Ask an Expert: The Planner

Photo: Brad Paris

Francesca Abbracciamento

What makes you a great planner?
I graduated from the French Culinary Institute and I worked at some of the city’s top catering companies before starting my firm in 1999. I also have an extreme obsession with lighting. I suppose it’s only appropriate that I married an electrician.

What are some quick rules of thumb for a bride doing all this herself?
Plan the ceremony logistics first. Before choosing a date, find out if your officiant is available. When shopping for a venue, ask about restrictions and additional costs (like rubbish removal and freight-elevator overtime), as well as whether you need insurance certificates for your vendors. It’s a potential nightmare if the event exec calls two days before the wedding and says, “We’ve never worked with this florist and we need a certificate.” Without one, they can’t load in.

How best to keep the planning organized?
Make your guest list first. Keep two forms of this list from the very beginning: one in Excel and another in Word, which you send to your calligrapher.

Do you also plan the rehearsal dinner and brunch?
For some couples, yes. For the rehearsal dinner, I really like Bayard’s, i Trulli, Hotel on Rivington, Le Bernardin, Beppe, Roxy Suite at Radio City Music Hall, and Il Cortile. Or, Ramscale Studio and the Explorers Club are great [event spaces to rent] as well.

Where are you partial to for brunch?
Fred’s, Gilt, Per Se, and Falai. Some clients also hire us to do the bachelorette party and bridal shower. Lenox, Massachusetts, is a retreat for all seasons. Wheatleigh is a luxurious inn, and there’s also Canyon Ranch.

What’s a good strategy for choosing vendors?
Refrain from interviewing too many; choose two in each category. Once you’ve hired everyone, keep a binder with tabs for each contract, deposits, and final payments.

Is a 50 percent deposit the norm?
Many will ask for a retainer. I recommend a $2,000 retainer to show that you’re committed to working with them and so that there’s no chance of losing the date.

When should a couple take out an insurance policy?
They are so expensive. If you’re planning a tented wedding and there’s a lot at risk. You’re protected in the event that weather is so inclement that there’s damage to the tent or if enough people cancel that you have to postpone the wedding. I have a wonderful insurance guy. His name is George Walden, the CFO of Albert G. Ruben.

To what extent should a couple flesh out a rain contingency plan?
To the last detail. When thinking about your budget, take into account what Plan B could cost—that could be a difference of $20,000 or more. You can negotiate and prearrange rates depending on what may happen.

A good transportation plan is key, too.
If your ceremony is uptown and your reception is in Tribeca, it may be a good idea to rent 24-passenger mini-shuttles. Antique open trolleys are great, too: I use J&R Tours in Mt. Vernon. I had one client who had an Orthodox bridesmaid who couldn’t take a car from the rehearsal to the rehearsal dinner because it was Shabbat. So we got a pedal-powered rickshaw for her. If there’s no planner, the bride is like the general contractor for the event, and it’s her responsibility to accommodate everyone.

After Abbracciamento got engaged, she and her now-husband opened a special checking account for their wedding costs. “A lot of couples are getting credit cards, too, and paying their debt off in the months after the wedding.” American Express’s Knot Card has low rates and no annual fee, and offers an advanced Membership Rewards program that allows you—and any companion card holders—to redeem and pool points toward travel (read: free honeymoon!).


Ask an Expert: The Planner