Sarah Pease once heard about a guy who proposed to his would-be bride by hiding her wedding ring at the bottom of a bucket of greasy fried chicken. Come on. Was he kidding?!
Pease said the suitor wanted to spoil his girlfriend with her favorite food, but thought to herself there has to be a better way to pop the question. That’s when Pease decided to start her own professional proposal planning business, forming Brilliant Event Planning in 2008. The New York City-based firm helps clients from all over the world plan the perfect proposal.
A proposal consultant designs and can execute all the details — finding the right food, music, gathering the family and friends as a surprise, arranging for entertainment, hiring actors, providing fancy cars, flowers and props.
Pease can work this magic in a matter of days, but, if she is lucky, the client will approach her with at least a week’s notice. Most guys don’t. “Guys are leaving proposals to the last minute, usually calling on a Monday saying, ‘Sarah I need to be engaged by Friday,’” Pease bemoaned. So the clock is ticking. Another challenging job is dealing with a client’s budget.
“Everyone has big dreams – Champagne taste on a beer budget,” she said. Pease’s services begin at $5,000. Her average bill is between $15,000 and $20,000. But that is not the highest price her clients have paid, she said. Many have paid double or triple that amount to master the art of the proposal.
Locally, other consultants have joined in the act. My Marriage Proposal Planner charges between $500 and $1,500 for consulting and execution. “It really depends on how much work they need and if they come with the idea,” said Christiana Eaglin, a Colesville, Md.-based proposal consultant. The Yes Girls, a California company, divides its services into three packages: brainstorming ideas, matching grooms who come with their own ideas with vendors, or a complete package starting at $1,200 which includes both consulting and execution. “Popping the question is a pretty big deal,” Pease stressed, “regardless of how elaborate or how much money you spend. It changes your life.”
A recent Yes Girls’ proposal in Washington, D.C., included a reunion for the couple — he was a serviceman deployed overseas and his girlfriend was here at home. The couple entered a private spa room filled with sunflowers, her favorite. Hanging on the wall was picture of Batman and Catwoman kissing, an inside joke.
Another was staged at Tryst coffee house in Adams Morgan, the location of the couple’s first date.
“The bride’s grandmother helped raise her and she always told her boyfriend that her grandparents were her favorite love story,” said Elie Pitts of the Yes Girls, “so we had a large painting made of the Waldorf Astoria (that’s where her grandfather proposed to her grandmother) and had five boxes with a gift inside each one.”
Each gift brought the bride closer to the ring.
“The first gift was little pottery vases that the couple made on a date; the second was a love poem from him; the third was a set of pushpins with maps of places they have traveled together and tickets to Mexico to leave the next day; the fourth box gift was a framed picture of their cat and dog in bride and groom outfits; and the last was an iPad with a message from her grandmother telling her how proud she is of her love story,” recalled Pitts.
After the hundreds of proposals these consultants have crafted, each stressed the importance of making it personal. One client of Pease’s took this idea literally and devised a proposal around the concept of the couples’ relationship timeline. He was set on the idea of having it inside the couple’s home. When she walked in, she was greeted with a sea of rose petals on the floor. As she went through the house, there were hand-painted signs everywhere, created by the man’s mother, an artist.
The first sign in the house was where they met, the second sign indicated where their first date was, the next sign the venue of their first concert, and so forth. After the woman was led through almost the entire house, her would-be fiancé brought her into a final room filled with her favorite flowers, orchids, flown in from Thailand. “Each…had a note on it, written in calligraphy, about why he loved her,” said Pease. Some are “fun ones, and more on the lighthearted side.” Pease remembers working with a couple coming from out of town to see a Broadway show.
They went to see Wicked, and Pease arranged a private backstage visit after the show. The soon-to-be bride thought this was it for the special night. A stagehand told them how amazing it is to stand center stage and urged the couple to do just that.
While there, a little dog ran onto the stage to greet them. The woman, a dog lover, picked up the puppy to find a message on the collar: “Will you marry me?” The man dropped to one knee and promptly proposed. When she said “yes,” confetti cans went off while a musician from Wicked’s pit played for them. Pease’s next proposal is for a British man who wants a “flash mob.”
The plan is as follows: The couple is going to arrive at the restaurant and will be escorted to a rooftop table. As most people do, they will peek over the side of the rooftop. From below, roughly 10 people will hold signs saying “Will you marry me?” But the evening will not stop there. “Everyone on the rooftop, who seem to be patrons of the restaurant…are singers and will be performing for the newly engaged couple.”
As romantic as these staged proposals are for the couples, pulling them off is a high-stress affair for the consultants. A thunderstorm, traffic or an actor out of place could ruin the entire surprise. Eaglin says listening to the clients is the key to minimizing mistakes. “I listen and go through a questionnaire with the [would-be] groom, and get a feel for their relationship,” Eaglin said. “I pull an idea out just by getting to know them.”
Location is one of the biggest details of the planning process. Many people want their location to be on rooftops, on beaches or overlooking them, said Pease. Many also demand music — live musicians or a pre-recorded soundtrack.
All the consultants have seen an increase in clients wanting to document the proposal with a photographer and videographer, just like a wedding. The soon-to-be brides typically display a “sneeze face, where the girl puts both of her hands on her face, nose and mouth and she looks like she’s about to sneeze,” said Pitts of the Yes Girls.
But sometimes “we get girls who know it has been coming and they’ve just been sitting around waiting for it and so they’re not as surprised.
“They just walk into it and they’re like finally, let’s get this sucker done!”