I posted the following list in 2009 to a website dedicated to the art and talent of cake decorating. I dubbed the term "Cake Civilian" to that person who thinks they know all about cakes because they watch the Food Channel and just can't figure out why the cake person with whom they are placing their cake order, is getting redder and redder in the face as the cake civilian tries to explain what they want. So to honor cake decorators everywhere, I re-submit the following humorous list of "You Might be a Cake Civilian if ........" characteristics!! You Might be a Cake Civilian if......
You buy cakes, but don't
You think "it's just cake".
You think they come out of the oven all decorated.
You think a 6 tier wedding cake is baked the morning of the wedding.
You understand that a 3-tier, fondant covered, 2 flavor cake covered with
gumpaste flowers wedding cake is expensive ... but you think a 3-tier, fondant
covered, 2 flavor cake covered with gumpaste flowers birthday cake shouldn't
cost more than twenty bucks .... "Because it's JUST a birthday cake!"
You think you can save a delivery fee and pick up a 3-tier cake yourself .... and that it will ride "just fine!" on the front seat of your car.
You order a full sheet cake for a party of 15 people even though you have no idea how big a full sheet cake is but you use the term because you heard it somewhere. (Note: A full sheet serves 100 people)
You think a "simple" cake is cheaper. (The reason it's not is because you don't know what "simple" is in cake-world!)
You try to order a custom-designed multi-tiered cake the day before your event. (Notice I said "TRY" to order!)
You've tried to order a cake and used the phrase "But I saw them do it on TV!"
You called at noon to order a cake carved to look like a Model-T Ford .... to be served at dinner at 5:00 p.m. and can't figure out why the baker on the other end of the phone is laughing so hard. (This one actually happened to me. I told the guy, "Do you know how many DAYS it takes to make one of those?")
You want a 5-tier cake because it looks great, but only want to pay for the 25 servings you actually need.
You think a styrofoam fake-cake is free or ungodly cheap because that's what all the magazines tell you.
You will leave a loaf of bread on your counter for days and days, but won't eat
a cake because it's not fresh anymore since it's more than 4 hours old.
You think all cakes are $14.95 because that's what Walmart sells them for.
You're not a cake civilian when you can read this list and laugh because you
know people who believe all of these things!
The last blog showed a beautiful cake on an elegant silver plateau. This plateau not only adds to the decor of the cake table and makes a smaller cake taller, but there is a hidden advantage to it.
Out of sight storage.
This view, from behind the cake table, shows you where I stored my cake cutting comb, my cake cutting knife - you can see the white handle on the right side - and extra napkins.
(Just a note to point out the knife I use to cut and serve the cake is not the same knife used by the bride and groom for their first cake cutting.)
I am not one of those "cake ladies" who whisks the cake into a back room for it to be cut in secret, out of sight from the guests. In 30 years of cutting cakes, I have found guests enjoy watching the dismantling and cutting of the cake. My highest compliment was a woman who came over to me and said, "I told my husband, 'You can tell she's done this for a few years!' It was fun just watching you!" Since I do everything right there, I need everything handy and ready to go, but out of sight from the inquiring lens of the photographer's camera.
Before the cake cutting ceremony, I make sure everything is ready. All of my tools are available but out of sight, hidden in my "secret" hiding place, the bride's knife is in place, a plate is available for the couple to place their first piece of cake, napkins are handy for them to clean their hands, and I have two cups of water close by so they can take a sip afterward.
In the last blog, I showed how the front of the silver stand is softened with the greenery. In this blog, the back of the silver stand becomes my storage area and the bride and groom are assured of nice photos of a clean cake table!
I recently did the wedding cake for a good friend and when buying the roses needed to adorn the cake, I was happy to see some ferns available for sale for about $0.59 each. I picked up 6-7 of the ferns as a last minute decor for the cake table.
The extra impact greenery makes in any decor is incredible and for such a small price. Here is the photo of this past weekend's cake with the greenery.
The greenery adds a mat of color under the silver stand and I believe it softens the looks. Without the ferns, the stand could look hard and cold, which is not the look we want on such a warm and fuzzy occasion!
Here are some with and without photos of a cake I did years ago showing how adding greenery can make a difference.
This one has ferns on the cake but notice how the table is pretty plain and not really eye-catching.
This one, however, with the greenery under the cake stand, adds a well-rounded look to the cake and (to borrow a famous phrase) kicks it up a notch!
The cost of a few extra pieces of greenery is that not great but I think these examples show what an impact just a few cents worth of greenery can add to a very special occasion!
Today I share a blog article by my friend Kara Buntin, owner of "A Cake to Remember" in Richmond, Virginia. A brief preview: she tells a true story of a box that held the wedding cake that was picked up from a table and just dropped on the floor .... with the cake still in it!..... and how the cake survived.
While this is definitely a rare event at a wedding, I share the story to prompt the question: How confident are you with your cake delivery? Whether you are the bride or the cake designer, it is a good question. Cake designers should be confident in their cake assembly and delivery and be able to convey their confidence to their client/bride. Brides should feel confident the cake designer they have selected is more than competent in being able to get the cake to the event. All of us are aware that "stuff happens" that is out of our control and I am in no way promoting that perfection in all things are possible. Stuff happens.
Kara's story is a good illustration of a professional who understands many of the "stuff happens" elements and how she went above and beyond to help make sure the cake was delivered intact. Her professional expertise helped derail what could have been one of those derailing accidents that could mar a bride's wedding day. Good job, Kara!!
My friend and wedding guru, Andy Ebon, writes a great column discussing "what is a wedding professional?" I am providing the link to this article because this topic comes up way too often in all fields of the wedding industry. In the cake industry, there is debate on the licensed vs. unlicensed, home baker vs. commercial storefront, full time vs. part time (by choice or by circumstance). In the above example, I am defining "home baker" as one who is permitted by their state laws to legally bake and sell baked goods from their home kitchen or one who has built a commercials, health department approved kitchen in their home. This is different from the baker who is working out of a home kitchen "under the radar". My intent is not to debate the home vs. store, full vs. part time or any other aspect. My intent in sharing this is to get vendors and brides alike to think about the services being offered and being bought. Vendors, what is it you offer that defines you as a wedding professional? Can you spell it out so your clients really get it? What is the value you add to your service that makes a client believe you are worth the few extra dollars? Brides, are you shopping for the best professional or the best (lowest) price? While we all understand and can appreciate keeping costs in check for a wedding, there is certain knowledge, skills, licensing, inspections, equipment, etc., that costs more than the fly-by-night business person who may be offering an unbelievable low price. Enjoy Andy's Article: "No Respect! Why So Many Wedding Businesses Don't Get Any"
My friend Stacey (who makes the best tasting "Crunch" snack ever!) has written a wonderful view of cake budgeting and the how's & why's that go into it. Brides will find it very helpful as they set up a wedding budget, and vendors will find some great tips on what questions to ask a bride to guide her thru the ordering process.
A fellow caker sent me an email with a pricing question. It seems her mom made cakes in the 1970s-1980s and was frequently telling my caker friend that she was overpriced, reminding her of how much mom sold cakes for 'back in the day'. My friend was asking me, "Was mom underpriced or am I overpriced? Have things REALLY gone up that much?"
This type of thinking is more common than anyone cares to admit. Many folks get their mind locked into a certain era in time and their vision of what pricing trends are today are blocked by their wall of yesteryear's thinking. Plus, as we age, time seems to stand still. I remember a few times when I have referred to something that happened during my high school days ... then I have to pause and remind myself that was (gulp!) 35 years ago!
A friend of mine who is a realtor tells me that the hardest client she has when it comes to selling a house is an older, retired couple who just can't believe their house is worth THAT much money. If they bought the house for $20,000 forty years ago, they figure they are doing well if they can sell it for $40,000. My realtor friend says the hardest part of her job is convincing them the house is worth $110,000. The couple's idea of pricing is blocked by the wall of yesteryear's thinking.
What I shared with my caker friend is a little of my own history.
In the late 70's/early 80's, I was charging 75 cents a serving for wedding cakes. that included delivery, set-up, AND I'd stay and cut-n-serve it! Someone told me back then they had a relative in another state that was charging (gasp!) $1.25/serving!! I remember saying, "Wouldn't it be great if I could charge $1/serving!" And I think we ALL did it on the side back then! (health license? you needed one of those? No kidding? Huh! Whadda ya know!)
So .... an 8" round 2-layer cake that serves 24 at 75 cents/serving = $18. but .... since I didn't know much about proper pricing structures back then, I probably charged $12 or $15 for it.
In 2006, I was charging $1.75 for cake and $3.00 for the cake package: cake, plates, forks, mints/nuts, punch/cups, tablecloth, delivery, set-up, cut-n-serve, clean up and tear down. Within a year or 18 months, I was up to $3.50 just for the cake. doubled the price after I became educated about current cake pricing trends and a few good lessons on how to develop a proper pricing structure.
Yes, things HAVE gone up that much. In the 70's we all gasped when gas went up to oh my gosh 36 cents a gallon! We thought for sure gas rationing was coming with the price so unbelievably high! McDonalds used to have a commercial showing a guy counting his coins and ordering a hamburger/fries and coke ".....and we give you something you dont' expect .... change from your dollar!" You could get a whole meal AND change from your dollar!! Now we feel lucky to get ONE THING for just a dollar.
I sold little quarter sheets for $8 back then. The infamous "star" cakes (Wilton shaped pans) I sold to my friends for $12 or $15 because they had so many colors and were so much work. Today, if I got desperate enough to make one of these, they would have a price tag of $35 or more.
It's hard to imagine we actually made money back then. But we did. My husband worked a factory job and during the 1970s recession he was lucky to work 4 or 5 months a year. My cakes paid our rent.
As we age, we like sharing stories on how much things cost us 'back in the day' (don't even get me started on the price of a Hershey chocolate bar today!) but we also have to remember that these are stories, not pricing guidelines etched in stone, never to be altered or adjusted to meet the costs and inflation of today.
That's what my caker friend needs to remind her mom ..... that mom's pricing was probably just fine in 1972. But forty years later, things cost just a little more!
I've been in a few conversations lately about turntables so I am posting about the turntable that I use. A turntable is such a "must have" piece of equipment when decorating a cake. I put off getting one for a long time because I just wasn't comfortable with putting a very heavy 14" cake on the plastic ones I had seen in the shops
But then I found this one at my local cake supply shop in Indianapolis, Ms. B's Sweet Supply, in Speedway (yes, it's near the Indy 500 racetrack!) http://www.msbssweetsupplies.com/
It was only about $15 .... very comparable to those plastic ones I had seen in the other stores, but with two levels of pressed wood construction, I felt much more comfortable with it being able to hold the weight of my large cakes. The formica top makes it easy to clean. To keep cakes from skidding, I just put a small square of non-skid material (sometimes called shelf liner) under the cake. This material can be purchased in rolls at Walmart or Dollar General stores.
Here is a photo of the underside of the turntable with a better view of the wood construction. The table turns smoothly and easily, no matter how heavy the cake is.
I was so impressed with this turntable that I bought a second one. Even if you're not a baker, this is a great kitchen tool or it will work wonderful on the center of the kitchen island or dining room table.
There's an old story about mice in a maze. The mice get trained to follow the path that leads to the cheese. Once they master this route, they fly through the maze. Then that evil scientist decides to move the cheese. The mice continue along the same route a couple of times, but discover no cheese at the end. What to do, what to do? The mice will change their route. They will go exploring. They will find new options and new routes. Eventually they find the cheese again. And there is dancing and joy in MiceVille!
People, however, aren't that smart. People will continue to do what they've always done with the thought of "if I keep doing good, then the cheese will be there."
People don't seem to realize that the cheese they are pursuing can get moved. People don't realize they have to change their routine and they can no longer follow the "but we've always done it this way" kind of thinking.
While there are so many examples to cite, I'm going to use just one as an illustration: social media.
Social media (facebook, twitter and many others) have changed the way many of us live our lives and make our shopping choices.
Long gone are the days when the business owner had control of the message being disbursed about their business and product through traditional newspaper, magazine, radio and yellow pages ads. Today the message is being disbursed by customers and it's being disbursed quickly and immediately.
Long gone are the days when the message was put out there just to be read and then discarded. Electronic postings and messages last for infinity. The messages are more than just a message. They are interactive. The customer is pulled into the business through online contests, instant messages about the daily special, feedback on the product of the day, etc., making the customer feel that they are not just a customer but that they are actually part of the business.
Change can be hard. It can be confusing. It can be fun. It can be exciting. Sometimes change can make us feel like we are taking a step back, but it's about the whole journey. It's about knowing the demographics of the market, who the business is trying to reach and how that market can be reached.
Here is a great article by my friend Tony Fannin, President of "Be Branded", talking about marketing and how today's customer uses technology in their decisions:
My 18 year old daughter recently had an issue with a bank. Recently, she closed her account at bank A and moved to another bank B. Three weeks later, she is paying her cell phone bill online and accidently used her Bank A account information. The payment went through and charged her a $35 overdraft fee. In a panic, she called the bank to explain her error and was told she had to pay the fee. Within minutes, because she was anxious to make this right, she and her dad were on their way to the bank to resolve the problem.
She was clear that she intended to reimburse the bank for the cell phone payment. That was her error and she was owning that. But my daughter and her dad were confused on why a payment was made on a closed account?
The bank told her they didnt' show the account was closed. They grilled her about about if she had "really" closed the account and repeated a number of times that they didn't show the account closed. My daughter was firm that she had closed the account and evidently the processing wasn't completed on their end. She told me she felt like she was being accused of trying to scam them, when in reality she was in the bank's office within minutes to get the mistake fixed.
To the bank's credit, they did waive the fee and did close the account (this time). But the point to this post is what they didn't do. Never once, during the phone call or the face to face conversation, did the bank clerk or the bank manager ever say, "Gosh, I'm sorry this happened."
As consumers and as business owners, we understand that "stuff happens." We understand that paperwork gets lost in the shuffle, system glitches happen, and simple mistakes take place. I've heard it said and I've said it myself many times, "The measure of customer service isn't how you are treated when you buy the service. It's measured by how a problem is resolved after the transaction."
My daughter made a mistake. She owned up to that mistake. She called the bank immediately and said, "Gosh, I'm sorry this happened." She wanted to make sure the bank was properly reimbursed. And she wanted to know how a payment could be issued from a closed account?
The bank made a mistake. They didn't close the account properly. But they refused to own their mistake. They didn't apologize.
A good business person will validate the customer's concern and tell the customer, "I'm so sorry this happened .... let's see how we can resolve this with you." A really good business person will also add, "Thank you." Thank you for bringing this to our attention. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to resolve it with you.
A customer who has a problem should allow the business the opportunity to correct the problem. Given that opportunity, the business should use all of their good customer service training and knowledge to validate the customer's concern and take all reasonable (key word: "reasonable") efforts to correct the problem.
A simple "I'm sorry this happened" will go a long way toward avoiding a negative impression of any business. And it would have eliminated the need for me to point out the obvious in this blog.