Instead, tonight I offer you a quick and hopefully helpful little how-to that I’ve had rolling around in my mind for a few months, and was finally requested- in detail- by my sister.
My older sister is getting married in the fall of next year. Of course, she asked me if I could provide the wedding cake (having a baker for a brother has significant perks!) I began asking her the typical questions- flavor, color, themes, servings, etc. All my sister had decided on, thus far, was just the look, and provided a picture. A picture alone does not a cake make. Confused and exasperated, she threw her hands to heaven and said “It’s too much- you should write a questionnaire or something!”
So I thought- “Why not? I’ve had nightmare experiences with people ordering cakes before. Why not just tell them what they should keep in mind when placing an order?”
Hence, this post.
Pulling on my own experience as a professional baker and the experiences of other professionals, I have comprised the following list based around the question: “What do you wish your customers would do when they place orders?” This applies for specialty cakes- that is birthday cakes, wedding cakes, or any kind of cake you want specially made for your event.
WHAT TO KEEP IN MIND WHEN ORDERING A SPECIALTY CAKE
1. Be decisive about flavor.
“I want chocolate!… no wait, Carrot!… no, Red Velvet…” When ordering a cake, bear in mind that different cakes are… well, different. Ingredients, time, characteristics, etcetera are all different. Know what cake you WANT to have when you show up.
2. Be honest about servings.
No one wants to admit that their family are heavy eaters. No one wants to admit that they might need a 40-serving cake for 20 people, and many think it’s low-class to say that they want leftover cake around afterward. Whatever ever the reason is, your baker will likely not care. What they DO need to know is how many servings the cake should make. It will affect the cake itself- obviously- and the invoice at the end.
3. Be as specific as possible.
A baker’s job is to make you the cake that you want. That said, you need to KNOW what you want. Have a clear picture in your head (or in hand, if you have one.) Colors, decoration, text, font, theme should all be at least pictured in your head, and you should let the baker know in as much detail as possible
4. Give a solid “yes” or “no” about alcohol in the cake.
Alcohol can do wonderful things in a baked good- Less so if one of your attendees is a recovering alcoholic, has liver damage, or is a minor. If you are concerned about the contents of a cake, or have reason to be, let your baker know. If you are getting multiple desserts, you can ask to make sure which, if any, have alcohol in them so you can provide necessary warning to those who are sensitive.
5. Be conscious of allergens.
This goes hand-in-hand with #4. Let the baker know well ahead of time if you have any allergy concerns- wheat, milk, eggs, nuts, etc. Know something about the cake you want to order- for example, do not order a German Chocolate cake if you have a guest that is allergic to coconuts.
6. State your price range and DO NOT HAGGLE.
Many people seem to think that, particularly when dealing with a small bakery or an individual baker, it is acceptable to haggle over prices. This is absolutely NOT the case. If you have an ideal price range, state that outright. Your baker will let you know what can be done. Trying to whittle down the price on a specialty cake is rude, ignorant, and frankly insulting. Bakers set the price of their cakes based on the ingredients, time necessary, their own labor, and many other costs. Telling a baker that they should charge a lower price (that likely means cheating themselves on time and labor) because you can “go down to the supermarket and get an cake for half that price” will likely only get you directions to the nearest supermarket and shown the door. If you want quality, be prepared to pay for it.
7. Do not expect free samples from a small baker
Larger, established bakeries or baking services tend to have extra cake lying around that they can give out as samples, or they do enough business where they can make small cakes or cupcakes and store them just for that reason. An individual baker, in all likelihood, does not. Recipes do not make a single cupcake- if you ask for a sample, the baker has to make either a full-size cake or a dozen cupcakes, and eat that cost- which rarely returns. Many small bakers simply will not provide samples, or if they do, will ask a token amount of a money for each to offset time, labor, and ingredients.
8. Be receptive to the baker’s judgement.
Your baker will (hopefully) have enough experience in the field to know what combinations and ideas work in different situations, and which ones don’t. As brilliant and wonderful as your idea may be, it may not be practical- or indeed possible. If the end, as always, the decision is yours- but if your baker is making suggestions about the practicalities of your idea, they are not being lazy, critical, or judgmental. They have simply “been there, done that, cleaned up the mess” and can spare you from paying for a disappointment.
9. Have logistics worked out ahead of time.
Once a cake is baked, it generally needs to travel to the event, and then be stored. Ask your baker if they can deliver the cake if you need it delivered. Make sure you have a place to put it once it arrives.
10. Have a realistic timeline- be aware good cake takes time.
Cakes do not poof out of thin air. Nor do bakeries have 5-tier wedding cakes just lying around waiting to be decorated. Would you even want to EAT a cake that had been sitting in a freezer for 6 months, waiting to be bought? Good cakes take time- have a realistic timeline, and order WELL in advance. For small birthday cakes, I generally prefer a minimum three days notice. Larger cakes, multiple items, or event- obviously much longer. Do not be angry or surprised when you call and ask for an elaborate cake by the end of the day and get a “no.”
11. DO NOT TELL US TO DO “WHATEVER WE WANT.”
This is perhaps the cardinal rule of ordering cakes- do NOT tell the baker to “do whatever they think is best,” “make it look pretty,” or otherwise your decisions in their hands. The event is yours, and the cake is yours- all the baker has to do is make it happen. No baker wants to work hard on a cake, decorate in the way “they think is best” and deliver it only to have it refused because it “doesn’t look the way the customer thought it would.” You are paying for it- that means that you decide everything that happens. The baker may offer suggestions about style and will remind you of what is practical and possible, but it is not THEIR cake- it is YOURS.
opefully this helps any of you who are looking to buy cakes in the future!