My last blog gave some advice to Annabel, a bride-to-be, about planning her wedding cake budget, you'll find it here. This time I thought I’d better get that awkward question out of the way, the one that I know some of you may well be asking - “why do wedding cakes cost so much”? I’ve been creating wedding cakes long enough to know that some people have no idea how much they cost. And just occasionally, when they do find out, it’s not always what they were hoping to hear. Are you sitting comfortably?
"But it's just flour, sugar and eggs"
If you are having a custom cake made, for a wedding or any other occasion, there’s a whole list of factors that the cake designer has to take into account when working out a price. Like other ‘artisan’ craftspeople who create one-off designs, the cost of our finished products is not just based on the cost of the materials and a bit extra added on for our time. If I ever hear someone say “but it’s just flour, sugar and eggs” then I’ll have to sit them down and explain that there’s a tad more involved in pricing a cake.
"What exactly do you need to make a cake?"
ingredients (I need to stock up to 3 kinds of flour and 6 kinds of sugar)
equipment (cupboards and drawers full)
recipe and cake decorating books (shelves galore)
an oven (expensive means reliable)
decorative items and trims like ribbon (yes, that costs money too)
edible decorations like sprinkles, edible pearls, cake lace (edible lace! Who’d have thought?)
cake boards, cake boxes (yes, they also cost money)
and lots more besides
I've not finished yet...
"OK, so I get that you're running a business, that surely can't cost much?"
Oh really? How about::
An accountant's fees for doing the yearly tax return etc.
A website (I built my own to keep the cost down, all feedback gratefully accepted)
Advertising (including wedding fair table charges at £80 a time)
Stationery (design pads, coloured pencils etc to produce a sketch of your gorgeous wedding cake)
Subscriptions to websites for help with marketing, cake decorating training videos etc (keeping my skills up so I can offer you a variety of designs)
And the list goes on…and on…
So it's just a matter of “flour, sugar and eggs”? Mmm, think again! Are you starting to get the picture?
"What kind of wage do you take from your business?"
When it comes to working out an hourly rate for our time, we cake makers have a theory and then there’s real life. The theory is that cake making and decorating is a skill and so our hourly rate should reflect that – in an ideal world we believe we qualify for more than the minimum wage.
The reality is that sometimes we actually earn less than that because we’re human after all and that means, unfortunately for some of us, we’re not always great at estimating exactly how long it will take us to produce a specific cake. Some cakes are easier to estimate than others, it depends what type of design elements are involved and whether we're experienced in the skills required. Of course, we should get better at estimating the more experienced we get.
"Wedding cakes are a lot pricier than birthday cakes? What's going on?"
When it comes to wedding cakes I have heard the odd person say ‘oh well, you’ve only got to stick ‘wedding’ in front of something and they’ll inflate the price”. Yes, I do pick up what people are saying as they pass my table at wedding fairs! To be totally honest, yes, a wedding cake will cost more than stacking three birthday cakes one on top of the other if you want to look at it that way. The difference with wedding cakes is that we cake designers take such great care over your cake. We want your dream cake to be perfect as much as, if not even more than you. In reality a wedding cake is never 100% perfect – no hand-made cake is. That’s partly what ‘hand-made’ as opposed to ‘factory-produced’ is all about. Most of the cake-makers I know are like me – neurotic perfectionists who stress over every tiny flaw, even if we know it’s not something customers will pick up on.
The individual cakes that are tiered up to form a wedding cake tend to be taller than the average birthday cake as well, it's not unusual for each tier to be at least one and half times the height of a birthday cake as you can see in this 'falling hydrangeas' cake.
When you see your wedding cake for the first time, what you will see is the overall effect, we expect you to be stunned, amazed, and to bow down in front of it. You won’t notice any tiny details that aren’t perfect. The cake maker will have spent ages and done their very best to remove these as much as 'humanly' possible, we’re not production-line machines after all. The stress that wedding cake designers go through when working on, delivering, and setting up your cake can reach fever pitch. There is hopefully no blood shed (blue plasters at the ready should you cut your finger) but there is plenty of sweat and tears, believe me!
That should give you an idea of the extra care and attention to detail that’s required for wedding cakes compared to birthday cakes.
"Are there a range of prices to choose from, depending on where I order my wedding cake?"
Maybe you were OK with wedding cake prices before you read this blog but you now understand where those prices come from. Or maybe you’re that person who hadn’t a clue about cake prices and now you get the picture. Perhaps you still don’t want to pay the price for a custom wedding cake even if you now start to see they’re not just flour, eggs and sugar. In which case, you still have options.
You can ask any friends and relatives who are hobby bakers if they fancy the challenge.Give them plenty of notice!
Marks and Spencer produce cakes, decorated to order with a range of options to choose from or you can buy one undecorated and have fun doing it yourself.
Contact a cake maker who works from home, or one who has a local shop.
You may be one of the few brides lucky enough to have an unlimited budget and who can afford to shop at a high end cake designer's store in the West End (for example, in Glasgow or London).
Here's a quote from the website of another cake designer, Rhianydd of Daffodils and Dragons that neatly sums up the cost you can expect to pay a professional cake maker – “Bespoke not Budget”.
I won’t be upset if you decide not to order your cake from me because of the price. I’m only one of your options and if one of the others is the best option for you, that’s OK with me. If you have any stories about who’s making your cake or how you managed to get a great deal on the price, I’d love to hear them, just add a comment below or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
All photos copyright of Leigh Smith Cakes.