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Putting the pro into propose
More businesses cash in on helping guys pop the question

By HELENA OLIVIERO
Published on: 12/15/05

They draw red hearts out of rose petals. They light aromatherapy candles, chill champagne and sprinkle chocolates around the room.

They set the mood — for someone else.

Staffers at Château Élan don't actually pop the question, but they sometimes get close to getting down on one knee.

"Once, we text-messaged, 'Your bubble bath is ready,' " said Château Élan guest "experience" coordinator Jamie Shelton, also known as one of the "Proposal Gals." "We were in the hallway during the proposal. We never get to be in the room."

Increasingly, men are calling upon professionals to give their proposal a bit of bling. Long considered private and low-key, megawatt proposals are spawning a new industry of advisers — they choose rings, pluck flowers, release doves and even schedule the timing of the engagement.

John Freer, 44, of Atlanta enlisted the help of the concierge's desk at Four Seasons in Atlanta for assistance in proposing to his then-girlfriend Nina Stewart. Staffers formed a path of rose petals in his room, and they placed a diamond ring on a sampler dessert tray. He spent well over $2,000 on the October weekend.

"It was very important, and for the average person, they couldn't afford it, but I could," boasted Freer, who owns restaurants and retail developments in Atlanta and Florida.

While his price tag for an engagement may seem staggering, some grooms-to-be are doling out even more cash and seek a more scripted proposal. At Château Élan, staffers assist with an average of two engagements a month, with the typical groom-to-be spending between $500 and $700.

But is it romantic if someone else spells your name with shells on the beach?

Many relationship experts worry engagements are becoming more about a money-driven fantasy of love than the reality of the monumental life step. Almost half of proposals occur between November and February — with December the most likely time to get engaged, according to WeddingChannel.com.

While many hotels offer wedding consultants and concierges for engagement assistance, a handful of properties have created "proposal concierges," who will pick the exact spot where you ask for your girlfriend's hand in marriage.

At Bermuda's Cambridge Beaches, the "proposal concierge" sets up private cruises with a bottle of Dom Perignon and guides couples underwater so the proposal can take place next to the reef sea-garden.

A few ways to go all-out

New York's historic Algonquin Hotel has a "Martini on the Rock," for $10,000 (a cocktail poured over the engagement ring). The Little Palm Island in the Florida Keys offers the Ultimate Engagement Package with a whopping $30,000 price tag (covers a $10,000 ring of your choice) and a drawing of the couple by a local artist, a private sunset cruise, spa services and the "All You Have to Do Is Ask" turndown service — anything you wish, including rose petals. And at the Royal Palms Resort and Spa in Phoenix, Paul Xanthopoulos, the "director of romance," has orchestrated hundreds of engagements.

Experts don't frown on plunking big bucks (if you have it) for a swank dinner and overnight spa accommodations, but they bristle at stories about orchestrated and public engagements — such as ones that take place in football stadiums or ones that stop traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge. And they say grooms-to-be should never feel pressure to spend a lot of cash on a proposal.

It's not just the men caught up in blow-out proposals.

"The splashy proposal functions much like an Academy Award," said relationship expert Judith Sherven, co-author of "Be Loved for Who You Really Are" (St. Martin's Press, $13.95). "It's all about public proof that the woman has a good enough man and has a big enough ring."

In the new book "The Smart Couple's Guide to the Wedding of Your Dreams" (New World Library $14.95), Sherven and co-author Jim Sniechowski (her husband), recommend that couples not only think about the proposing but also discuss children, finances, religion and other big issues before saying yes to marriage. "The point is for the engagement to have a real, feet-on-the-ground meaning," Sniechowski said.

Observers say frilly engagements are spillover from over-the-top weddings (now averaging $26,000 and climbing) as well as glamorized celeb engagements, such as the very public proposal of "The View's" Star Jones at an NBA All-Star Game (complete with a five-carat rock).

Marilyn Oliveira, editor of the WeddingChannel.com, sees no problems with dramatic proposals in front of big crowds — if that's what the couple likes. She applauds the trend of proposal planners, saying they make perfect sense for today's older groom-to-be, who may have money to spend on a fancy engagement but may be clueless on how to go about it.

The right moment

Larry Jennings of Smyrna admits feeling out of his comfort zone when planning his proposal to his then-girlfriend Brenda. On the night of the proposal, Jennings had a lot of false starts, and it did not go according to plan — the wine bar didn't feel right; the restaurant was too noisy.

Finally, he proposed on their comfy couch at home.

"It worked out fine, I guess. I think mostly she was relieved by the ring," said Jennings, a 50-year-old who works in radio sales. "For the average guy, you have no clue. We want to please our mates, and there's a lot of pressure to get it just right."

Philip Herold of Atlanta didn't rely on any gimmicks, but he took advantage of a planned trip to Brazil, the home country of Juliana, his girlfriend of four years. After a motorcycle ride to a nearby village, Herold asked to stop at a small church, a place they visited during a first date. Once inside, Herold turned to his girlfriend and proposed.

They both cried. "It didn't have a hot-air balloon or a dozen violinists, but that church meant a lot to us," said Herold about the May proposal.

Doug Gordon, a 31-year-old TV producer and author of "The Engaged Groom" (HarperCollins, $14.95), kept things simple when he proposed to his now-wife a few years ago. But he did enroll the help of a few friends.

Gordon and Leora began the evening at a cozy French restaurant — a place they dined together on one of their first dates. After dinner, Gordon asked his sweetheart to join him on the rooftop of their Brooklyn apartment to see the stars. Earlier in the evening, Gordon's friends set up a blanket, champagne, flowers and cupcakes. Gordon made an excuse to go to the roof minutes beforehand.

When Leora appeared, Gordon was on one knee with ring in hand.

"You have to remember this whole thing is just about the two of you," Gordon said, "and I think sometimes having it more simple can be more meaningful."


Posted by Doug at December 15, 2005 11:31 AM

it's almost like she thought your first name was "gordon."

Posted by r at December 15, 2005 02:59 PM

Just tell me that the writer isnt related to Laurie Sherman Kirshbaum Oliviero :)

Posted by Marylee at December 15, 2005 07:52 PM