Interview with Lindsay Val Longacre

2014-01-29 16:27:28

When it comes to weddings, plans are important. Just ask some of the brides and grooms whose big day didn’t go exactly as planned. There was the bride who flipped out when her reception bar stopped serving alcohol and ended up getting arrested – her wedding photo was literally a mug shot. Then there was the horse drawn carriage whose steed got spooked, throwing the driver from the carriage and forcing the father of the bride to shove her out of the carriage before it got hit by a truck. A concussion. A lot of blood. No wedding.

Orange County wedding planner Lindsay Val Longacre – owner and founder of LVL Weddings & Events – has no stories as wild as those. But she has had the inevitable curveball thrown at her. Once, for instance, a bride insisted on choosing the chair rental company. Which was fine. Until the chairs didn’t arrive and the company didn’t answer their phone.

Fortunately, Longacre was able to save the day with her own vendor just in time.

She’s also had to deal with the dreaded R word: rain. “But we always have a backup plan, and rain can actually make the day very special,” she says. “It can make for some amazing and dramatic photos, and I’ve had rainbows, too.” Spoken like the true optimist it takes to choose a career of planning what many say is the most stressful day in their lives.

And although Longacre can’t actually plan a rainbow, she has planned weddings from $50,000 to $500,000, and her successful Orange County business is now expanding to Hawaii (cue the rainbows).

So we asked her about the traits of a good wedding planner, what’s trending in the wedding game, and just why her own wedding was a small – if well planned – affair.

Were you a born planner?
Well, I’ve always been an outgoing person. And when I was in sixth grade I planned a co-birthday party with my girlfriend and we had the most amazing party of all junior high. And that continued. I was always on planning committees, involved in every school function, president of the student council when I was a senior. In college, I was heavily involved in our sorority so I took the lead on planning all of our social functions. That was just me.

How did you decide to become a wedding planner?
I was in the corporate world of recruiting. One day, I was standing on a corner in downtown Chicago in the cold and snow and said, “I need a change.” I ended up working for a lady with a wedding planning company, doing all the menial things that an assistant does. But as I watched her, I learned the fundamentals.

Why are weddings so stressful?
Two different families, two different upbringings, money, the logistics of where it is, accommodating grandma and grandpa. There are a lot of dynamics, and a lot of stress involved for the bride and groom. That’s why I’m very careful with my words. I learned that from my mom, who could tell you that your outfit looked terrible, but somehow not offend you and come off as someone just wanting to help out. That’s a big part of this job: relieving the stress, and making it a special day.

Do grooms get what you do?
Grooms never understand what I do. I always have to explain it, because it’s such an intangible service. I’m not giving you photos, I’m not handing you flowers, I’m giving you a consulting service. I’m here to save money, time and your sanity. And the groom often sees the bride’s role as the planner, so he doesn’t see the value to him.

Are grooms more involved with the planning process now than before?
Definitely. I would compare it to the shift in how much more men are involved in the birth of their babies. They’re in the delivery room, rather than in the waiting room. So, yes, grooms are at most of the meetings.

What are some recent trends in weddings?
Cigar bars are a trend for grooms. I’ve done a couple weddings where the groom’s lounges are stocked with cigars and beer. And the newest, hottest trend is the slow-motion photo booth. Elysium Productions are launching a video booth where they video nine-second clips, slow it down to super-slow-mo and put it to music. I think that’s going to be a hot trend for 2014.

What are some picks for the most romantic spots in Orange County to tie the knot?
For traditional, one of my favorite settings is the Montage. They only do one wedding a day. It’s nice, but not pretentious, and you can have a gorgeous ceremony right on the cliff. And their service is amazing.

And for non-traditional?
One of my favorite escape settings is called Rancho Las Lomas. It’s an outside Spanish-style private estate venue, with no walls. It’s incredibly beautiful and peaceful and it’s also a zoological garden so there are tigers and zebras and…

Wait. Real tigers?
Yes, they have two Bengal tigers, a white and an orange one. There are also zebras, alpaca, macaws, and other really cool animals on the property. So people are always blown away by it and it makes for a truly special day.

Are theme weddings completely out?
I think The Great Gatsby has inspired a few. When really cool movies come out they inspire people. I’ve done one theme wedding. It was in October and the theme was The Nightmare Before Christmas. The couple was into motorcycles and sort of dark and gothic types. They did a color palette of purple and black and there were silhouette cutouts of the bride and groom from the movie. And we did dark manzanita branches for the table centerpieces.

Can people get more personalized with their weddings now because of technology?
Definitely. People are getting super-custom. That’s because there’s Style Me Pretty, Pinterest, Etsy, and so many other ways to craft your wedding to reflect exactly who you are.

What’s the biggest budget wedding you’ve ever done?
It was at [Omni Resorts] Rancho Las Palmas. They spent $60,000 on flowers alone, and the bride had two dresses that were each probably $20,000. Her necklace cost more than anything I own, and they had a 20-piece band, which is around $20,000. It was close to half a million dollars. But the irony is that they were one the most non-pretentious, loving couples I’ve worked with.

Has the economy affected the size of weddings?
I started my business in 2007, and when I started I was seeing smaller weddings, smaller budgets, but in the last few years budgets are getting bigger. But I think in general the trend has gone from having a huge wedding to having a more intimate wedding. I would say the average for an intimate wedding is 100 to 150. In the past it was 200-plus.

Is there a formula to help people keep things in budget?
My general rule of thumb is that once you find your venue cost, along with food and beverage, double that. Because you’re going to spend 50 to 60% of your budget on your food and beverage and your venue. So say you want to use Rancho Las Lomas, for 150 people, it’s probably going to be about $30,000. So the wedding will be $60,000. When you go to the Montage or Pelican Hill, it might be more than half your budget, but it’s still pretty close.

And do the bride’s parents still get to pay these days?
Times have changed. It’s not necessarily the bride’s parents paying for the wedding anymore. Often, it’s the bride and groom paying for it themselves. Especially since people are getting married at an older age now. So a 32-year-old bride is not going to ask her parents to pay for her wedding. Another thing I see is the parents and the bride and groom all putting in money.

A lot of fuss is made about the dress. Can you get an affordable wedding gown?
Yes. These days there are lots of places you can get a great dress for around $1,000. J. Crew, Anthropologie has a line, BHLDN, and there are others. You buy it online and they ship it to you. So it’s not the typical salon experience where your family and friends go in and cry while you try on dresses.

And if they want the salon experience, what’s the trick to staying in budget?
Here’s what I tell my brides: Don’t try on a dress that’s over your budget because you’re going to like it. So, if you only have $3,000, don’t try on a $10,000 couture dress because you’re going to like it and that’s going to create friction no matter what.

Have you ever had a bride or groom no-show?
No, thank god. But I’ve had two couples call off their weddings ahead of time. One was for religious differences and the other I don’t know the reason.

Did you see it coming?
There were a couple red flags, but it’s hard to know if it’s a real problem or just stress because of the wedding. They definitely had some intense conversations about the ceremony and the religious part of it, so when they called it off I wasn’t surprised about the religious difference, but I was surprised about them calling off the wedding. The other couple I didn’t see it coming.

What’s the biggest faux pas for a wedding guest?
Never bring a guest unless it says “and guest” on your invitation. It’s extremely rude because they’re paying per person and the couple has done all their seating assignments. Another faux pas is to decide to come a day before the wedding, because again, the seating is done at least a week before the wedding. So it’s a major inconvenience on what’s already a hectic day.

Your own wedding, just last year, was a small affair.
It was, to both my and my parents’ surprise. Being a wedding planner I wanted to have my own amazing event and my husband and I went through the motions to see if we could make it work. But the biggest thing for me, and what I tell my clients all the time, is you have to make the day special to yourself. In all my planning, I go back to the couple and the ceremony. That’s what’s important.

And so why was yours small?
My husband grew up going to a place called Kelleys Island in Ohio, where today, there’s a maple tree planted in his mom’s honor, who died when he was in college. I really wanted to get married under that tree since neither of our moms are still with us. So us having that moment was the most important thing. But we couldn’t fly everyone to Kelleys Island. So we eloped and had a very small, but special, ceremony. The one thing I did do, which I also tell all my clients, is to hire the best vendor team. So I flew out my hair and makeup stylist, my photographer and videographer, and it was unexpectedly great.

What’s the best advice you could give someone thinking of entering the business?
I would say, you need to be a chameleon. We have to work with brides and grooms who sometimes want different things. We also have to work with outside personalities, such as wedding vendors that we’ve never worked with before who are super-divas, or the wedding venues that aren’t wedding planner-friendly. So, you’ve got to be a people pleaser.

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