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The Master Plan 

How to survive planning a wedding

Trying to plan a wedding by oneself has been known to break the spirits of even the heartiest of love warriors, and the anxiety and tension can spark family rifts that take ages to repair. Many of today's bridal couples find it advantageous to seek professional help for some or all of the planning, allowing them to totally enjoy their special day.

Complete wedding and events planners are happy to arrange the ceremony, guest accommodations, special parties and the wedding reception on request, relieving the bridal couple and both families of potential headaches. Their experience means they remember all the millions of details that people who do it only once (i.e. the bride and groom) might not even be aware are necessary.

"A lot of brides really don't know what a professional wedding consultant can do to help them," says Anthony Lala Jr. (908-4804; "I have the ability to help the bride and groom and their families with all wedding arrangements ... from invitations and calligraphy to the photographer."

Sandrell Bentley, owner of Events of Elegance (431-8000) says she provides several standard packages on her Web site,, that give couples an idea of costs, but she also will customize packages to include whatever the couple desires.

"I do everything from the day (of the wedding) only to full service, from ordering invitations, arranging limos, finding a reception site, entertainment, hotel accommodations, whatever they need."

Events planners suggest a year to a year and a half of planning time is optimal to ensure couples get their first choices in reserving the place they want the ceremony and reception, booking bands, and employing photographers.

"Because New Orleans is a big convention city, I'd say if you are planning a wedding during the summer or fall, you need a year or year and a half in advance if you're looking for a reception venue [downtown]." Bentley says. Shorter time frames sometimes can be accommodated if the couple is willing to negotiate on locations or is opting for a small wedding and reception.

The budget a couple needs depends on the experience they want to create. Wedding consultants can help bring the expectations and budgets in line by helping couples focus and consider options.

"My philosophy is whether you have $5,000 or $50,000, we can work to create a beautiful wedding for you," Bentley says. "But the bride and groom also have to be reasonable in their vision of what they can do (for the money they have). A lot of people want the champagne wedding but have a beer budget. My job is to get them to focus on what is really important to them."

LaLa says he also is creative in fashioning events for all budgets but finds that most of his clients find the convenience is worth the money. "Most brides who are seeking a professional wedding consultant are professionals themselves," he says. "They want an upscale wedding, but they don't have time to go out and plan it. Most times the money is there."

With good events planners, ironing out details and making arrangements beforehand is just the beginning. On the day of the wedding, they should be on site making sure everything runs smoothly without the bride, groom or their families having to lift a finger or furrow a brow in worry.

"As a wedding consultant, I not only help them plan and arrange it, I'm physically there for the rehearsal and wedding," LaLa says. "They want someone there to direct the wedding. It's their day and they don't want to spend it chasing people down."

Full service is especially important to people who are planning their New Orleans wedding from elsewhere. Bentley says she handles a large number of couples from out of town who come to the city to get married and honeymoon or who have a New Orleans wedding before taking a honeymoon cruise.

"Having the cruise lines here has helped a lot," she says. For those clients, she often suggests a wedding and reception at a hotel if they want a large party because the venues have everything needed for a reception. If couples want a more flexible menu and services, she suggests venues that allow outside catering and entertainment.

Costs for venues, special entertainment and other amenities can vary substantially, she says, and couples should expect to spend about 50 percent to 55 percent of their entire budget on the reception. Those with smaller budgets may choose a beautiful courtyard in a French Quarter hotel for their wedding and reception, while "the Audubon Tea Room or Botanical Gardens are more for the $40,000 budget," she says.

New Orleans weddings generally also involve music, something that the city is known for, and all types of music are available if you know where to go, such as companies that specialize in providing music for weddings, receptions and other events.

Violinist Karen Rose, who operates A Touch of Rose Music (887-9224;, specializes in booking musicians for wedding ceremonies, although she also will help find musicians for the reception.

Her package includes 30 minutes of prelude music before the ceremony begins, plus music throughout the wedding and as the couple exits. She provides choices of harp, violin and soprano with trumpet; large string, ensemble; violin and guitar; and New Orleans traditional jazz. She also has a vast demo CD collection if couples want to check out other options.

"I also can give them advice," she says. "A lot of Catholic brides have to follow the liturgical rules of the Catholic Church, and we make sure everything is appropriate." Rose also works with an arranger who can handle requests for special selections for which sheet music isn't available.

Deanna Bernard, owner of New Orleans Music Events (1523 Dublin St., 866-8821; www., says her longevity and experience with local and national musicians give her clients the advantage of being able to book anyone they want. She not only hires the entertainers, she makes sure they arrive on time, are dressed appropriately and conduct themselves professionally.

"We do music in churches as well as at the reception," she says. "I find that the brides usually know what they want, and we try to make it happen for them. ... Often the couples have a favorite band and need help with booking it. I'm the connection to the people they want to hear.

"We can do anything. We can literally put together any musical program from custom-written jazz to even a wedding I did with the group Alice in Chains. It really depends on the bride; you never know what they're going to ask for."


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