We’re going to employ a little common sense here. Ready? Good. Let’s say you take 30 of your closest family and friends to Olive Garden and want everyone to enjoy a slice of Lemon Cream Cake (yum!). At $5.95 per slice (here in Killeen, Texas), you will be looking to pay about $180 (before tax) for 30 servings of cake. That is 30 servings of cake that is NOT customized, NOT decorated to match any theme and NOT made to order.
I get phone calls from potential customers everyday. Sometimes, the conversation goes something like this:
Hi there! This is Viola, how can I help? -Me
Yes, I’d like to order a cake in the shape of an airplane (or other complex 3d shape) -Customer
Yes of course! How many people do you need to serve? -Me
Oh, about 100. -Customer
Ok that will be $600 ($6 per serving–VERY reasonable considering the amount of time I will inevitably spend on this cake, plus labor, ingredients and materials. Remember, OG charges that same price for undecorated, half frozen cake) -Me
WHAT?! For a cake?! Oh, that’s way too much. -Customer
Well, perhaps we can come up with a design that will be more within your budget. By the way, what is your budget? -Me
About $100. -Customer
Of course, right after that, naturally, I’m like:
I think this may be frustrating for the customer, who may feel like I am gouging or just being greedy. It is certainly frustrating for me because I know the time and I energy I put into my cakes and feel it’s only fair that I be compensated accordingly. I tend to think it is a bit of a sticker shock, so let’s go ahead and employ that common sense I talked about earlier. Let me point out here that most of my cakes are in the $150-$350 price range. In comparison, cake decorator Kerry Vincent will not fire up her oven for less than $4,000. Cake Works in San Francisco has a $600 minimum charge, and the Cake Girls in Chicago have a similar minimum. Ace of Cakes will not even touch a 3D cake for less than $1,000. Ron Ben Israel, Colette Peters, Debbie Brown, Norm Davis, Toba Garrett and tons more charge in the thousands for their cakes.
Now, don’t go feeling bad or less than awesome if you can’t afford a custom cake. I’ve had customers tell me, “I know your prices are fair and I know you are worth it, I just cannot afford your services at this time.” And I can appreciate that, I really can. I know that not everyone can pay $200 or $300 for a birthday cake. However, there are quite a few misconceptions that need to be cleared up here.
First of all, when you purchase a custom cake, you are not just paying for cake ingredients. Likewise, when you take your car to a mechanic, you aren’t just paying for parts. You also have to pay for time, expertise and labor. Such is the case with cake decorating. Remember, it is NOT just cake. Not even close. If you wanted JUST cake (ie, sugar, flour, eggs and vanilla extract), you could just go to the store and purchase those items and spend less than $20.
Herein lies the problem.
You cannot buy a custom cake at the grocery store (and honestly, why would you want to?) Of course you can buy a cake at the grocery store, but it’d be semi-custom at best and a cake wreck at worst. Comparing grocery store cakes to custom bakery cakes is like comparing a Toyota Corolla to a Bentley. Sure, they’ll both get you from point A to point B, but I’d be willing to bet most people would rather be driving a Bentley. Bentleys drive better, look better (they probably smell better too!) and just provide a better overall experience. Incidentally, Bentleys also cost more. When you order a cake from a grocery store or a cheap cake shop, you can be sure that your cake was probably previously frozen (ie, NOT freshly baked), and customizations will be minimal. Cheap ingredients are normally used in order to mass produce. “You get what you pay for” certainly applies here.
When I make a custom cake in my (pristine) kitchen, I make it as though I am making it for myself or a close family member or friend. I put countless hours into prepping, designing, baking and decorating. Everything is baked to order and I use only fresh ingredients bought locally, when possible. Most grocery stores do not make their icing: it is shipped to them in buckets and contains ingredients most of us can’t even pronounce. By the time you eat it, it’s a good chance it was sitting around at room temperature for weeks or months after it was actually “created”. Sounds delicious, no? I, as do most custom cake bakers, make my own icing to order using fresh butter.
Custom cake decorating requires certain tools and equipment which have to be purchased by the decorator. These tools include special knives, leveling tools, impression mats, cake pans, modeling tools, molds, wires, dowels, foams, icing spatulas, airbrush kits, food coloring and many other items. I also use ribbons and cake boards and internal structures in my cakes to make sure my cakes don’t fall or collapse. These tools and equipment are all items which must be accounted for when quoting my lovely customers a price.
I also have to pay electricity for running my oven.
Not to mention the time it takes to cleanup after a cake is completed.
Typically, I spend between 8-12 hours on each cake, occasionally more. If I only charge $75 for a cake, after the cost of ingredients, I wouldn’t even be making minimum wage.
One last thing to consider is the amount of time a cake decorator has invested in their gifting and talent. You don’t just wake up one day and start decorating cakes like Cake Boss. It takes many years of decorating, experimenting, researching and sleepless nights to be able to execute a flawless cake design. So when you see an awesome cake design, remember it’s not just cake. It’s time, it’s talent, it’s treasure and it’s a gift that has been perfected and cultivated over many years.
So don’t feel insulted or taken advantage of when a cake artist quotes you a cake price that may be out of your range. If they’re charging into the hundreds and thousands for their cakes, they’ve likely got mad cake skills. Remember, when you pay peanuts, you usually get monkeys.