although we work together on a daily basis, we were able to connect on a different level by sharing in the nostalgia and excitement that we experienced at Level 257,” she says. “We all had a great time and the planning could not have gone any smoother.”
The Growing Grown-Up Trend
The emerging trend should come as no surprise really—in the ever-complex world we live in, often the most solace we can find is within the activities of our youth, like that wonderful escape called summer camp.
“People simply want to revert back to a time when life was easier,” explains Steven Shern, general manager for Thompson Chicago, a luxury lifestyle hotel that programmed their firstever City Summer Camp to guests back in June. “With this particular program, we were able to offer a summer camp idea that has never been in an urban setting before, with the concierge serving essentially as the camp counselor.”
The “camp counselor” helped guests and business travelers navigate through a long list of available activities throughout their stay, from stand-up paddleboarding on Lake Michigan to ice cream crawls to some of the best independent ice cream shops in Chicago, such as Amorino Gelato, Black Dog Gelato and Cone Gourmet Ice Cream. The cherry on top: They were escorted in a Lexus provided by the hotel. “I have had an idea to do this for a long time,” says Shern. “More and more people are craving not only the experience of being downtown, but having fun while here.”
The Chicago Parks Foundation also offered its very first adults-only camp-in at Northerly Island, featuring rental tents, a camp happy hour, pig roast, twilight hike and sunrise yoga. “It was an awesome first event, and from the looks of our surveys, our campers felt the same,” says Chicago Parks Foundation Executive Director Willa Iglitzen Lang of the overnight event, which specifically targeted the city’s young professionals.
It’s the same demographic that initially piqued the interest of bowling kingpin Lucky Strike Entertainment, which, earlier this year, opened FTW (For The Win) Chicago. The 20,000-square-foot space offers more than 130 video games, an unparalleled new race car/ demolition derby track and a six-hole interactive miniature golf course, where each hole is a tribute to a Chicago landmark.
“Some of the favorite attractions that people seem to love are the carnival games that we have on-site—you know the ones where you throw the ball and try to knock down the clowns,” chuckles Sean Davis, general manager at FTW Chicago. The venue also offers four private party areas (or two larger spaces by opening adjoining doors) each holding up to 20 people and with floor-to-ceiling windows, a long wooden dining room table, sofas, portable bars and chandeliers—for when you want to get down to work, if ever.
Right Place, Right Time
While choosing the right venue for a business meeting is always crucial, it has now become just as necessary to take a closer look at the leisure activities provided before making a decision. For example, besides offering 20,000 square feet of meeting space in the Conference Service Center, 180 suites, 64 luxury villas and meeting spaces featuring state-of-theart Apple A/V services, Wi-Fi, and ceilingdropped screens and projectors, Blue Harbor Resort in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, also has a 54,000-square-foot entertainment area and indoor water park that many meeting patrons will visit a number of times during their stay.
“Water seems to have an effect on people,” says Engler, who also helps guests set up activities such as bike tours, charter fishing and kayaking around the grounds. “Something that has been really popular of late is offering group surf lessons, where our Surf Club coaches within our water park can teach body board and stand-up surfing to riders of all different skill levels. As much as they are having a great time, it also offers men and women a healthy core workout.”
But an important fact is this—not everyone in your party is going to love the idea of playing PAC-MAN or learning how to surf for hours on end. Therefore, like everything else, it’s best to ensure there are a variety of activities being offered that members of any corporate group could enjoy—like food. Everything Except Kids Menus While the carnivals and arcades of our past offered not much more than the cold hot dog and a bag of potato chips, many venues have stepped up their menus to ensure corporate clients have a high-end selection of entrées and treats while they are playing away.
“Here at Level 257, we feature a from-scratch kitchen preparing everything from brunch to sushi,” explains Fratto.
At FTW, says Davis, “We offer a menu completely different than what you would expect from arcade food. Everything is made fresh on the premises, from the shrimp po’boys to truffle chicken and dumplings.”
And dessert—what child or adult wants to leave anywhere without dessert?
FTW has plenty sweet treats to pick from, including blueberry and ricotta spoon pudding cake, cinnamon and raisin monkey bread with caramel drizzle and whipped cream and the venue’s popular Holy Cannollis, made with mascarpone cheese, Oreo cookie crumbs, pistachios, toasted coconut and FTW’s house recipe dipping sauce.
The Business Casual Type
While nearly every one of these venues offers activities for a whole range of ages, it’s the business executives that serve as the most intriguing audience. “For just a little while, when the work is done, they can act like a kid again,” says Engler of the biggest benefit of bringing a group outing to Blue Harbor.
Davis agrees. “One of the things we hear most often as we tour business professionals through the venue is that, ‘we have to bring our kids back here,’” he says. Sure. Use the kids as an excuse.