Race to the Altar

Photo-illustration by Danny Kim

Hire the Planner
It’s entirely possible to organize an eleventh-hour wedding and “have it look the same as if you’d planned it in a year,” says Shawn Rabideau (212-695-7881; prices upon request), who famously put together Real Housewives alum Bethenny Frankel’s wedding in just four weeks. “Planners are organized, anal-retentive go-getters,” he says. But scramblers must be realistic. While every planner has a Rolodex of industry contacts, they’re not miracle workers: Couples should be prepared to scout big-ticket items, such as a location, on their own and rely on planners to simply confirm venue permits and coordinate vendors (the cake, flowers, etc.). Booking a day-of coordinator is also an option. Anna Leath, director of client services at Just About Married (212-334-5158; from $3,000), specializes in last-minute organizing and makes sure no detail is overlooked. Click here for more day-of planners.

Book the Venue
Embracing an under-the-radar location that can accommodate both the reception and ceremony is key. All-inclusive packages at Dumbo’s Galapagos Art Space (16 Main St., nr. Water St.; 718-222-8500; from $10,625), for example, cover everything but the food, and weekend availability is higher in the winter. Steer clear of holidays and road-clogging events (like the ING New York City Marathon on November 6) that drive up prices and inconvenience guests, and, crazy though this may seem, don’t rule out the great outdoors. Reverend Will Mercer (646-753-2959; from $500) officiates at Central Park weddings “till the first big snow hits” and especially likes the Victorian Ladies Pavilion for a location. If you plan to invite more than twenty guests, be sure to secure a special-event permit (nycgovparks.org; $25) at least three weeks in advance. In chillier months, permit-holders can rent generators for use with outdoor space heaters.

Reserve the Photographer
If your top choices are already booked, and they probably will be, photographer Jen Huang (347-323-5736; from $10,000) suggests asking for their assistants or a referral for a shooter whose work they admire. You might also consider renting a photo booth, distributing disposable cameras to guests (Huang prefers Fujifilm’s pastel tones to Kodak’s contrasting ones), or asking members of your entourage to shoot digital. Just don’t rely entirely on what Huang calls “the mom-tographer”—untrained shutterbugs armed with pro SLRs who don’t know the first thing about framing and focusing.

Photo: Alamy

Resist the Evite
Just because you’re down to the wire doesn’t mean your wedding details should be posted on Facebook. Once you’ve set your date, call or e-mail guests and ask them to save it. Next, Paperfinger.com founder Bryn Chernoff recommends choosing a stationery suite (from $1,250) from a set of preexisting designs and having them digitally printed on high-quality 5-by-7-inch paper. (Unusual sizes equal higher postage and printing fees.) Chernoff can turn around digital invites in about four weeks, whereas her letterpress work requires a minimum of six weeks. She also recommends printing your wedding website’s URL (build one at weddingwire.com) on a small inset card to go with the invitation.

Order the Food
A “sweet-spot” head count is 75 to 125, says Steve Carapella of CaraLeo Catering (40-21 Bell Blvd., at 41st Ave., Bayside; 800-844-3920; from $11,625), a last-minute favorite of Leath’s. Fewer guests and you’re not getting the most bang for your buck, since labor is the costliest part of a catering bill; more and you’re paying for additional workers. If you’re booking a venue and a caterer that haven’t worked together before, grill them: Does the venue have a standard caterer’s agreement? What equipment are they allowed to bring in? Open flames are sometimes restricted, which affects your menu; filet mignon prepared off-site, says Carapella, is just not worth it. When selecting a cake, Lael Cakes owner Emily Aumiller (484-358-9305; from $10 per serving) cautions against anything sculpted in fondant, like intricate sugar flowers. Instead, order a buttercream-frosted cake and request easy-to-add embellishments like pinwheels or paper flowers.

Nail Down Attire
To circumvent time-consuming alterations, tailor Esin Kirmizidag of Sew Elegant (108 W. 39th St., at Sixth Ave.; 212-764-1701) prescribes preventive shopping: Seek gowns with simple patterns and construction, avoiding Chantilly lace, beadwork, and appliqués. In a pinch, Lovely (313 W. 4th St., nr. W. 12th St.; 212-924-2050; by appointment only) offers a rotating selection of off-the-rack sample gowns, some marked up to 30 percent off. The staff at Eisenberg & Eisenberg (16 W. 17th St., nr. Fifth Ave.; 212-627-1290; rentals $95 to $150), meanwhile, are used to men coming in for same-day suit and tux rentals. The shop does alterations on-site and can perform basic fixes like hemming in fifteen minutes.

Buy the Flowers
Forget flying in exotic flora from faraway lands; flash-planning demands regional blooms. Floral designer Lucy Wu (153-11 Union Turnpike, nr. 153rd St., Flushing; 888-789-4588; from $2,000) recommends tried-and-true color combos (pink and purple, say, or yellow, orange, and brown) or focusing on a monochromatic scheme (click here for ideas). Rabideau, who has designed floral packages with one week’s notice, emphasizes seasonality. In October and November, for example, dahlias, zinnias, and sunflowers are plentiful; come January, it’s all about amaryllis.

Seal the Deal
To finalize the whole till-death-do-us-part thing, you and your future Mr. or Mrs. must visit your county clerk’s office (cityclerk.nyc.gov) with a photo ID and credit card or $35 money order to apply for a license. Assuming all goes as planned, the license will be valid in 24 hours. But if you don’t have that kind of time, request a free judicial waiver from the office; after the wedding, the officiant has five business days to file it.

Race to the Altar