When Christian Moreno decided to pop the question to his girlfriend of three years, he wanted to wow her — and no ordinary restaurant proposal would do.
"She loves surprises and I wanted to make it really special," he said. So Moreno, a 40-year-old brokerage representative in Keller, Texas, lured his girlfriend to a Dallas mansion, where Prosecco, champagne flutes and flowers awaited her. This was followed by an elegant restaurant dinner.
That wasn't all. Hiding behind a row of bushes next to the photographer to make sure it all went off without a hitch was Michael Bloomberg (no, not the former mayor of New York City), owner of The Romance CEO. Moreno paid Bloomberg $1,750 for his proposal-planning services and an extra $2,150 for the gifts and services of various vendors. "I was very happy with the way it turned out," Moreno said.
For many of today's soon-to-be-hitched couples, the once-clever "Will you marry me?" message tucked inside a fortune cookie simply won't do. Instead, in the spirit of Kanye West's opulent proposal to Kim Kardashian, many young men are feeling the pressure to do it up in a grand style. West flew Kardashian on her birthday to San Francisco's AT&T Park, which he had rented, brought in her entire family, and hired a 50-piece orchestra to play one of his songs. That has spurred a new industry of wedding proposal planners who execute intricate plans intended to win a beloved's heart.
Bloomberg said every person who's being proposed to deserves "a story to tell." A full service package, for which he handles all the details — ideal, he says, for the busy executive or professional athlete — can run $4,800.
Michele Velazquez's husband proposed to her on a sunset cruise, even though she doesn't like boats. This led her to realize that men need help in this area, so she founded The Heart Bandits in Los Angeles, California, four years ago. She now has coordinators in 14 cities in the U.S. and has planned roughly 1,000 proposals.
Social media "plays a huge role" in the demand for her services, Velazquez said. A proposal, once private, is now broadcast on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. "When someone proposes in a crazy way, a million people see it the next day," she said. "It's changed the expectations."
Most of her clients are affluent and spend anywhere from $3,000 to $43,000 on a proposal.
One man recently spent $42,000 to rent a private penthouse in Chelsea, New York, that overlooks the city. For his proposal experience, he ordered specially-made cherry blossom replica trees, a huge ice sculpture, crystals hanging with photos of the couple, a harpist, and a catered dinner with a full bar. Velazquez also once transformed a San Francisco room to a winter wonderland for a woman proposing to her girlfriend; the scene resembled Vermont, where the two met on a ski trip.
Many people feel that a lavish wedding proposal is a way to demonstrate commitment, says Velazquez. It also sets the bar for the main event: Someone who's spent $43,000 on a marriage proposal clearly won't have a simple wedding.
The presumption, of course, is that the woman will say yes. Most couples have already discussed marriage and sometimes have even set a date before the official proposal happens. The marriage proposal is a way to introduce an element of surprise.
"There are girls tapping their toe and looking at their watch and saying, 'Why haven't you proposed yet?'" said Sarah Pease, who oversees proposal planning for Brilliant Events in New York, where she executes 7 to 10 proposals a month in the busy season.
Her proposals have ranged from a "takeover" of the end of the musical Wicked — where the man proposed on center stage accompanied by soloists — to a proposal on the French Alps, where the rose petals alone cost more than $5,000. There was also the $50,000 proposal aboard a rented aircraft carrier.
Stephanie Coontz, author of Marriage, a History, and director of research at the Council on Contemporary Families, said that, unlike a generation ago when women often felt compelled to marry for economic reasons, they no longer crave it or need it. As a result, there's a sense for men that "if you want a really desirable woman, you've got to talk her into it and knock her off her feet," she said. But she prefers the old-fashioned approach and feels that lavish proposals "blasted all over" are a waste of money.
If you agree but still want an unforgettable proposal, less expensive options are also available. The Yes Girls charge $199 to provide ideas that future grooms can execute themselves. Bloomberg charges $250 for a one-time consultation.
Judging from his fiancée's reaction, Moreno — who took his girlfriend to Dallas to pop the big question — felt the money was well spent. Expecting a low-key proposal in front of her family, Yuri Veliz was "blown away" by what he'd planned. She said the "very classy and impeccably beautiful" setting was beyond her dreams. "It was the most amazing night of my life so far."
The only drawback? It threatens to overshadow their small destination wedding. "I think my big day won't be as beautiful as that night was," Veliz said.
More from The Financial Times...
- 13 mind-bogglingly weird weddings
- The 5 worst money mistakes of millionaires
- Nothing says 'I love you' like smart financial planning