February 8, 2012

Soup to Nuts:
Some not-so-modest proposals

Our Valentine survey reveals that when it comes to matrimonial intentions, some folks think WAY outside the little black jewelry box for ways to package the question.

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Tom McArdle worked with Haven’s to plant, in a block of milk chocolate, the ring he intended to present to Susan Giffard when he proposed last month.

Courtesy photo

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A proposal is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're getting

Susan Giffard and Tom McArdle met seven years ago over brunch at the Harraseeket Inn.

He brought her a box of chocolates because it was her birthday.

"Food and chocolate is a really big part of our relationship," says Giffard, who lives in North Yarmouth and works in the banking industry.

Still, she didn't quite understand what was going on last month when McArdle, a food services consultant who designs commercial kitchens, told her he wanted to have brunch with her and her two children, ages 16 and 23, at The Front Room in Portland.

It was Jan. 15. McArdle handed Giffard a package at the table.

"I didn't understand why he wanted me to open a gift in front of my kids at brunch," Giffard said. "I thought it was a group gift. I have an iPad, and I've been complaining that I can't read very well in the sun. So I thought it was about the shape and size of a Kindle box. I was very surprised when it was Haven's."

When Giffard opened the Haven's box, she saw a giant block of milk chocolate that had these words written in white: "Will You Marry Me?" A square was cut out of the center of the chocolate to make room for a blue satin pillow that held a diamond engagement ring.

McArdle had enlisted Haven's in his proposal plans and helped design the chocolate mold because the popular chocolatier didn't have one for popping the question.

Giffard said yes to the marriage proposal. But she was puzzled: Why it was made of milk chocolate, when her big weakness is dark chocolate?

"He got it for the kids," Giffard said. "Isn't that nice? It's very sweet."

The couple has not yet set a date for the wedding, which will be a small affair followed by a big dance party.

And the kids have not yet eaten the Haven's chocolate.

"I won't let them," Giffard said. 

– Meredith Goad, Staff Writer


LOCAL RESTAURANTS offering sweetheart Valentine deals.

"We put the (ring) box in the center of the lily and put a small sliver cloche on top of it, Liesener said. "Then we do a synchronized service, and everybody gets the same (amuse bouche), but then we say (to the woman), 'Oh but for you, we have something extra.' "

Liesener said that for something like the chocolate box, the staff needs 24 to 48 hours' notice, especially if the customer wants fresh flowers on the table as well.


Arlin Smith, general manager of Hugo's in Portland, says the restaurant probably gets four proposals a year, but never around Valentine's Day.

Smith says that chef/owner Rob Evans and his staff can pull off a nice presentation even on the day of a customer's reservation, but they prefer to have more notice.

"A week is plenty," Smith said. "A lot of people plan months in advance. The more time we have for planning, the nicer we can make it."

The last man who proposed called just a couple of days ahead of time, and he and Smith set up an elaborate hand-off of the ring. The man told Smith which pocket of his coat the ring would be in, and when Smith took the coat at the door, he was able to grab the ring and get it to the kitchen.

The couple had an elaborate meal, and when it came time for dessert, the staff presented them both with petit fours. Her plate had the ring on it.

"Sometimes you get crazy requests where they want you to bake it into a cake or something like that, but we don't do that," Smith said. "We tell them what works for us, and tell them we can make it special for you if you just give us a little freedom. We already have tricks up our sleeve that we can show people and wow them. And then it's not just the woman who's surprised, it's the man too."

The most memorable ring presentation Smith has seen at Hugo's involved a bird cage that Evans made out of caramel. The cage covered a board filled with confections and a display of flowers.

"In the middle of the board there was one orchid all on its own, and the ring was put around the middle of the orchid, so it was very subtle," Smith recalled.

The bird cage was about a foot high, and Evans made several as back-ups in case it broke.


You might think that such an elaborate display and use of staff time might add a pretty penny to the final bill, but Arlin Smith said unless someone orders flowers for the table, the restaurant usually doesn't charge extra for a special presentation of the ring. They view it more as an investment in the customer, because if the couple has a good experience, they often become regulars.

Indeed, just about every restaurant said that if a couple gets engaged there, they are likely to return every year for their anniversary. Sometimes they even request the same table.

That's happened at Portland's Five Fifty-Five, where newly engaged couples are sent off with a toast and a personalized menu to mark the occasion.

In some cases, the nature of the restaurant venue can add a little something extra to a proposal. Recently, for example, someone asked permission to propose in Caiola's wine cellar.

At Bresca, a tiny restaurant on Middle Street in Portland, the dining room is so small that a romantic marriage proposal becomes a shared moment of intimacy, embracing everyone else who happens to be in the restaurant that evening. Bresca has had at least five marriage proposals in the five years it has been open, according to chef/owner Krista Desjarlais.

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