As a cake designer, I know how complicated ordering a wedding cake can be. Tastings in and of themselves are a mess. A couple often goes to so many that it’s hard to remember whose cake tasted like what (and how you actually felt about it). Pricing is another wild card. How do they come up with the numbers, and why are they so different from one bakery to the next? And then there’s the wondering. Will what you order actually be what you get? We all hope so.
Obviously you have options when it comes to cake. There’s no rule that says you can’t use a grocery store sheet cake and rock it. But if you’re going the baker route, I can help demystify the wedding cake ordering process. With any luck, after reading this you’ll feel comfortable enough to blast through this portion of wedding planning stress-free (with a few extra samples tucked away in the freezer).
Bakery Selection and Style
When selecting the bakery you’re interested in, be sure to check out their social media and website to get an idea of their visual style. Some bakeries may pride themselves on their rustic buttercream cakes with fresh flowers, while others may specialize in ornate fondant cakes (the type of icing that covers cakes, giving them an almost plastic, smooth look). There is no better or worse when it comes to these differences; it simply matters what you want.
Cake height is one of these stylistic characteristics that one wouldn’t think of until going through a few different portfolios. You will notice that a baker will be pretty married (pun intended) to their cake heights. A taller tier typically means more layers of cake and buttercream, which gives you more servings per tier.
Knowing what visual approach a cake designer has will allow you to determine whether or not they work within your stylistic parameters. For example, it wouldn’t be prudent to expect a primarily buttercream bakery to be versed in hand painting on fondant.
Each bakery will do tastings differently. Some will have cupcakes in the case and you will select from those, others will make a few fresh. As for tasting fees, expect to pay anywhere from $0 to $50. It is important that you come prepared with inspiration images. Pinterest boards and magazine cutouts are helpful. Much like a tattoo artist, we bakers are not mind readers, and we need you to be abundantly clear about what you’d like. Some bakers will sketch something with you right there at the tasting, while others will take a few days to come up with something.
Also, you’ll need to have your approximate guest count, as bakers typically charge per slice. As long as your wedding isn’t within two weeks, you will not be expected to pay for the whole thing up front, but you may be asked to provide a deposit, which will typically be 50 percent.
If you’re getting a fondant cake, do taste the fondant that your baker uses. There are so many varieties, and despite popular opinion, not all of them are disgusting. My personal favorites are those with white chocolate in the recipe.
I mentioned to an old coworker of mine that I was writing this article, and she went, “Oof, I still find it hard to price cakes.” And she’s been at it far longer than I have.
I relate this to you so that you don’t feel alone. It actually is that difficult to understand, and it will never be a precise science because, ultimately, bakers are artists, and it’s very challenging to price one’s own art.
This said, there are general guidelines.
First, wedding cakes are priced per serving, so take that guest count you’ve got and subtract 15 to 20 percent, because unless you’ve got folks serving the cake to your guests’ tables, not everyone is going to take a piece of it. There are few things more heartbreaking to a baker than seeing a whole uneaten tier go to waste, because Aunt Ginny’s diabetic, and Grandma Lee doesn’t have a sweet tooth, and Cousin Leo hates chocolate, and so on. Be wary of the baker who says you should get your full guest count (unless you want leftovers, of course).
Slice prices vary from baker to baker, but on average, you’ll be looking at a base of approximately $5 each slice, which decoration in addition. If you’re going to get a mostly fake cake with a real layer to cut, you’ll not be getting that big of a discount, because the same amount of time will go into decorating it. If you want a small centerpiece cake, with a sheet cake in the back, this might be your most economical option, as most bakeries tend to offer a discount for simple rustic buttercream sheet cakes.
Second, decorations take time. If you’d like a personalized figurine set of you and your partner on the cake made of sugar, expect to pay at very least $100 for a simplistic one. With children’s birthday cakes for example, I typically suggest folks purchase small toys to place on the cake, because we’re going to be charging at least $40 for that 3D Snoopy head, and you can buy a whole Peanuts set for less than that. Etsy is very helpful for cake toppers such as figurines, and as long as they’re not made of sugar, you get to keep them forever. I’m not trying to dissuade folks from ordering figurines from bakers—I love making them—but seldom is it that people are willing to pay for how much time they take to make. Another way to save money is to use fresh flowers as opposed to sugar ones. If you’re looking for fantastical colors, sugar flowers are the way to go, but know that you’ll be paying anywhere between $30 and $60 per flower.
Dos and Don’ts when ordering your wedding cake.
Don’t bring a million people with you to your tasting without warning your baker. Most bakeries are barely outfitted with any chairs, so when a client rolls up with not only their betrothed, but their mother-in-law and three children, things get crowded, and frankly, it is very hard to have a business discussion under those circumstances.
Do ask a lot of questions. It makes everyone’s lives easier if everything is sorted out that first meeting, as opposed to stressing the whole lot out by having months of back and forth emails splitting hairs.
Don’t expect any baker to take you seriously if you ask for a super ornate cake for 150 guests, and your budget is under $200. That will never happen, and if your baker suggests you check out the Kroger bakery, don’t be surprised (or insulted).
Do expect your cake to taste the same as it did at your tasting. If it doesn’t, you have every right to complain to the bakery. You should also expect a moist cake. I’m not sure where this rumor came about that wedding cakes are dry, but I have never worked in a bakery where that has been the case, and I hope never to encounter.
Don’t change your design ideas two weeks before the wedding. Your baker will likely have started working on some decorations, or will not have the time to come up with a whole new design. Cake design is an art form; treat it with the respect it deserves.
Now go forth into the world and get that cake of your dreams!