Once upon a time, tea or coffee breaks in the middle of morning and afternoon meetings were little more than excuses for delegates to escape and down as many white bread sandwiches, cookies and filter coffees they could get their hands on, before trudging back into the function room.
Not any more. Any self-respecting hotelier who wants to court today's MICE organisers knows that their menu of inventive break themes must not only refuel but also reduce stress, empower participants, promote productivity and care for the planet. No pressure!
At Kerry Hotel, Hong Kong, its recent initiative Business Anywhere takes meetings out of function rooms to outdoor decks, an interactive food court, a co-working space and the 24/7 Base Camp Kerry Sports. This includes the breaks, which feature games and team building, networking, movement and wellness.
A focus on health and activities is a current trend throughout the MICE industry.
"By extending unique breaks in the meeting space, participants are immersed in an enhanced environment that highlights all the right conditions for productive meetings," says Usha Brockmann, director of communications for Mandarin Oriental, Singapore.
"This supports meeting planners, ensuring participants leave a Mindful Meeting feeling refreshed, energised and ready to explore new ideas, information and connections."
She reports that at the Mandarin Oriental, a renowned leader in global wellness, healthy breaks are currently one of the top trends.
"Guided by a wellness practitioner, healthy breaks care for and calm the mind, body and spirit, which is essential because of the fast-paced lifestyles we live. Participants can immerse in exercises like Hatha, Kundalini Yoga and more that go beyond treating the body, resulting in enhanced meetings."
Alongside "healthy", "mindful" and "sustainable' are also current buzzwords in the MICE sector.
At Hilton, its initiative Meet with Purpose introduces the three pillars Mindful Meeting, Mindful Being and Mindful Eating. Mindful and sustainable practices include paperless registration, energising well-being, and food that maximises on taste and minimises on food waste. Hilton Singapore, for example, makes sure to care for the environment with initiatives such as replacing water bottles and plastic dishware with glass or environmentally friendly materials, and recycling its Nespresso capsules.
We highlight some of the most requested themes at leading hotels in the region:
At the Mandarin Oriental, Singapore its Mindful Meetings menus, launched this June, includes elements such as a 30-minute meditation to clear and refocus the brain. Long-haul delegates will welcome ideas on getting over jet lag and everyone could do with some tips on how to find balance when it comes to digital over-connection.
Yoga is another regular feature requested by groups at the Mandarin Oriental, Singapore. The mind-body practice is ideal for quickly re-energising physically as well as mentally. Sun salutation sessions and meditation are popular at the Grand Hyatt Singapore too.
At the Sheraton Grand Danang Resort, yoga is a regular request for break activities, while breaks at The Mulia Bali combine delightful lawn and beachside locations with its new Lifestyle Wellness Program. There are also group yoga classes combined with aqua aerobics, healthy cuisine and treatment time in its award-winning spa.
While yoga is extremely beneficial, cardio-boosting movement is the perfect way to sweep physical and mental cobwebs away after sedentary meetings where participants have been doing little movement other than taking notes, and ensure alertness and productivity in the next session.
Group boot camps, where a fitness instructor motivates everyone to get moving through functional training, interval training and strengthening exercises, are becoming widely available throughout Asia.
At the Grand Hyatt Singapore, where wellness has been a regular feature of its tea and coffee breaks since 2016, groups head outside for team-based bootcamp sessions as well as guided group runs.
Meanwhile, at the MGM Cotai, its sessions of Surfset, where delegates get to balance and carry out exercises on a custom-made moving surf board, are great for testing balance and coordination and raising excitement levels.
Switching from the white bread, dairy and sugar-loaded items to super-fresh plates of largely vegetarian and organic ingredients is an increasingly popular option.
The chefs at the Grand Hyatt Singapore search for sustainable and low-carbon footprint ingredients. Its plant-based menu includes lentil shepherd's pie, spelt-grain chilli and sustainable coffee.
At the Pullman Jakarta Central Park, organic menus ensure that delegates get the maximum nutrition, bite by bite, and the Conrad Hong Kong also offers a super healthy spread with Healthy and Fruity options on its coffee break menu for health-minded organisers.
Bircher muesli, chia seed pudding, fruit and berry skewers, and more go into the Fit and Trim theme, minimising calories for health-conscious groups at the Swissôtel Merchant Court, Singapore, while its Vitality theme offers whole wheat burritos with turkey breast, oatmeal pancakes with mixed berries compote, Greek yoghurt with oats, figs and pistachio, and more.
Many properties go the extra mile, or perhaps the extra ingredient, to ensure that their menus are sustainable.
The Grand Hyatt Hong Kong's sustainable sushi puts guests at ease when tucking into Japanese-style specialities, while BBQ jackfruit toasted sandwiches and vegan meat and cheeseburgers take the pressure off our animal friends.
At Sands China properties in Macau, its hotels The Venetian Macao and The Parisian Macao are offering MICE groups meat alternatives. The Impossible, Beyond and Omnipork brands have been scientifically created to avoid animal agriculture while providing nutritious and protein-rich meat alternatives. While many of its restaurants carry the "Meat 2.0" ingredients, the group also offers the slider-sized and locally influenced Omnipork chop buns at MICE events.
From pest to protein, the Bangkok Marriott Marquis Queen's Park wows with its Traditional Thai Market theme, featuring fried insects such as scorpions, silkworms and grasshoppers. While traditionally eaten in Thailand, this is a new food group for many visitors to the country.
"When it comes to Thai culture, many guests are experienced and think they know what to expect. We like to surprise them and give them something different," says senior executive sous chef Daniel Bucher.
Focusing on foods that are local to the hotel's location goes a long way to making delegates feel welcome when they have travelled miles from overseas and may not be able to spend much time outside the hotel.
The Sheraton Grand Danang Resort's Vietnamese coffee break serves up the renowned 'cocktail' of local Vietnamese coffee with its chocolatey flavours mixed with condensed milk and drunk hot or over ice. Known locally as ca phe da for hot, or ca phe sua da when iced, it is a delicious local rocket fuel that doesn't fail to please delegates, especially as they get to taste it during the hotel's street tour.
Sambal fish balls, otah otah on toast, nasi lemak and fried sesame balls with black sesame filling are some of the local delicacies available on the Local Coffee Break menu at the Conrad Centennial Singapore.
At the Hyatt Regency Hong Kong, Sha Tin, its I Love HK theme focuses on the city's dim sum culture, bite-sized dumplings and other delicacies served up in the typical bamboo baskets.
Sitting on triangular Thai cushions and cherry-picking northern Thai snacks, such as Chiang Mai-style sausages and sticky rice steamed in banana leaves, from live food stations around the pool is how the Bangkok Marriott Marquis Queen's Park has brought the northern Thai Lanna culture to the city.
Meanwhile, the same theme is also on offer up in the north at the Shangri-La Hotel, Chiang Mai, where the hotel uses many fresh ingredients from the Royal Project to help support local families and famers. Local elders man live cooking stations with traditional snacks like grilled egg in banana leaves and Thai tea in bamboo cups. Delegates can also paint bamboo and mulberry bark umbrellas, as well as float Lanna lanterns into the sky for good fortune.
In India, at the Pullman New Delhi Aerocity, the evocative Indian Railways tea break brings to life the hustle, bustle and excitement of travelling by train in the country. Terracotta clay cups of delicious masala chai accompany beautiful sweet Jalebi snacks for a feeling of nostalgia.
At the Grand Copthorne Waterfront Singapore, the MICE team can put together a Garden City theme to reflect the country's repute as a lush green city, and the Swissôtel Merchant Court, Singapore offers a Merlion theme serving nostalgic local goodies like chwee kueh, pandan kaya and nyonya kueh.
Pulling the focus in, a few properties target just one renowned ingredient to showcase to create a point of difference to meeting breaks.
At the Pullman Jakarta Central Park organisers can choose from single ingredient themes such as mango with wraps, salads and puddings, or cheese with sumptuous displays of European cheeses served with wine.
Chefs at the Swissôtel Merchant Court, Singapore have created healthy and tasty menus like Apple-licious, featuring snacks such as apple crumbles, apple strudels, apple turnovers and cloudy apple juice; the Tomato Frenzy with tomato and avocado club sandwiches, sun-dried tomato and smoked chicken focaccias and tomato and watermelon coolers; and Coffee Addiction with coffee pork jowl with almond and tiramisu washed down with iced mocha with black sesame.
With a rooftop garden to harvest from, the Grand Hyatt Singapore produces fresh veggies and fruit daily, inspiring them to put together a coffee break made entirely from their rooftop-grown bananas, including banana bread and muffins, green banana curry and banana-kale-coconut smoothies.
High-end and exclusive
Sometimes only the very best will do, and treating your delegates to high-end cuisine helps boost morale, showing how important each member of the team is to the company.
At the Grand InterContinental Seoul Parnas and the InterContinental Seoul COEX, the Royal Tea Break theme has proved very popular, especially with the fashion industry crowds. Delegates tuck into three pretty-as-a-picture layers of sweets and savouries, which are washed down with English breakfast tea, of course.
Meanwhile at the Conrad Hong Kong, its Golden Leaf Specialities menus showcase the signature dishes from the property's Chinese restaurant, including mouth-watering dim sum and super crispy egg tarts.
If you've always wanted to take a look behind-the-scenes, the pastry kitchen tours during breaks at the Sheraton Grand Danang Resort in Vietnam may not be conventionally high-end, but your teams get to visit a part of the hotel that not many guests do.
And for the best of the best, at Kerry Hotel, Hong Kong, groups can book the Presidential Suite, when available, for breaks at the top of the hotel featuring inside and al fresco luxury, as well as premium snacks.
At The Mulia Bali, its award-winning spa is a natural place to incorporate into meeting breaks. Delegates can relax or be energised with a massage, depending on what the time or day calls for.
Spa breaks can be organised at the MGM Cotai too, with therapists performing express versions of spa treatments.
And over at the Mandarin Oriental, Singapore, delegates can opt for a 30-minute practical lesson on how to relieve head and neck aches and pains - a DIY spa if you like.
Just outside the spa, but more for bonding than pampering, delegates can don sunglasses, kick off their shoes and settle down on a rug for a picnic on the grass at the Sofitel Singapore Sentosa Resort & Spa. The picnic baskets' tasty goodies are fully customised - as healthy or indulgent as you'd like - and the relaxed, fun atmosphere makes you feel like more than just a break.
Art and fashion and TV
While feeding the body with food and movement is helpful for de-stressing and productivity, immersing delegates in more esoteric pursuits can also work wonders.
At MGM Cotai, the property is crammed with over 300 works of art, from the priceless framed Persian rugs in the lobby, dating back to the Qing Dynasty, to contemporary paintings and freshly commissioned works by rising local and regional artists. Art tours during breaks can switch on a completely different part of the brain and astound and refresh delegates.
At the Fairmont Jaipur, delegates are in for a treat, whether it's falling down the rabbit hole for a tea break themed around Alice in Wonderland, with a Mad Hatter cake, Dormouse clock and checker board platters, taking up the battle cry at a break fashioned around "Game of Thrones" with some Westeros House-inspired sweet and savoury dishes, Longclaw cake and ancient artefacts for verisimilitude, or presenting a menu curated around superheroes.
The JW Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay Resort & Spa also offers a Mad Hatters Afternoon Tea Party, created by luxury resort designer Bill Bensley, that promises a quirky experience. Expect to be welcomed by the Mad Hatter himself, raffle prizes drawn from his hat, and a parade of Alice-inspired sweets and savouries, before a pampering spa session.
Besides its extensive sports centre, team building at the Kerry Hotel, Hong Kong can also take place outdoors on decking overlooking Victoria Harbour, or indoors when it's hot and humid.
Less high-energy but just as good for bonding and networking is the hotel's Mix and Mingle theme, which brings delegates to a VIP booth at Red Sugar or hosts an al fresco kitchen-style meal on the terrace during meeting breaks.