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 $6.49 per slice (here in Chicago, IL), you will be looking to pay about $195 (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 every day. Sometimes, the conversation goes something like this:
Customer: Hi, I’m calling to get a cake made.
Me: Great! What are you looking to have done?
Customer: I’d like to order a cake in the shape of an airplane (or other complex 3d shape)
Me: Sure! How many people do you need to serve?
Customer: Oh, about 100.
Me: Ok that will be $600 ($6 per serving—EXTREMELY reasonable (for example purposes) 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)
Customer: WHAT?!! For a cake?! Oh, that's way too much.
Me: Well, it’ll be best for me if you give me your cake budget and we can design something that will be more suitable for your budget. What’s your budget?
Customer: About $100.
I think this may be frustrating for the customer, who may feel like I am gouging or just being greedy. It is certainly and equally 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 me explain why I charge what I charge and why a lot of other cake artists do the same. 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, I do not want you to feel bad if you cannot 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. I just want to take a moment to clear up some misconceptions and explain a few things about custom cakes.
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 same with cake decorating. Remember, it is NOT just cake. Oftentimes, people think that Wal-Mart or Costco prices are what they should expect to pay when ordering a custom cake. 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 (i.e., 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 creating custom cakes I put countless hours into prepping, designing, baking and decorating it. Some people undervalue the time that goes into design and research. From the moment a client calls and they say “I want a 3D airplane cake” there’s then the hours of research searching for images, models, and factoring in certain support materials to produce such a cake. Everything is baked to order and I use only fresh natural/organic ingredients bought locally, when possible. Buttercream is made from scratch as 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. It more than likely contains preservatives giving it a disgustingly long shelf life. 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 made. 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 your cake does not 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 clean up 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. And as my tagline states it’s also a WOWerful experience™! As I aim to not just give you cake but an experience that’ll you or your loved ones will remember.
As you can hopefully see, there are a lot of things to take into consideration when pricing a cake. Remember; when you pay peanuts, you usually get monkeys ;)
Happy Caking Darlings!