Wedding registries are a win-win for bridal couples and the people who want to buy gifts for them. Many stores that offer china, crystal, housewares or gifts also have registries bridal couples can compile that include everything from fine china patterns and flatware to towels, sheets, pans and art. Many couples establish registries at several different stores — one for dishes, crystal and flatware and others for linens, cookware, furniture and home improvement tools.

  Registries help couples gather what they need to build a new home together, but there also are benefits for gift givers. The wish lists offer items in a range of prices, inform buyers if personal monogramming is available for glasses or linens and show how many items from each category — place settings or glasses, for instance — have been purchased. Even people who don't plan to purchase from a registry can use it to gain insight into a couple's personal taste and style, allowing them to select a personal gift that matches the couple's aesthetics.

  Stores that operate registries normally ship — there's often a gift-wrapping option — directly to the couple, which is convenient for out-of-town guests and those who don't attend a shower beforehand.

  Registry experts at Adler's (722 Canal St., 504-523-5292; Lakeside Shopping Center, 3301 Veterans Memorial Blvd., Metairie, 504-523-5292; and Macy's (The Esplanade, W. 1401 Esplanade Ave., Kenner, 504-461-4800; Lakeside Shopping Center, 3301 Veterans Memorial Blvd., Metairie, 504-484-4600; recommend the bride and groom work together on a registry and give some thought to their lifestyle, which will determine what they really need.

  Often couples can fill out a registry online, but Linda Hobbs, who has worked as a registry consultant at Adler's for 38 years, recommends couples come into the store and meet with a consultant before they start.

  "We work with them one on one," she says. "We don't just give them a [bar code reader] that they shoot at items. They need to know the pros and cons of all the products there." It takes about an hour to go through all the items they should consider, and though an appointment isn't necessary, Hobbs says it allows the staff to set aside time for them exclusively.

  At these meetings, couples also can learn ways to get the most out of their registries. Many stores, Macy's and Adler's included, have options for guests to put money toward a gift card couples can use to select items on the registry or other things in the store.Under Adler's "completion program," when seven of any one item is purchased, the eighth is free. Other businesses also offer incentive programs to help couples obtain the unpurchased items on their registries.

  "The brides today are really smart," Hobbs says. "About three-quarters of them have an idea of what they want, but it's good to go over it. You have to customize what you get with the way you entertain or live. ... It's good to remember when they grew up how their mom and dad entertained, what they used. This allows them to consider what they might want to add later."

  The gift cards are good for picking up items you didn't know you needed.

  "We generally suggest they wait until a month after the wedding to see what they get (from people who send gifts after the wedding date)," Hobbs says, adding that by waiting, a bride might find she needs serving spoons more than a gravy boat. "We have brides who ... will come in right after their honeymoon. Then we had another bride who came in after five years and said, 'I'm so glad I waited. Now I know what I need.'"

  Lots of couples today choose a basic white china pattern and mix in more colorful patterns, often from different product lines, Hobbs says.

  "I see a trend now that it's more plain (patterns for basic place settings), a lot of mixing of the different vendors," Hobbs says. "Now there's a lot of plain, basic patterns with accent plates or soups. They can customize it to their taste. I see a lot of concentration on everyday (place settings); most of them are dishwasher-safe."

  Macy's and Adler's advise couples not to restrict the size of their registry.

  "I tell them not to worry so much about the quantity of things they're putting down," Hobbs says. "Put down what you want and what you will really use, and put down items in a wide price range."

Registry tips

Start early — Recommendations about when to establish a registry vary from shortly after you are engaged to a minimum of four months before the wedding date to allow guests to shop for showers, parties and the wedding.

Meet with a consultant — These free advisers can tell you what items are most useful to most bridal couples and which are used infrequently. They also can discuss specific products such as which dishes, cookware, etc., are dishwasher-safe, durable or fragile. Appointments aren't always necessary, but they are advised. Set aside at least an hour.

Ask about special programs — Some stores offer incentives such as "completion programs," gift cards, free shipping or gift-wrapping options and more for gifts purchased from a registry.

Register together — Both the bride and groom should be part of the process for selecting items for their life together. First, take an inventory of what you have and the style you want in your home together. Some couples like to assign categories: the groom selecting electronics, for instance, and the bride choosing the bedding or china patterns.

Create a registry that reflects you — If you're a laid-back couple, consider registering for a more casual dinnerware pattern you can use every day, then mix in some family pieces or more formal items to use on special occasions. If you often entertain family and friends, choose an assortment of serving pieces and bar accoutrements.

Choose a variety of prices — Make your list varied with a wide range of prices to accommodate all budgets.

Know what you're getting — Pay attention to what comes in sets, such as glasses and place settings, and what items come as extras, such as serving pieces.

Consider the basics — Some consultants recommend white dinnerware as a base so couples can transform the look of their table throughout the year by mixing in dishes with colorful patterns or by changing accessories and decor.

Stock up on must-haves — Sheets, towels, pots and pans, baking dishes, storage containers and cooking utensils are essentials, but luxury items and appliances like mixers, coffee makers, vacuum cleaners and bread makers also can be placed on a registry.

Update your registry — Keep track of your registry and the items purchased and consider adding things to maintain a good price range.

Read the fine print — Check each registry's policies on returns, exchanges and using gift cards or store credit. Some registries have time limits for those actions. Many stores maintain registries for two years or so after the wedding so family and friends can use it for future gifts.

Spread the word — Put registry information on your personal online wedding page, if you make one, or let your family, friends and attendants relay the message to guests. (It's still considered gauche to include registries on invitations.) Having a registry available online is convenient for guests, and making it easy to use is key.

Say thank you — Many gifts bought through a registry are mailed directly to the wedding couple, so your guests may not know it has arrived until you acknowledge it. Etiquette expert Emily Post says thank you notes should be sent within three months of receiving a wedding gift.