A Run for Your Money
Kick off a health-conscious meeting with a guided run, organized by City Running Tours. The company can set up runs for small groups in Austin, Texas; Charleston, S.C.; Chicago; New York City; and Washington, D.C. Each runner gets a t-shirt and a photo taken on the trip. Tours cost $60 per person for up to 6 miles, and $6 for each additional mile; discounts apply to groups of four or more. (877) 415-0058; cityrunningtours.com
Minimal Cost, Maximal Appreciation
Minimus.biz lets planners choose from more than 2,000 travel-size products, including snacks, toiletries and pampering products, to put into a kit for attendees. Or take one of the company's ready-made packages, such as the Travel Treats box, with 11 different toiletries inside what looks like a candy box. The kit costs $8.90 each in bulk, with a minimum of only 20 kits, and is completely customizable, inside and out. (805) 480-1415; Minimus.biz
To arrange transportation for a VIP sales event for the high-end real-estate development firm Tehama, Marci Bracco, a Monterey, Calif.-based event planner (email@example.com), reached out to local Mercedes dealerships. The dealers arranged for attendees to be driven in new Mercedes convertibles -- for free -- because it was a great opportunity to show off the new cars to a group of qualified buyers.
The Self-Catered Picnic
Public parks often require a permit for catering to be done. For a last-minute affair, Julie Wadler, president of Epiphany Productions in Alexandria, Va. (epiphanyproductions.com), recommends filling up picnic baskets and delivering them to each department of a corporation in the morning, with a note that details where and when to meet for lunch. Everyone shows up, no advance planning required. Davina Kristi Brewer, owner of Atlanta-based 3Hats Communications (3hatscommunications.com), suggests hosting a potluck party. To get people interested in cooking, award prizes for the best dishes, and post the winning recipes on the company intranet.
Pitch the Tent
To avoid having to rent a (pricey) tent, Barbara McRae, CMP, owner of Strategic Events in Grimsby, Ontario (strategicevents.ca), rented a picnic shelter at a local park, which saved about 25 percent off the total budget. Another option: Hold the picnic inside. The Four Seasons St. Louis (fourseasons.com/stlouis) has devised a barbecue in the ballroom for groups that don't want to take a chance with the weather. The banquet staff sets up square tables, camping lanterns as centerpieces and barbecue served family-style.
When employees can bring their children to a company picnic, the turnout increases, but many of those parents don't really get to enjoy themselves. Plan an event-within-an-event, suggests Michael Helmicki, a caterer in Buffalo, N.Y. (firstname.lastname@example.org). Give all the kids name tags with their parent's name on it, and make sure they are fed before the adults. Hire enough help so the children are adequately supervised, and give them cameras to take pictures of the kids having fun.
Corn on the cob can be fun to eat, but it's so messy, picnic-goers might pass it by. Chicago-based caterer and consultant Greg Christian (gregchristianconsulting.com) has pioneered the corn-on-the-cob action station. A chef cuts the kernels off the cobs, then tosses with a choice of vinaigrette, pesto aioli, chopped cilantro, black beans, tomatoes, etc. The resultant salad is an instant favorite.
Feel Like a Kid Again
Rebecca Thorpe, a principal of Girl Admiral Events in Fairfield, Conn. (girladmiral.com), offers three clever and inexpensive picnic tips:
1. Bring back the games kids used to play; for example, Spud, Red Light-Green Light and Red Rover.
2. Bring a cooler of rolled-up wash cloths soaked in ice water, for cooling off on a hot day.
3. Serve handmade ice-cream sandwiches with different pairings of cookies and ice creams.
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