Monday, February 1, 2010

Sugar Mama explains why cakes cost what they do

Here's a re-enactment of a conversation I've had many times and I'm sure many other cake designers have too.

Me: Sugar Mama NYC. How can I help you?
Client: Hi, I'd like to order a cake in the shape of a (insert a extremely complex and detailed object).
Me: Sure, we can do that. How many people would you like to feed with this cake?
Client: Ummm, about 150. How much is that?
Me: Ok. (clickety clack of the calculator) That will be $ (what I think is very reasonable considering the time, material & labor involved.)
Client: What?! For a cake?! Does it cut and serve itself? That's way out of my budget!
Me: Ok. Maybe we can come up with an alternative design. What's your budget?
Client: About $ (pretty much what you'd pay for a cake for 150 people at your local Costco or BJ's)

This is pretty much where the conversation usually ends. I apologize and explain that I won't be able to accommodate their budget and offer more cost effective alternatives, usually cupcakes or another bakery.

So, I figured this would be the perfect opportunity to explain how cakes, especially novelty & 3D cakes are priced and show that there's actually a method to what to some seems like madness.

Cake prices, whether they are regular bakery cakes, novelty (3D) or wedding cakes are basically determined by three factors: The Amount of Servings, Complexity of Design/Construction & The Baker/Designer.

The Amount of Servings is a major factor in the price of a cake because it determines how much cake will actually have to be baked. This translates into ingredients to buy, time spent decorating, what type of internal structure will have to be built and etc. Cakes are deceptively heavy, so carrying and transporting a cake for 100 may take a little more planning than a cake for 50. I should add that some bakeries charge by the pound or by the size (quarter sheet, half sheet, etc.)

Complexity of Design and Construction provide a great variable because this is solely dependent on techniques, materials and time involved to create the desired look; for most designers it's different for every cake. Does the cake require free hand sculpting vs. simple round or square design. Is it covered in fondant or buttercream? Will it require hand painted designs or airbrushed stencils? Sugar flowers or Fresh flowers? For each of these questions the former will set you back a lot more than the latter.

And finally, the biggest variable is the baker/designer themselves. The amount of "dough" a baker charges for a cake is usually based on their experience, talent & the demand for their services. There are some designers that have been baking and designing spectacular cakes for years and a booked for events 6 months to a year in advance. These cakes tend to cost more than bakers who are just starting out. When I first started I sold my first cake for $ 30.00. Now I charge a minimum of $ 200.00. In the coming years as I build up my skills, experience and clientele, who knows?

Both of these cakes were made by me.
One was made in early 2008 and cost $ 75.
One was made in mid 2009 and cost $ 200.
hmmmm? Which is which?

Now, before I get a slew of angry emails from designers, I should clarify that a higher price tag from a more experienced designers is not simply the result of an inflated ego. As the great Stan Lee wrote, "with great power, comes great responsibility." The greatest cake designers are often supported by a great staff; a team of sugar artists, bakers, office staff, lawyers, accountants, publicists, delivery people, web designers & more. All of these people need to be paid. Don't forget retail space leases, insurance, equipment, supplies, surprise repairs & more stuff that you don't even think of until it happens. All of this is factored into the price of their goods. Even awesome cake designers who don't have an entourage (like me) need to price their cakes to be able to do what they love and pay their bills. I once spent 10 hours decorating a wedding cake, after I baked, filled, covered it with fondant & stacked it. Believe it or not, that's not unusual. Imagine how long it took Sylvia Weinstock and her team to make Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas' 10-tiered, six foot tall wedding cake covered with literally thousands of hand made sugar flowers. Was it worth over $10,000? Ummm...yeah!

Hopefully, this has given you some insight into why some cakes are more expensive than others. Whenever you endeavor to purchase a specialty cake it's great to have a clear budget and stick to it; but it's also important to understand what you are getting for your money. Sure, there are a few diamond in the rough bakers who do amazing work for unbelievable prices, but they are few and far between. Cheaper almost never means better and cakes are no exception. Check out this gem from Cake Wrecks:

One depicts what the bride wanted. One shows what she actually got. I'll let you guess which one is which.

There is so much more where that came from. Check out more of these so sad, it's hilarious train wrecks at CakeWrecks : Wedding Cakes
Be sure to subscribe so you don't miss anything and be sure to refer to it when considering choosing your cousin's best friend's sister, who just finished taking a cake decorating class and wants to try a "real" one, to make your daughter's sweet 16 cake.

Well, it's "bake" to work for me!

thanks for tuning in. Until next time...


Sarah @ The Foodie Diaries on February 2, 2010 at 6:22 PM said...

So glad to have just found your blog! You're hysterical

Lovey on February 2, 2010 at 10:29 PM said...

Great entry and very helpful and informative. Being new to cake/cookie/cupcake decorating (about 3 months), I struggle with what to charge, even though, at the risk of sounding vain, I personally feel much of my work is better than what I see in some bakeries as I pour my heart and a lot of time into my work. I see now that I need to stop under-saleing myself and practically giving things away. In the beginning this is fine, but if I ever hope to own a successful bakery I will need to pay be able to pay the rent. thank you.

ylonda said...

Honey i admire you!this is where i will be at in 5to 6yrs.The reward is worth the hard work.I'm 36 now and plans to be really in this at the age of 40.Takin cake decorating classes soon.I will hustle and bustle till i get there.You do a great job.You know what your work is worth.CHARGE them!I pay for excellency in everything.Will look u up if marriage is in my future.That's a promise!

sweetfacecakes on February 3, 2010 at 6:04 PM said...

My husband and I just had a discussion about this tonight, after I told him what I was charging a friend of mine for a cake. I'm just starting out too (but have many years of decorating cakes for family), but I know my cakes are great and I take a lot of time to make sure they are perfect.
Thanks for helping me see that I tend to justify under-charging for my inexperience. I know I need to charge what I'm worth...

Anonymous said...

Cool, that makes a lot of sense. BTW, Great looking cakes!

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