Thursday, February 7, 2013

New Orleans hospitality - Mardi Gras 101

     Coming off of hosting the Super Bowl, the feedback about our great city has been exactly what I would expect (except for that pesky black out which, let’s be honest, definitely spiced up what might have been the most boring Super Bowl thus far).  Of course, it’s been said that we corner the market in terms of our food, music, and general party atmosphere, but it finally leaked to the media that our real hospitality comes from our people. 

     We were said to have some of the friendliest locals, which I’m sure could be confusing to the average American watching our climbing murder rate, old footage of looters from Katrina that will forever follow us, reality shows about swamp people (that for some reason gets associated with the actual city of New Orleans), and drunk people showing their boobs in order to get plastic beads!  The media really does a great job of showing who we really are (please sense the sarcasm in my voice).

     The reality is that, for the most part, we are a city filled with tight-knit families that extend well beyond genetics.  We are a loyal group whether it is loyalty to a city that was once under water and could very well be there again with each hurricane season or loyalty to a football team that gave us nothing but heartache until “the Brees” blew in.  No one loves talking about New Orleans more than a New Orleanian, giving tourists the inside scoop on local hot spots, little known “holes in the walls,” the truth about Katrina, or any topic related to “ya mama and dem.”

     I am hopeful that the good press of our city will continue through this week with so many tourists staying, and coming to join, in order to experience what we are known for - Mardi Gras!  Once again, when using the media as a source of reference, you might be misled in terms of what to expect.  I’d like to squash a few stereotypes and put some local rules to the Mardi Gras season so you can make the most out of this week and fit in with the locals!

1.       Mardi Gras actually does not happen on Bourbon Street.  It is true that many people party there after the parades, although most of the people on Bourbon are tourists since most of the locals are on the balconies above!  Regardless, the reality is that New Orleans has a lot to offer off of Bourbon Street and Mardi Gras has everything to offer nowhere near it.

2.       DO not flash, especially for beads.  This is definitely something that someone from out of town started and everyone who ever visited followed suit. Locals do not do this.

3.       Do not show up five minutes before a parade and stand in front of the crowds of people who slept on the route the night before in order to conserve their spot – you will get your ass kicked and if you don’t, you should.  Save your own spot or stand in the back.

4.       Do not throw beads at the floats as they pass.  The idea is for the riders to throw to us and because of that they are not expecting to have something throw at them.  You will not look cool or funny, but you will look like an idiot who does not get out much.

5.       Do not follow the float down the street, unless you know someone riding on that float.  There will be another float right behind the one that just passed.  Wait patiently and get out of the street.

6.       Do not fight a child for a pair of beads; actually, do not fight anyone.  Beads cost nickels and dimes and are essentially worth nothing.

7.       Pace yourself with the drinking.  On Mardi Gras day and the weekend before, most people are out on the route for hours before the parade even starts.  In order to make it through the whole day (and the whole season,) pace yourself.  Do drink water and eat when you can!

8.       Do not wear flip flops if you are planning to go to Bourbon Street (that is just a rule no matter when you are here) and, for God’s sake, do not walk around bare foot.

Now, for your survival kit – pack a backpack and include the following:
1.       A roll of toilet paper
2.       Antibacterial hand sanitizer
3.       Aspirin or Excedrin Migraine – headaches are the worst
4.       Crackers, a sandwich or some kind of snack if you are not packing a full lunch
5.       A koozie in case you switch to beer
6.       A few plastic cups in case you, or a friend, need to make a drink on the route
7.       A bottle or two of water – stay hydrated
8.       Depending on the weather, pack accordingly – a sweatshirt if it’s cooler weather – as the sun goes down, it will get colder; an umbrella if rain is predicted at all.  Pack for the entire day into the night… not just the day time.
9.       Extra of whatever alcohol or beer you are drinking.  Tip: if you do not want to drag a cooler around all day, wrap your beer can in foil and then put it in a zip lock bag with some ice.  This will keep your beer cold if you do not want to drag an ice chest around all day!  Also, to conserve space, put your alcohol in empty water bottles.

     No matter what, when you come to New Orleans, you will have a blast and if you stick with some of the local traditions, it will be even better!  The Saturday before Mardi Gras, go to Orleans Avenue and spend the day people watching and cooking out before Endymion.  On that Sunday, watch Thoth on Magazine Street and then walk up to St. Charles Avenue to catch Bacchus.  If live music is your thing, go hear some of the best cover bands New Orleans has to offer downtown at Bacchus Bash before watching Bacchus, which rolls right down the street.  Head to Spanish Plaza on Lundi Gras for an outdoor concert and to see Rex arrive and enjoy a huge crowd of locals and the beautiful city setting.  Even in Metairie, parades are rolling every night, so if a more family atmosphere and smaller crowds are more your speed, that’s the place for you.

     Take advantage of the locals – we love to make new friends.  Enjoy everything Mardi Gras has to offer and then you can head to Bourbon Street!

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Dynamic Duo To Trump Your Wedding

     This year, our great city of New Orleans will host the most important NFL game of the year – The Super Bowl. And following this “National Holiday,”we’ll host the most important “New Orleans Holiday;” Mardi Gras.

     What does this mean for our city? It means three months of last minute construction in order to get the city looking nice and shiny; week-long events celebrating the big game; then, parades for a week to follow. The city will welcome swarms of tourists, celebrities and camera crews invading our streets to broadcast and experience the entire celebration of the big events. As a result, we will not be able to do anything unrelated to the Super Bowl or Mardi Gras from the time the parties commence until Ash Wednesday.

     What does this mean for your wedding vendors? It means working non-stop for the weeks leading up to the major celebrations - providing venues, catering, d├ęcor, itineraries, transportation and anything/everything to meet the expectations of what our clients, tourists and devoted locals are expecting – the parties of the year!

     What is my point? My point is that for the last week, I have been fielding phone calls from some of my clients that are getting married no sooner than the summer months, and my vendors have been fielding phone calls from clients getting married as late as Spring 2014. Even though we have explained that our response times are a bit slower right now due to the craziness going on in the city, the clients insist that these are emergency issues that need to be taken care of on the spot - “emergency issues” that include everything from room blocks to catering menus all for weddings that are more than four months away.

     I am the first person to push a vendor for a quicker response as I know New Orleans runs on its on schedule. I am always someone who answers emails right away, even if I’m on vacation. I take phone calls on Sunday nights, and while celebrating Thanksgiving with my family, I’ve been known to excuse myself to answer a client’s call. The invasion of holidays, weekends and night time hours are a problem in and of itself, but expecting every vendor to have the ability to operate accordingly during what will be two of the biggest events New Orleans will see this year, is more than demanding - it’s impossible.

     When you choose New Orleans as your destination city for your wedding, you chose it because we throw a party like no other, because we always have something going on and because we have the best of everything there is to offer- from music to restaurants. With that being said, please do your research and know when key events are in the city in which you will wed. Know when the festivals are taking place, as they will drive up the prices of hotel rooms. Know the city-wide convention dates that will make it impossible for you to get a hotel room at all. Know when our high wedding seasons occur so you don’t expect a weekend tasting. But most importantly, know when our party of the year takes place; for when Mardi Gras rolls in, all bets are off and we’re shut down for at least the week! Finally, when the apocalypse of parties happen - Super Bowl and Mardi Gras fall within a week of each other - either come on down and enjoy the party, or relax until Ash Wednesday.

     Unless your wedding will take place within a month of the festivities, concentrate on the things that do not involve your vendors. Know enough about what’s going on here to know that this is not like being in the middle of wedding season, or the weekend of French Quarter Fest where one or two vendors are affected. This is all of those festivities happening at the same time “x's 10” and there’s nothing we can do about it, so we sure as hell will embrace it!