For health-conscious groups, the Hyatt Regency Bonaventure Conference Center and Spa in Weston, Fla. (954-616-1234; bonaventure.hyatt.com), brings out a trail-mix buffet at breaks, before activities or at check-in. Guests can mix and match from an array of nuts, chocolate bits and dried fruit. The break includes fruit-infused water and coffee, and costs $14 per person.
Anyone who tries to live an eco-friendly existence knows just how much landfill trade show swag ends up occupying. Martha Disario, a green-minded marketing expert in Sausalito, Calif. (415-235-1230; www.pacificcommunications.biz), has a better idea: Make a sign that informs people that in lieu of swag, $5 will be donated to a related charity for every business card left at the booth. If that's not alluring enough, she suggests offering a snack instead of a trinket.
Chat 'n' Chew
Here's an ice-breaker that will spark conversation at a meal: During the first seated meal of a conference, ask every table to find things that everyone at the table has in common. Offer a list of possible questions to get them started, such as whether they have children, pets, spouses, etc. After 15 minutes (of spirited conversation), the table with the longest list wins a prize. Thanks to Laura Posey, a speaker and vice president of Dancing Elephants, a sales-training firm in Richmond, Va., for the idea. (888) 254-1868; dancingelephants.net
Ticket to Ride
Planners trying to avoid the perception of luxury at their meetings might consider a bike excursion as a less expensive alternative to an afternoon at the golf course or the spa. This new website lets users look at and reserve bikes from local shops in 144 cities throughout the United States and Canada. The site offers route maps, too, and bike tours are available in some locations. (847) 441-4292; rentabikenow.com
To find the best values on really good wine, look to the boutique labels of major producers, advises Johannes Diele, a member of the Loews Beverage Task Force (loewshotels.com), the group of sommeliers who make wine decisions for the hotel chain. Diele recommends the Sycamore Lane label from Trinchero Family Estates, Canyon Road from E&J Gallo or 14 Hands from Stimson Lane Vineyards.
A Different Kind of Turndown
The Boulders Resort in Carefree, Ariz. (888-397-6520), brings a sense of optimism to turndown, with the Life is Good: Simple Words from Jake and Rocket book. It's a relaxing read before bedtime, and better yet, it's free. If guests want to take it home, they can buy it, with the profits going toward the Life is Good Kids Foundation. The Life is Good logo and message also are available on apparel and accessories through T.R. Milller Co. (800-449-6822, ext. 610; www.trmiller.com/lifeisgood).
Sharing Is In
For a more casual and less expensive lunch that helps bring people together, go with family-style service. Erin Scholes, director of catering and convention services at the Omni San Diego Hotel (619-231-6664), recommends serving sandwiches and comfort foods this way. However, food that needs to be piping hot should be served by other means.
Leaving a disposable camera on each dinner table is an easy way to capture fun moments from an event, but the drugstore varieties don't look terribly professional. Kodak now customizes the cameras with photos and graphics, and sells them for about $4.25 apiece. Minimum order is 250 units. E-mail email@example.com for a quote. kodak.com/go/partner
Call It In
Owners of iPhones might not know about all the travel "apps" available for the phones, whether they're interactive maps, hotel programs or flight trackers. For example, the Choice Hotels Locator allows users to find and book hotels, see property photos and get directions, and the InnTouch Bed and Breakfast Locator does the same for historic inns. (Meetings, of course, can't be booked in this way.) Download them for free by touching the phone’s app store button, and keep an eye out for more: It's only a matter of time before other hotel chains follow suit. itunes.apple.com
Structures That Spell
The owners of Name Frames sent a photographer around the world to shoot structures that look like letters just so that they could spell really beautiful words. Give clients or attendees their name, your company's name or another word spelled out in these striking photographs. A full-size piece costs $149, and a smaller one costs $49, with discounts on large orders. (Just make sure to get the spelling right.) (928) 527-0312; nameframes.net
A Fabulous Read
Check out celebrity event planner Steve Kemble's new blog, at stevekemble.com/blog. It's equal parts trend-spotting and chipper commentary, and it's a peek into the over-the-top Texan's creative mind. Much of it focuses on weddings, but it translates well: For example, a recent post suggested giving miniature potted plants or cards embedded with seeds as favors.
Throw these crystals into an open fire (outdoors, of course), and the flames will burn in a rainbow of colors for about a half hour -- perfect for adding a little fireworks panache on a bonfire budget. A three-pack costs $5.29 here. Be warned, though: A large fire might require a lot of packets.