I generally look for a variety of aspects, based on the team, the company, the budget and the goal.
First, what's your budget? Get a general figure and find out your space for deviation.
Also - figure out any limitations on company funding. For example:
- is it allowable to pay for booze?
- is there separate funding for food vs. activity?
- is there anything else to be aware of in terms of what you can pay for?\
- What about travel/transport - is the company paying?
It doesn't hurt, while you're at is, to understand how payment is made. Some companies have petty cash, others will reimburse. Know the policies for payback before you put down your own money.
Also, it may be important to know the difference between an optional after work activity and paid team activity. Usually HR rules apply differently.
Have at least a rough sense of team likes/dislikes. Find and account for both diet restrcitions and preferences. And know the difference. It may be impossible to account for all dietary restrictions but give it a shot. Preferences can usually be addressed with cuisine choice. For extreme restrictions, you may end up getting special provisions made, in which case, usually doing them with graceful subtlety is appreciated.
There's something quite magical about sharing food. All humans do it, and I have yet to meet someone who doesn't appreciate free food. So, I'd plan this into just about anything, assuming you can work through food restrictions.
Same goes for any activity. It's somewhat cultural, but corporate America favors a wieght to inclusivity in most of these events - so accomodating physical limitations/disabilities and even psychological factors takes a certain precedence (for example, let's not take the person with the fear of heights rock climbing). Usually the easiest for all is a passive event (movies, boat ride, bus tour, etc) - but even then, if you have someone with a profound fear of water, the boat ride may be out.
And, if you aren't using work hours, know something about your team's work/life limits? How much advance notice do they need? Will they come if it's late at night? What about the weekend?
Company's are always going to have a culture. For example, a big corporation may have a strong favoritism for golf - it's a really traditional big corporation activity. At least knowing the "standard" is a win. Young funky companys may pride themselves on their zaniness.
Non-conformist that I am, I almost always like defying expectations (within team limits) - because people are often surprised by how much fun they have doing something new. But do realize that the culture may have some nuances that flavor their perception. And there's often a few stereotypes that hold true in certain industries, regardless of business.
Good news is - you can a strong sense of this by chatting with folks. Bad or good, people love talking about the fun (or horrific) corporate events of the past.
Sounds like your main goal is recruitment over team-building. That can mean a different spin - you'll be less worried about making sure your team uncovers shared strength and more focused on having a good time.
It also may mean you're up for something that is more fun for more people over something that accomodates everyone's special concerns.
There really is no perfect criteria - these are my points for research.
My generally good process for this is:
1 - get a sense of the team. If you must, send out a survey - that's usually helpful if you really don't know food or activity restrictions, and want an option for people to respond privately. But also, chat with folks about ideas so you can see their level of interest and strength of intent.
2 - Research 2-3 options - they'll rule themselves out - often logistics take a prime role here. Getting a group in and out, on budget, within the team availability limits can be its own challenge and may take precedence.
3 - Vet it with another manager and/or your boss. A bit of peer review is helpful in case someone has experience or a better option.
4 - Plan ahead of time - make sure a date is set and everyone knows it ahead of time. Advertise multiple times and get attendance figured out well before the event. Get a buzz going about it.