Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Groom's Cakes

I had a groom who was an outdoorsman. I made this Tree Stump cake for them. The 3-layer cake is covered in fondant, then hand-painted to look like a tree stump. The bride and groom's initials were carved into the trunk and I hand painted the carving with a dry gold luster dust to make it stand out. The green foil covered base resembles a grassy base.

This was then displayed on my Slice-of-Tree cake stand, handmade by Bill Dickinson of Dickinson Custom Furniture in Greenfield IND. I had asked Bill to keep an eye out for a nice big slice of wood just for this purpose and it took him about 3 months to find the right piece for me. He did a great job!

Adding some decorative fall leaves and some rose petals added to the look of this autumn wedding groom's cake.

The history of a groom's cake are vague and varied. In ancient times, it was believed if a single girl slept with a slice of groom's cake under her pillow, she would dream of the man she would marry. Groom's cakes were usually a fruit cake, or a dark (read "chocolate") liquor soaked cake.

Today, groom's cakes are getting very creative, reflecting the groom's (or sometimes, the couple's) interests, such as a hobby, favorite sports team, etc. They are served at the rehearsal dinner, as a midnight snack after the wedding, and sometimes alongside the traditional wedding cake.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sheet cakes .... why?

Gosh, I hate starting an article with "back in my day" because that makes me officially old, but back in my day, I'd always hear the adult women, who were helping plan the family weddings, tell a bride to always get ".... an extra sheet cake, just in case." I always wondered "Just in case of WHAT?" I finally figured out these women were ordering a "just in case" cake because they wanted to be covered "just in case" they had more people show up than they anticipated.

Which never happens. I know you shouldn't use the word "never", but seriously .... in 30 years, I've never had a wedding where the couple/family invited 100 people and 130 showed up. Never.

I always wondered why they figured these extra people would show up just for the cake, because they never ordered an extra 10 lbs of chicken "just in case". And they never ordered 50 extra rolls "just in case". Nope, only cake.

Over time, I've observed that ordering sheet cakes has moved from the reasoning of having enough cake "just in case", to a cost saving method recommended by all the wedding magazines. The problem is that the magazines assume ALL bakers offer sheet cakes cheaper, which is just not true.

Many cake designers won't do sheet cakes. They just won't. They find it inappropriate to serve some of the guests a slice of wedding cake with multiple layers of cake and luscious filling .... and some of the guests get a piddly little square of single layer cake with no filling. And dont' kid yourself ..... the relatives who get the cheap knock off cake? They notice. They really notice.

My wedding sheet cakes are not cheaper and for a very logical reason. They are more work for me. Let me explain.

First, I dont' charge for 99% of design elements. That means a 4 tier basketweave designed cake with cascades of buttercream roses rolling down the sides will cost my bride the same money as a plain cake with just ribbon around the base. I dont' charge for most designs.

Ergo, since I dont' charge extra for ornate design, then I don't have anything to deduct for plain design .... which is the whole premise behind the "sheet cakes are cheaper" theory.

More work for me: To make a 3 tier cake for 150, I bake 3 tiers, using 6 cake pans that need prepped and washed. I ice and decorate 3 tiers.

But when a bride requests a 3 tier cake for 100 and a sheet cake for 50, I now have to bake 3 tiers using 6 slighty smaller cake pans that need prepped and washed, and I ice/decorate 3 tiers. PLUS I now have to bake a sheet cake and ice and at least border it. Another pan to wash, more baking time, more prep time, more space taken up in the delivery van. It takes longer to set up because instead of making one trip, carrying one 3-tier cake into the venue, I have to make 2 trips to the van to get the sheet cake. That may not sound like much to you, but the time (read "labor cost") adds up.

It's less work for me to do a 3 tier cake for 150 than it is for me to do a 3 tier cake PLUS a sheet cake that totals 150. If you order something that is more work for me, then you're not going to get it cheaper. It's just logical.

The good news for my brides is that this means they CAN get that grand creation of sugary centerpiece art for their reception at the same price than they would pay for a dinky little cake with some secret sheet cake hidden in the back room.

It's not that my sheet cakes are "not cheaper". It's that my wedding cakes are not "more expensive". We don't nickel and dime a bride for every little decorating aspect of her cake. It's easy for her to pick a design she likes instead of having to compromise her vision of her grand wedding cake design simply because of budget restraints. It's just our way of keeping it simple for our brides!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Lowest Price Isn't Always the Cheapest

This blog entry is being written shortly after a bride told me, “Even though your per-serving price is higher, you ended up being the best bargain for a cake.”

I’m learning a lot from my brides as they come in for their free cake sampling/consultation for their wedding cake. The biggest lesson they are learning is that the cheapest price doesn’t always mean it’s the cheapest cake.

Let’s share what my brides are discovering and sharing with me.

Many bakers have a “starts at ……“ base price. Then they add all the nickels and dimes for what my brides are referring to as “every little thing!” Now, some of the extra charges are justifiable because there are extra expenses involved …. Fondant is more costly than buttercream, any hand-molded figures are labor intensive, gumpaste flowers are very labor intensive (some gumpaste flowers take an hour to make just ONE).

Ask good questions during your consultation appointment. Keep a calculator handy and keep track. For example:

One bride was quoted $65 to wrap a ribbon around the base of a cake (a very popular design right now). And the bride has to provide the ribbon. For a wedding for 100, this adds $0.65 to the per-serving “base price”.

As a decorator, it takes me way less time to wrap a ribbon around a cake than it does to pipe an icing border around a cake. So this charge is very confusing to me.

Another bride was told to add the icing dots on a cake (another popular design being used with wrapped ribbon), would be an extra charge “….because the decorator has to put those dots on there one at a time.”

My reaction? “Duh! We put ALL decorations on one at a time!” I suggested she ask for the decoration that they put on all at once. The additional charge? $0.50/serving. For a wedding for 100, that’s an extra $50.

Many bakeries charge extra for more than one cake flavor in a wedding cake. Additional charge is ranging from $0.25 to $0.50/serving. Many charge extra for a filling other than buttercream icing (for example, if a bride wants red raspberry filling or chocolate fudge icing as a filling). Most common charge is $0.25/serving.

Ask about the delivery fee, then break that down by the number of servings to determine the real cost of your cake. For example, a $50 delivery fee breaks down to $0.50/person for a 100-guest wedding.

So let’s compare my cake price to a bakery who charges all of the above nickels-and-dimes. For the record, Cater It Simple does not charge an extra fee for any of the items listed above, with the exception of a delivery fee *IF* the delivery is way outside the Indianapolis Metro area.

Assuming a cake for 100, 3 tier, 3 different cake flavors with red raspberry filling in two of them and lemon filling in the 3rd tier, ribbon on the base with dots and scrolls as the design, delivered 15 minutes from the bakery location.

Cater It Simple’s price:
Base price of $3.50 x 100 = $350. Simple.

Other Bakery:
Base price of $2.25 x 100 = $225 (wow! Big cost savings! But wait ……)
Add: $0.65 for ribbon = $65
Add: $0.50 for design = $50
Add: $0.25 for cake flavor x 2 additional flavors = $0.50 = $50
Add: $0.25 for filling x 2 flavors = $0.50 = $50

ACTUAL per-serving price = $4.40 = $440

At first, the bride thought she was saving $125 with the other bakery, but she was actually going to spend $90 more.

Ask questions. Use a calculator. Don’t assume the lower price is the best bargain.


Monday, October 5, 2009

Is it "Tacky?"

I came across this blog and I just loved it! What is tacky to one is wonderful to another! I'm big on proper etiquette and doing things right, but like the author of this blog, I'm tired of people exerting their "personal" preference as the all time "right" way to do things and anyone who doesn't agree is "tacky".

Read this. I think you'll like it. http://offbeatbride.com/2008/07/tacky

I'd love to hear feedback on your view of "tacky". Are some things really 'tacky' or is the word overused? If some things ARE still viewed as tacky, what are some of those things, in your view?

Let me know by posting your comments or send them via email to info@cateritsimple.com .

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Why Are Deposits Non-Refundable?

A very fair question asked by many clients!

A deposit is not only to secure your booking with the vendor, but also to secure the vendor's business with you. Confusing, yes, but follow me here.

Photographers and reception sites can logically only book one wedding per day. Cake creators, caterers and many florists can only book a certain number of weddings per day, and some of these limit it to one per day. When a bride books that date, the vendor closes that date to any other bride/booking. This means we may turn down business from future inquiries for that date.

(I personally turned down over 15 brides for the date of 7/7/07 because it was booked, and I turned down over 25 brides for the popular 6-7-08 date.)

Should something happen and you change your mind, move your date, want to use another vendor, and you cancel your booking, especially close to the date, it creates a financial hardship for the vendor. As you know, not too many brides book their caterer, photographer, etc., 3 or 4 weeks before the event.

This means the vendor has no opportunity to re-book that date. The vendor has already turned down business that could have been booked except for the fact that he/she closed that date just for you. The non-refundable deposit covers the lost opportunities and the costs incurred by the vendor based on your commitment.

Moving the date is many times viewed as a cancellation. Why? A bride books 11-7-09 with me. I turn down 4 brides for this date because I've made a commitment to the booked bride. Bride decides to move her date to January, after the holidays. I have now lost those 4 potential brides because I've turned them down.

I've had a number of discussions in which I'm asked "What costs? The photographer hasn't taken any pictures yet!" You're right. And the caterer probably hasn't bought any food and the florist hasn't purchased the flowers. But these are not the only costs associated with running a business that can help you have a great event. All of these vendors require special (expensive) equipment, rent, insurance, staffing to answer the phone when you called to book the event, internet access to enable you to see our website as you planned your event, the time already spent with the client during the consultation and follow-up, cost of paper, folders and filing cabinets to create and store the client's paperwork, and much more. These costs need to be covered and overhead has to be met.

When we close that date to any other business based on a client's commitment, then we have lost the opportunity to see any income for that date that would cover this overhead when the client decides to cancel.

A deposit protects the client and assures the client that the vendor will be there. A deposit also protects the vendor when the vendor turns down other clients, so the vendor can be there for you on that date.

So when talking to vendors, ask about their cancellation and refund policies. This is especially important if the bride/groom is active military and unscheduled deployment is a real possibility.

Knowing what the rules are in advance will help reduce some of the pre-wedding stress!

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Science Behind a Good DJ

I was having a great conversation with a DJ friend of mine, Mike West of MGS DJ’s (http://www.mgsdjs.com/MGS-DJs.php5 ). I was surprised to learn there was a “science” behind being a good DJ. Like many people who have never stood behind a DJ table, I thought they just played music. Fast songs to get people dancing and slow songs when they need to rest. Seriously, I thought that was it.

Man, was I wrong!

I was aware of the importance of a good DJ at a wedding. The DJ is the party’s Master of Ceremonies (MC). He has the timeline of the event and keeps everything moving and on schedule. He announces when dinner is served and releases the tables for the buffet. He lets the bride and groom know when it’s time to cut the cake and when the first dance is being held. I’ve worked weddings with DJ’s who had no idea how to take care of this stuff …. they were just “a friend” of the couple who was playing the music and that’s it.

It’s much better with a professional DJ!!

There is a difference between a club DJ and a wedding DJ. These are different audiences and a good DJ knows how to play to each of them. (I mean, do you really want your grandmother or your 7 year old niece sitting there listening to “club” DJ comments?).

What I found fascinating, while talking to my friend Mike, was learning about the little things that make a good DJ really stand out. Remember, you’ve paid this DJ for a minimum number of hours and you want your guests to enjoy your party for those hours. A good DJ knows how to keep the party going.

For example, Mike asked me “Do you know why you don’t play slow songs at the top of the hour?” I had no idea, so he explains that after a few fast songs, a DJ will play a slow song. The tired dancers will sit at the table, look at their watch and say, “Oh my goodness, its 11:00! We better go!” BUT ….. when a DJ plays slow songs at, say 11:40, the tired dancers will sit down, look at their watch and say, “It’s just past 11:30 …we’ll stay for a few more minutes.” People tend to leave at the top of the hour …. if you give them a reason to. A good DJ gives them a reason to stay.

And that’s why I love catering wedding where an MGS DJ is working. Because I know things will run smooth, on time and the guests will have a GREAT time! And isn't that what you're after, too?


Monday, September 7, 2009

How Soon Should I Book?

It just cracks me up every time I see one of those timelines for brides, especially the ones where the timeline shows "order your wedding cake: 4-6 months in advance". 4 months? You can actually find a baker with an opening on their calendar only 4 months in advance of your wedding?

A caterer/cake designer friend of mine tells me she received a call from a mother of the bride in August inquiring about a wedding cake for October. My friend said, "THIS year?" The mom was shocked that anyone would have to order a wedding cake a year in advance. My friend told her, "Anything under 6 months is considered 'Last Minute'."

(I guess it's a result of our 24/7 indoctrination where you can buy a birthday cake and a lawn mower at the same place at two o'clock in the morning! No one thinks they have to plan ahead anymore.)

Honestly, the best "canned" answer is that there is no canned answer. Because when brides ask me "How soon should we book with you?", my best answer to them is "It depends on how organized the OTHER brides are."

Many vendors, such as photographers, venues, some baker/caterers, can only book one event per day. That means if you are planning your wedding on a really popular date, then you are competing with all of those other brides for the same wedding vendors. The organized bride, the decision-maker bride is the bride who will get her first choice of vendors. The remaining brides will have to go to their 2nd or even 3rd choice.

And please .... do not make the mistake of thinking just because you TALKED to the vendor, that your date is secured with them. In this industry, money talks and that other stuff walks. The bride who brings the vendor a deposit check first is the bride who gets that wedding vendor. We cannot and will not hold a date open just in case a bride might maybe sorta kinda might be thinking about maybe booking with us. If you want that vendor, you need to be a decision maker.

Some popular dates in the past have been 7-7-07 ...... 6-07-08 ....... 8-8-08 ........ 10-10-10. Traditional popular dates such as Valentine's Day weekend have always had a high demand.

Those planning a Christmas wedding not only are competing with other December brides, but are also competing with all of the corporations and organizations who are planning their company Christmas parties.

My personal observation (and I'm hearing the same thing from my fellow wedding vendors) is that June is no longer the most popular wedding month. October is quickly becoming the #1 month for weddings. Brides are usually surprised to hear that (so many think they are the ONLY ones who thought October would be a good month!).

Our unofficial survey tells us that brides are looking for cooler weather, fall colors are playing a major role in the decor, and it's right between the hectic holidays of Labor Day and Thanksgiving. So if you're an October bride, you need to be a decision maker if you want to secure your "A" list of wedding vendors.

When should you book ANY wedding vendor? Just as soon as you know they are the ones you want to hire!

Debi Brim can be reached via email at info@cateritsimple.com

Our websites:www.cateritsimple.com

Thursday, September 3, 2009

I'm Sick of This....

Today I read yet another article "warning" brides about we unscrupulous wedding vendors. How we try to play on their emotion and try to get them to buy more than they need (and anyone in business or in sales tries to upsell .... how is that a bad thing to do and why are only wedding vendors a villian for doing it?). How each vendor tries to sell their service as THE most important. How we jack up the prices when the word "wedding" is used.

Well I'm sick of it.

I'm tired of free-lance writers, who have never planned a wedding, who have never sold a wedding service, who have never talked with a bride, just regurgitate the same 'ole stuff that they see in other articles. I honestly think there's just one article and all the free-lancers just trade it around, like the Christmas Fruitcake.

So I'm here to dispel many of these urban legends. I'm going to share with you how at least one wedding vendor operates......ME! And since I have planned a wedding and I have sold wedding services, and I have talked to hundreds of brides, I think that makes me qualified.

This caterer guides a bride to the unemotional decision. As we talk, I will point out the logistics and logic of what she is wanting. I steer her out of emotional pink-puffy-clouds-land and into reality.

This caterer actually shows brides how to NOT spend money on her reception. I share my 30-year formula to determine a REAL headcount (not the emotional one based on a self-perceived popularity level) and how that can save her $750 to $2000 on her reception meal.

I find out where the wedding is and if they are having photos taken before the wedding. Because if the couple will arrive at the reception within 30 minutes after the first guest arrives, then I suggest they DON'T need to purchase appetizers. For 100 guests, at $10 to $20 per person, this can save them $1000 to $2000.

If their guests will be waiting more than 30 minutes, then yes, I suggest they have some kind of appetizer for them. Otherwise, the guests will get bored and possibly leave, resulting in the dinner and cake and drinks the couple paid for going to waste.

As the couple talks about their wedding, I don't try to sell my food and cake as the most important purchase. I actually tell them, "Skimp anywhere in your wedding budget but DON'T skimp on your photographer. At the end of the day, the food will be eaten, the dress will be in storage, the music will be a distant memory .... but your photos are what you'll look at on your 25th Anniversary!"

This cake designer does not have two different prices for party cakes and wedding cakes. A 3-tier cake for a birthday is the same price as a 3-tier cake for a wedding. Call it a birthday, call it a celebration, call it a wedding, call it a kiss-my-butt-in-the-middle-of-Main-Street cake .... it's all the same work so it's all the same price to me.

I've no doubt that "some" wedding vendors may try some of these tactics. I've no doubt that every industry has businesses that try to upsell, to play on emotion, and have different pricing for different events (ever try to find cheap parking in any city during a professional football game?). I am just sick of articles that paint all of us with one brush, leading brides to believe that it's standard operating procedure.

This concludes my rant of the day. To any bride reading this, I hope you now realize there are vendors out there who are ready to work WITH you .... not against you.

Because at Cater It Simple, we really DO try to "keep it simple" for you!

Debi Brim can be reached via email at info@cateritsimple.com

Our websites:www.cateritsimple.com

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Less is More ....

I was watching a cake challenge show on the Food Network tonight and heard a phrase that is SO appropriate in the food world: "Less is more ... but in this case, less is more WORK!"

In the cake side of my business, brides will tell me they want a simple cake "...just something easy. No borders or anything." I'll smile and tell them, "Oh you want me to work harder on your cake, huh?" I then explain that the border covers the seam where the top and side of the icing meets and when they request no border, then I have to work harder to make a smooth transition from top to side. Less (decoration) is more (work).

Please don't misunderstand. I do borderless cakes all the time. But it's such a great example of how something "simple" is perceived to be "easier". Less ... is more.

In the catering side of my business, I get a number of brides who come into the shop with the idea of "we're just having appetizers because we have a tight budget." While appetizers can be much cheaper than having a plated, served dinner, sometimes a buffet can be cheaper or about the same price as just appetizers.

Why? Because smaller food is more work. Less ..... is more.

Picture it. If you need one single hot vegetable, such as buttered corn for 25 people, a caterer opens a big can of corn or opens a couple of bags of frozen corn, throws it on top of the stove for a few minutes, and bingo-bango, you got corn for 25 people. One can ... one pan .... you're done.

But ..... if you want one enough of one single appetizer to feed 25 people, there are multiple steps that have to be done 25 times. It takes much longer to prepare each individual smaller food. And with smaller foods, a hostess needs to plan on more pieces per person. Less (food per bite) is more (bites needed).

As you work on a tight budget, don't assume "little foods have a little price tag", which is the most common misconception I see. Talk to your caterer. See what they can work up for you. It may work out that appetizers are your best bet for your budget. But you might find you can get a simple buffet for the same or cheaper price than a lot of appetizer items.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Ask the Question: How Much is the Tasting/Sampling Appointment?

I found it interesting to discover that having a tasting appointment with your caterer or wedding cake maker is not common in all areas of the country. I live in Indianapolis, the 14th largest city in the country, and it’s almost a given that a bride will have a sampling appointment. Yet in my hometown, just an hour away, when I called various businesses to find out their sampling policy, I was met with multiple responses of “our WHAT policy? You want to taste our food for FREE?”

So I guess the first thing you should find out is does your caterer/caker even DO samplings?

If they do, you need to ask their policy. Is it free? Is there a charge? If there is a charge, does it apply to the order if you book with them? If it’s free, how many people can you bring? Are the extra people free or is there a charge for them?

By the way, a sampling is not a free food party, so lose the idea of bringing your entire wedding party to the bakery to for a taste-testing dessert party. I know one bride who got the door slammed in her face when she showed up at the baker’s with 10 people in tow. It doesn’t take a baseball team to decide if you like white or carrot cake.

I’ve seen catering websites that advertise a free consultation … but if you want to taste the food, there is a $75 fee. Evidently there is a difference between “consultation” and “sampling” appointments. Be sure to clarify when you make the call.

It is not uncommon for a business to charge for a sampling. Unfortunately, this has resulted because of what we mention above ….. wedding couples who decide to have an after dinner dessert party at the baker’s expense, or worse …. those who pretend to be getting married just so they can make the rounds and get free food and cake. (yeah … we know you’re out there, and we know how to spot you. You’re not fooling anyone.) So to weed out the tire kickers, a fee is being charged.

Bottom line: Some folks charge and some don’t (Cater It Simple does not charge for samplings). Some apply it to the booked order, some don’t. Some will permit only the bride and groom to attend the sampling, some will permit one or two other persons for a fee.

A sampling is a real and sometimes costly service that the food vendor provides for their potential clients. Respect the investment they are making for you. Ask good questions when calling and making appointments so you understand what’s involved and what’s expected on both sides.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Your Reception Venue Can Cost You More Than You Think

Picking the dream location for the perfect reception is a big decision. Location, parking and of course price all come into play in the decision making process.

But you've found the perfect location. And the price is in your budget.

Or is it?

There are things to consider when selecting a reception location.

Are you locked into to using their vendors (in-house or preferred caterers, DJ's, etc) or can you select your own vendors? Especially on the caterer decision, this can be a major impact on your budget.

When choosing between venue A and venue B, the caterer choice can be huge. Venue A is $1500 cheaper but you have to use the in-house caterer, who has a minimum of $10,000. Venue B will cost you $1500 more for the use of the room, but you can bring in your own caterer who is only charging you $6000. You've saved $2500 by getting the more expensive room.

Are there hidden charges? I say "hidden" tongue-in-cheek because the charges are available to you somewhere. One example is the kitchen access fee. Many facilities charge the caterer a fee to have access to the kitchen. This can be a flat fee (I know one place that charges $450) or it can be a percentage of the catering bill (one place charges 10% of the catering invoice with a $300 minimum). I've recently been told about one place that charges a flat fee PLUS a percentage of the catering invoice.

Before you think "wow, that's a lot of money for the caterer to pay", let me remind you that the caterer is NOT the one paying it. You are. These fees are usually added to the catering invoice.

I had a client call me just a few weeks ago and he was eligible for a couple of discounts that I offer. I told him I was calculating the discount before adding the venue's percentage fee which would reduce the venue fee for him. The client was very upset to hear about this charge and told me, "If I had known they were charging you, and in effect charging me, that fee, I would have negotiated it when I booked the place!"

An event in gramma's big back yard, by the pond, may sound dreamy and romantic, but many times there are additional fees involved to assure a pleasant and safe catering event. There is usually limited or no kitchen access, which means the caterer must bring extra ice to keep cold foods cold, extra equipment to keep hot foods hot, portable hand washing stations, and extra staffing for the extra work involved in an outdoor event.

I even have a short list of venues that I will not work in because of the super limited access. *IF* someone can convince me to work at what I refer to as a "non-vendor-friendly" location, trust me .... they are going to pay me for it! I have a lot of heavy equipment to transport and it is not worth it if I have to park 2 blocks away and carry everything to the tent or the building in the backwoods. (Yep, had one of those. Won't have one of those again!)

So as you shop for the perfect location, please remember that the price for the room rent is not the only cost you pay. Your vendors may have some additional costs to pass on to you based on the location you've selected.

This is where a wedding planner comes in handy .... they know the questions to ask and they know what to look for, because they know what the other vendors need so they can make your event a success.

As I tell folks, "If you're going to pick a silly place to have a reception that causes more work for everyone else .... then you're going to pay for it one way or the other."

Debi Brim can be reached via email at info@cateritsimple.com

Our websites: www.cateritsimple.com

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Cost of Cakes .... some perspective

My friend Stacey had a great entry on her cake blog about cake pricing, and she graciously gave the ok for me to share the link. So check this out: http://staceyssweetshop.blogspot.com/2009/07/ace-of-cakes-and-cake-boss-article-from.html

Many of us grew up on grocery store birthday cakes. We're used to spending only twenty bucks on a birthday cake. As mentioned in Stacey's blog, shows like Ace of Cakes and Cake Boss have given the public a new view of cakes.

Unfortunately, these shows never share with the public what these cakes cost. (Did you know Duff, of Ace of Cakes, has a $1,000 minimum for one of his cakes?)

So check out Stacey's blog and the next time you go to order that super special cake with the bells and whistles, you'll be armed with some good information to make your shopping easier!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Sign a contract?? But it's "just a cake"!

Why do we need a 3 to 15 page contract for “just a cake”?

It seems nice and simple. If you pay me to deliver a cake, or a set catering menu, then I need to deliver that cake or buffet. And if I deliver said cake or buffet, then you need to pay me. Right?

You’d think it should be that simple. But over and over, we vendors run into situations that cause us headaches and stress, so we just decide its one more thing that we have to spell out in triplicate so people get it.

Want some examples? I have plenty. These are ALL true stories.

Wedding cake is set up at venue. All is fine and cake designer leaves. Small children begin running thru the reception room and start using the cake table as home plate, jarring the table over and over as they run up and grab the table at full speed. Cake falls. Mother of the bride calls cake designer and demands a full refund because the cake fell. (I guess it’s considered bad protocol to sue Cousin Sarah because she refused to discipline her unruly child who caused the cake to fall!)

So since other people are irresponsible, we cake designers have to put in our contract that if little cousin Jimmy runs up to the table and jars the table which causes the cake to fall down, it’s not the cake person’s fault!


Bride orders cake for 200. Cake designer makes cake for 200. Bride’s best friend, who swears she knows how to cut a wedding cake, cuts the cake into brick size pieces, instead of proper wedding portion pieces and only 125 people get served cake. Bride wants to sue cake designer for not providing enough cake.

So since someone else cut the cake wrong, we cake designers have to put in our contract that if there is a shortage of cake due to improper cutting by someone not employed by the cake designer, then it’s not the designer’s fault if bride runs out of cake.


Bride invites 300 guests and orders cake for 300. Cake designer tries to convince bride that all 300 will not show up and she can safely order cake for 200 to save money. Bride is confident that she is the most popular person on the face of the earth and pays for 300 cake servings. Bride has 175 people show up (note: See my blog entry on Debi’s 60% Rule!) and when she has a lot of cake leftover, she goes into buyer’s remorse and starts crying how the cake designer cheated her by “forcing” her to buy more cake than she needed.

So since a bride won’t believe she’s not the center of the universe, a cake designer has to put in the contract “Bride was advised 300 servings would be too much cake and bride declined to reduce order” to show that it’s not the designer’s fault if there is too much cake leftover.


Bride plans an outdoor reception. Cake designer tries to tell her that cake icing made of butter doesn’t fare well in the 90+ degree heat in August, but to no avail. Before the cake can be served, the icing is melting and the buttercream roses are falling off of the cake. Bride wants to sue the cake designer for RUINING her wedding!

So since a bride can’t comprehend that butter based materials will melt in hot temperatures, a cake designer has to put in the contract that if the bride places the cake in improper temperature setting, it’s not the cake designer’s fault if a butter-based icing melts in warm temperature.


So when you hear of someone who is appalled at the long contracts that must be read and signed with every wedding vendor they come in contact with, you might remind them of this article. You might explain they have to sign a large contract because the clients who have gone before them have created problems for the vendors with illogical assumptions and silly actions.

I started out with a simple one page contract. Because of “lessons learned” like those cited here, I’m now up to 3 pages of little tiny font.

And it grows a little bit more each year.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Talking Cake ... what the heck does that mean?

Ording a wedding cake or a cake for any special event can be overwhelming simply because we in the cake industry have a lot of industry terms we throw around and you, the customer, have no idea what we're talking about. Am I right?

Let's try to make a list to help you along as you go thru the ordering process.

Layer: A single cake baked in one pan. A sheet cake is a single layer of cake. One of those little round pans your mama uses when she bakes a cake is a layer. A single layer of cake is usually 2" tall.

Tier: A tier is usually a 2-layer cake (4" tall). Multiple tiers are assembled to create a wedding cake. A 3-tier cake is usually made up of 6 layers total.

Torted: A single layer of cake that is sliced in half to look like 2 layers. Many times a 2-layer cake is torted resulting in 4 thin layers of cake and 3 layers of filling. A bakery may charge extra for torted because of the extra labor involved. Be sure to ask.

Careful: I've seen grocery store bakeries set out a torted cake and call it a 2-layer cake. It's not. Really. It's not.

Icing (or Frosting): A sugary confection that covers the outside of the cake. Usually made with a fat (butter or shortening) and powdered sugar.

Fondant: A marshmellow based confection that covers the outside of the cake. Fondant covered cakes almost always have a buttercream layer of icing under the fondant, also. Fondant is rolled out (like pie dough), placed on the cake and rubbed smooth into place. It's like working with playdoh, only it's very edible. Many have been told fondant tastes terrible, but that totally depends on the fondant being used. (There is one commercial fondant that tastes like toxic waste and I refuse to use it, but all other fondants I've tried have been delicious!). Fondant is very versatile and allows a decorator to do lots of really great decorating.

Here is a fondant covered cake that looks like a wedding gown: http://www.flickr.com/photos/55969028@N00/3301547841/in/photostream/
Here is a standard fondant covered cake: http://www.flickr.com/photos/55969028@N00/3106193090/

Filling: The stuff that is put between two layers of cake. This can be icing, fruit filling, pudding, mousse, etc.

NOTE: buttercream icing can be used as a filling. If we put icing on the outside of the cake, it's called "icing". If we put the same icing on the inside of a cake, it's called "filling".

Serving: The unit of measure used to let you know how many people you can feed with your cake. The number of servings is usually what the price is based on (i.e. $3 per serving). Be aware that the price is based on the number of servings the cake is designed to serve, NOT the number of servings that you plan to cut from it. So if you expect 100 guests and order cake that is DESIGNED to serve 125, you're going to pay for 125 servings.

Stacked: Tiers are "stacked" on top of each other, cakes touching, no pillars in between. This is a stacked cake: http://www.flickr.com/photos/55969028@N00/3557916241/

Pillared: Tiers have pillars or separators between the tiers. There is space between the tiers of cake to place flowers or just leave open space. This is a pillared cake with space: http://www.flickr.com/photos/55969028@N00/3208396176/ This is a pillared cake will flowers filling the space: http://www.flickr.com/photos/55969028@N00/3354399511/

Cake Fountains: Very popular in the late 70's/early 80's (I know because I was making cakes that long ago and can personally attest to it!), water fountains added height and grandeur to a wedding cake. They are still being used in cakes today. Here's a fountain cake I made just last week: http://www.flickr.com/photos/55969028@N00/3732781175/ and one I made last year: http://www.flickr.com/photos/55969028@N00/1810914285/

Carved or 3D cakes: These are cakes that are very artistic and take lots of time and skill. A lot of folks are starting to refer to these as "Duff Cakes", so named after Duff Goldman, owner of Charm City Cakes that can be seen on the show "Ace of Cakes". These cakes are expensive, not only because of the time and talent needed to create them, but also because of all the extra cake that we need to bake, so we can carve it away to create the shape/design the client is looking for. (Don't expect to get a carved or 3D cake for fifty bucks. It ain't gonna happen.)

Square cakes set "Slightly Askew": When the square cakes are placed in a slightly rotating pattern, much like a winding staircase. Here's an example: http://www.flickr.com/photos/55969028@N00/2336841966/

Square cakes set Square-Diamond-Square: When the square cakes are turned so the bottom is a "square", the middle one is a "diamond" and the top one is a "square". Here's an example: http://www.flickr.com/photos/55969028@N00/515526863/

Note of caution: The size of cakes can be an issue on the square-diamond-square pattern. While a 12" square cake can be placed in a normal straight position on top of a 14" cake, it won't work with the S-D-S pattern. See a 12" cake is 12" from side to side .... but it's 16" from corner to corner. Placing a 16" span on top of a 14" cake will cause the upper tier to hangover the edge. Not an attractive look. If you really like the S-D-S pattern, you may have to purchase more cake than you need to get the cake dimensions needed to make this work.

Topsy Turvy Cake: Sometimes called Whimsical Cakes or Mad-Hatter cakes, these cakes are designed to look like they are about to topple over. (Just so you know, it's an optical illusion. These are actually pretty stable.)

These should help you get through your bakery sampling appointment o.k. If you've heard other terms that you find confusing, let me know and we'll clarify them for you!

Debi Brim can be reached at info@cateritsimple.com

Monday, July 20, 2009

Fake Cakes - No, They Are Not Always Cheaper

Let me explain what the majority of TV shows, wedding websites and wedding magazines usually fail to tell you …..

Styrofoam cakes aren’t free. I have to pay for them. And many times, the cost of the dummy is more than the cost of cake ingredients. Plus……

- It takes the same amount of icing to decorate a fake cake as it does a real cake.
- It takes the same amount of time to decorate a fake cake as it does a real cake.
- It takes the same level of talent to decorate a fake cake as it does a real cake. Just because it’s a fake cake, doesn’t mean I can have my $7/hour dishwasher do it instead of the $16/hour decorator.
- It takes the same amount of gas in the van to deliver a fake cake as it does a real cake.

- It takes the same amount of time (read “Payroll”) for our driver to drive to your venue and deliver a fake cake as it does a real cake.

So how much should you expect to pay for a fake decorated cake?

Many decorators charge the same price based on the number of servings a cake of that size would serve, since the costs are virtually the same. Some decorators will give a small discount, like 10 or 20 percent.

Let’s run the numbers:
A 14” round (usually a bottom tier) will serve 78, times $3.50/serving = $273.
If the decorator gives a 10% discount, you can subtract $27 from this for a cost of $246.

For one fake tier.

The typical reaction is that this is a bit excessive because “…..it’s not a REAL cake!” You’re not paying for the cake ….. you’re paying for the time and talent and ingredients required to elevate your cake from a dinky little 3 tier cake to a grander and taller 4 tier cake. You want extra bells and whistles? There’s a cost involved in that.

Read the above paragraph again. It’s the most important part. You’re paying for the time and talent to make your cake look bigger and grander than you need.

Some believe that buying a fake cake and having sheet cakes in the back is cheaper. Let’s run those numbers, too

· A 4-tier cake to serve 150 times $3.50/serving = $525.


· A 3-tier fake cake to serve 100 times $3.50/serving = $350. (Why 100 instead of 150? ‘Coz it’s only for show!)
· Sheet cakes to serve 150 times $2.00/serving = $300
· Total cost for fake + real sheets? = $650.
· If the decorator gives a 10% discount for fake cakes, subtract thirty-five bucks.

A bride is going to spend $90-$125 MORE for fake + sheet cakes than she would if she had just gotten a grand centerpiece cake that is ALL cake. The part the magazines forget to tell you is that yes, a fake cake can be cheaper than a real cake, but then you ALSO have to buy the sheet (single layer, no filling) or kitchen cakes (double layer sheets with filling between the layers) for eating.

Now I will admit there are companies out there that rent fake cakes. These are already decorated and sitting on a shelf, like a “Cakes-R-Us” store. A bride selects a cake that looks like the exact same cake that a number of brides have used over and over. And they’re probably cheaper than the custom designed fake cake that most brides look for.

But you know what? Never, ever have I had a bride come in and say to me, “Oh just make me the very same cake you made for some bride last week.” No … my brides walk in wanting a cake custom designed JUST for them, in their choice of colors, flowers and style. They don’t want a Cakes-R-Us cake … they want it to be made just for them.

I use fake cakes tiers sometimes when a design needs a little extra for the look the bride wants. But I’ve never done a fake cake + sheets …. because at Cater It Simple, our goal is to SAVE you money, not have you spend more than you have to just to end up having less (of a grand cake) than you could have had.

Debi Brim can be reached via email at

Our websites: www.cateritsimple.com / www.bannascookies.com / http://www.flickr.com/photos/55969028@N00/


Sunday, July 19, 2009

More examples of fresh flowers on a cake

I did this cake just this past weekend. I took "before and after" photos to illustrate the impact that fresh flowers make on a wedding cake.

The first photo is the cake right after I set it up. Black ribbon and gold braid around the base of the cake with pearl dragees on the bottom tier and scrolls on the upper tiers.

Then .... the red roses were added by Cater It Simple. Wow. It just pops, doesn't it? The bride wanted a cascading look, which was a challenge with pillars between the tiers, but I think we managed to give her the look she wanted.

The florist provided some great roses to work with. They were large and not open very much, which enabled me to be able to open some of them up more than others, where I needed a more full look.

I'm adding a third photo that shows the difference between clear water in the fountain (yes, people ARE still getting fountain cakes!) and with colored water in the cake.

The little details that add that little extra pizzazz!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Fresh Flowers on a Cake

I love the look that fresh flowers add to my cakes. I’m always amazed and in awe of how an undecorated cake can just POP when the fresh flowers are added. My favorite flowers on a cake are red roses. These regal, bright, red flowers against a white cake background are just so grand looking! Add a touch of baby’s breath? Wow!! Like this one we made for our 7-7-07 bride.

That said, there are some things that need to be considered when planning fresh flowers on a cake.

Tell your florist these are going on a cake. The flowers should be organically grown, free of pesticides. The florist should take extra care to prevent the flowers from passing across a work space that has had pesticide treated flowers on it, to avoid cross-contamination. The objective is to try to keep the flowers as food-safe as possible.

Even still, I’ve met florists who didn’t know the toxicity of a flower. Most know that poinsettias and calla lilies are toxic flowers and should not come in contact with a cake, but I once mentioned hydrangeas as a very toxic flower and the florist was very surprised to hear that.

(Cater It Simple does not permit these 3 flowers on their cake under any circumstances. Silk or sugar versions only.)

The flower stems should not be pushed down into your cake. The flower stem will leak water and unless you’re willing to drink the water out of a flower vase, I doubt that you’ll be willing to eat cake with flower-water-waste in it.

Stems can be wrapped in saran wrap or florist tape if they “must” be plunged into a cake, or there are tubes that can be inserted into the cake to hold the stems, but we try to avoid plunging flowers into the cake at all costs.

Some decorators cut the stems off as close to the head as possible, then use buttercream icing to “glue” the flower to the side or top of the cake. At cutting time, the flower and the blop of icing glue is removed from the cake.

Like most cake designers I prefer to add the flowers to the cake myself. Why? Because the final look of a cake will have my name on it, and if someone places the flowers inappropriately or unattractively, then it’s my reputation on the line. Most of my florist friends are relieved not to have to put the flowers on a cake and are happy to leave that to the cake designer (so the designer can finish designing the cake!).

I look at it this way …. I don’t pretend to be a florist who knows how to make a centerpiece, so I appreciate a florist who doesn’t pretend to be a cake decorator. Plunging flowers into a green florist foam is WAY different than decorating a cake.

And please, brides, don’t tell me how mom or your best friend will place the flowers on the cake. It’s not going to happen with one of my cakes. At least a florist has an artist’s eye on placement, color and balance. I’ve seen too many photos of cakes in which the family did the final decorating …. and let’s just say that I’m glad it wasn’t MY name on those cakes!

Here is a link to toxic, VERY toxic and safe flowers: http://www.blueirissanctuary.fatcow.com/id181.htm

I welcome input and additional information from florists on this subject.


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Do You REALLY Need a Wedding Planner? I say, "Heck, YEAH!"

In this era of cutting back and pinching pennies, it’s only natural for brides to look at what costs they can cut from the budget. And since most of us have been planning our wedding since we were, oh I don’t know …… FOUR!!!! …… we tend to think “oh, it’s just a wedding! Anyone can throw one of those together!” So it’s also natural to think a wedding planner is just an extra expense.

Want to know what I think? Well, I’m going to tell you anyway.

“In today’s economy” (a phrase I’ve come to hate more and more each day), it is more important than ever to have a wedding planner.

Planners are the ones who actually SAVE you money:

· They review your contracts to be sure that what you THINK you’re getting is what you’re actually getting.

· They have a huge Rolodex of wedding vendors and can match you up to the ones who can do what you want on the budget you have.

· When touring a venue, the bride is caught up in the emotion of the moment and is only seeing how pretty everything will look. The planner is looking at parking spaces, what condition the restrooms are and where they are located, how and where the bar and the caterer will set up, and are there enough outlets for the DJ and the caterer’s carving station?

· When a bride is talking to the caterer, the bride is in turmoil trying to decide between chicken and fish. The planner is asking what the server/guest ratio is and how much is the cost of each server?

Let me share some stories on how planners have helped brides.

- Bride hires wedding planner after selecting the venue but before signing the venue contract. When planner reviews the contract, she finds the bride has contracted for the use of the building ONLY. Bride thought she was getting tables, chairs, linens and lots of other things that the bride thought “were always included” at a reception. The planner saved the bride over $6000 on a bad contract. Well worth the $2000 the bride paid the planner.

- Bride decides to forego the professional planner and use her best friend, who after all, was a bridesmaid three times, so she knows ALL about planning weddings! The friend failed to take note of the facility’s $2000 fee for turning on the air conditioning and the newly married couple had to come up with this money at the very, VERY last minute, which was a severe cut into their honeymoon fund.

- The band hired by the bride was telling bride and planner where they would be setting up, what time they would be there and where the wives’ table would be. Planner corrected band member by showing him the already-decided place they would set up, giving him the actual time he would be there and asked him what he meant by a wives’ table? Band member says, “Oh the wives always come to all of our gigs.”

Planner told him this was not a “gig”, this was a wedding, the wives were not on the guest list, and there would be no wives table because there would be no wives. Band member began to argue the point. Planner fired the band and hired a professional DJ. Bride was relieved.

When times are good and people have good jobs, they don’t worry about costs as much. I’m not saying they don’t comparison shop, but they tend to buy bells and whistles instead of staying in a budget. It’s easy to plan a wedding when you’re not paying attention to every penny.

When times are tough, a couple just can’t afford last minute surprises. But they’ve never planned a party for 200+ people before and there are questions they just don’t know to ask. An event planner knows those questions and when he/she asks them, the bride saves money.

As a caterer, I’m always relieved to see a professional planner walk into the room. I know the details are going to be handled, things will run on schedule, and it will be a very pleasant event for everyone.

If you have a tight budget, you NEED a wedding planner. Today, more than ever, it’s the best investment you can make in your wedding.

Remember, it’s your wedding. You have ONE SHOT to get it right. Get a professional on your side who is going to be looking out for you on your very special day.


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

One Bride's Horror Story with an Unlicensed Baker

The following story is true, as shared with me by a local (Indianapolis) bride who shared her cake disaster story with me, along with photos of the cake.

The home baker showed the bride beautiful photos of finished cakes. The bride ordered her cake from the home baker and said, “I felt that the cake was one thing I didn’t have to worry about.”

When the bride picked up the cake from the home baker, the boxes were sealed. Admittedly, the bride’s mistake was in not opening the boxes anyway to check the cakes, but as she explained it, “there was no flag to indicate I should have checked them.”

When the cakes were revealed, the bride was devastated. The fondant was lumpy and appeared to be falling down the sides of the cake. The gumpaste flowers were sprayed (airbrushed) with color and the overspray was all over the cake. (Why the decorator didn’t airbrush them away from the cake is beyond me.)

The bride tells me the fondant was “painted on”. It was streaked and had white spots showing thru. This bride had a little experience with decorating cakes and was aware that fondant can be purchased already colored or the color can be kneaded into the fondant. Either of these techniques would have been a better effect than streaked brush strokes on her cake.

The bride had gotten a very good price for the cake … $125 for 3 tiers. But she ended up spending, in addition to the $25 in gas to pick up the cake, over $40 (total $65 ….. 50% of the price of her cake) for large silk flowers to replace the poor quality gumpaste (and it’s questionable whether these were actually gumpaste or not) roses and to try to cover the overspray that mottled her cakes. She tells me her guests were appalled at the quality of the cake and she spent the day being embarrassed about serving such a cake to her guests.

This story is not to paint all home bakers with one brush and it is not to imply that every home baker does shoddy work and will refuse to make it right if there’s a problem. I have many friends who bake for a hobby and they do beautiful work! And it does not imply that a bakery cake is always perfect. The odds of them sending such a shoddy cake out to a wedding are very slim. (Remember, I saw the photos of the cake …. when I call it “shoddy”, I’m being very nice.)

But as was mentioned in the previous blog, a legal licensed baker has much more at stake, financially, than the lady-down-the-road who makes cakes “under the radar”. The legal, licensed baker has gone thru the Food Safety courses and knows how to handle perishable icings and fillings, knows how to properly sanitize their decorating tools (no, just washing them in your sink is NOT sufficient!), has been inspected (and is surprise-inspected) by the health department frequently, has obtained all of the proper licenses and insurance, has paid a small fortune for the very expensive equipment required to operate a commercial kitchen ….. and all of this investment is risked on their decorating and baking skill.

The bride asked the home baker for a refund and the baker just refused to discuss it. The bride is now questioning whether the photos she saw were actually made by the baker, because those photos were very nice … a complete contrast to the cake she received.

I guess the baker doesn’t have a vested interest in making this right for the bride.

Debi Brim can be reached via email at

Our websites: www.cateritsimple.com / www.bannascookies.com / http://www.flickr.com/photos/55969028@N00/


Monday, July 6, 2009

LIcensed Bakery? Or the "cake lady down the road?"

Many bridal publications frequently list “10 Questions You Should Ask Your Caterer/Baker”. Though this list varies from one magazine to another, one question that almost always appears is “Are you licensed by the Health Department”?

To some people, this would be unimportant since most folks know some nice lady who makes pretty wedding cakes in her home. So why should this be a concern?

First of all, in our state of Indiana it is not permitted for cakes or other foods to be sold from a home kitchen. Though there is an extremely limited exception for certain homemade items that are sold at farmer’s markets and roadside stands only, no one can operate any type of food service business from their home. Therefore, the nice lady who sells cakes out of her home is operating in violation of state law.

Even in states that do have some form of Cottage Food Law (which would allow the sale of homemade cakes); these laws generally do not allow the sale of perishable foods. So if a bride wanted a perishable filling like mousse in her cake, the home baker could not legally sell that.

So I find it even MORE amazing that reputable wedding magazines and websites will advise a bride to find a home baker for their cake, with no regard to the legality of what they are suggesting.

Buying a cake from a non-licensed source can limit your choice of reception sites. Many venues require copies of the baker’s health department permit and Certificate of Liability insurance before allowing that baker’s food products on the premises. The reason for this is liability. The reception venue can be sued if there is a problem with food, even though they did not provide the food. And they make no exception for cakes that come from mom, aunt, grandma or any other relative or friend of the family!

Also, if you don’t find out what your venue’s requirements are, you could wind up with no cake at all at your reception! True Story: A baker friend of mine told me of a bride who used a non-licensed baker. The home baker arrived at the reception site and was refused entry because she could not produce the required health department and insurance documentation. The end result was there was no wedding cake at the reception. The bride was devastated.

Bakers who have health department approved facilities operate to a higher level of sanitation then a home baker. Every home baker will insist that their kitchen is clean, but that assertion is based on what “their” opinion of “clean” is. Health department standards remove personal opinion from cleanliness and handling practices. While home kitchens are designed to be attractive, commercial kitchens are designed to be sanitary. I’ve observed that hobby bakers confuse “surface clean” with “health dept clean”. There’s a BIG difference.

I cannot even BEGIN to regale you with stories I've heard of pets in the kitchen during baking. Or worse, are those who assure us that their dog/cat doesn't enter the kitchen while baking. I've owned pets and I know their dander that floats in the air doesn't stop at my kitchen door if the oven is on.

I'm always amazed at how many cat owners just swear that they have the one cat in the whole world that doesnt' jump on the counters (with their nasty feet that have been roaming around in a litter box!). Oh sure .... I'm willing to chance THAT cake for my grandson's birthday!

I've had bakers tell of catching their cats licking cake pans and worse. More than once, a home/hobby baker has told how their pet (cat or dog) had taken a big lick off of a finished cake, so they just re-iced that part of the cake before delivering it to their customer.

Yeah .... I sure want THAT cake served at my daughter's wedding!

There is also an implied assurance of product quality from a commercial kitchen. For the legal baker, this is their business. They have significant overhead and they are dependent on satisfied customers and repeat business. The home (unlicensed) baker is essentially operating as a hobbyist and is not as reliant on satisfied customers. (There will be another blog coming soon on this aspect of this topic.)

When you book your reception site, you need to find out the policies regarding outside food/cakes and be sure your baker/caterer can comply with these policies. Health department requirements are in place for the protection of you and your guests. The licensed caterer/baker is committed to the protection of you and your guests as well - and they’ve put their money where their mouth is!

Debi Brim can be reached via email at info@cateritsimple.com

Our websites:

www.cateritsimple.com / www.bannascookies.com / http://www.flickr.com/photos/55969028@N00/


Saturday, July 4, 2009

When Do We Cut the Wedding Cake?

This question should be asked more often. Let us share some of our observations.

The time-line we frequently see is not the one we'd recommend because we find it inconsiderate of your guests. (And you’ll find I’ll use the word “inconsiderate” quite a few times in this article. To me, it’s the ultimate sin of a bridal couple when they are hosting their post-wedding celebration.) The couple tends to serve the meal to the guests, have the toasts, the first dance, the "this", the "that" and FINALLY, about 30 minutes before they leave for the night, they will remember they have a pretty ornate cake they need to cut and allow it to be served to their guests.

But what has happened is many of their guests have already left. The couple ends up with a lot of cake left over, and some guests who left disappointed because they didn't have the opportunity to share in the couple's wedding cake celebration. Guests are gossiping about the rude Bridezilla who never got around to serving them cake, and the bride is crying because “….the bakery sold me too much cake!”

When I said “be considerate of your guests”, that means you should recognize that not all of your guests are young, vigorous, and energetic. The older guests don’t stay out late and party-hardy anymore. They prefer to go home earlier in the evening. Guests who have small children, who are getting tired, bored and irritable, will want to take them home to put them to bed (and if the kids are getting grouchy, you’ll WANT them to go home early!). Other guests may have a babysitter who they need to get home before it gets too late.

Let us also point out that your wedding cake is the only thing at your reception that is designated "wedding". To many guests, the cake IS the reception. Your DJ's music isn't "wedding" music (you had that at the church), your food isn't "wedding chicken" or "wedding salad". But your cake is "wedding cake" and the only place to get it is at a wedding.

To time it so that many of your guests have to leave before they share in the cake cutting ceremony (and it IS a ceremony...as much a part of your celebration as the Best Man's Toast, the First Dance, etc.), is very inconsiderate (dare we say “rude”?) to your guests. Not to mention that you paid for 200 servings but ended up only using 75 (yes, we've seen it happen!)

I had one groom who wanted to order only 75 servings of cake for his 150 guests because “…..you always have a lot of cake leftover ‘coz no one eats it.”

I said, “No. There’s a lot of cake left over because it was cut too late in the evening and there was no one LEFT to eat it.”

What we recommend to our brides (and trust me, most (if not all) of the wedding plannesr, magazines and wedding websites will totally disagree with me, but I'm not concerned with their opinion ... I'm concerned about your guests):

Shortly after you arrive and before the meal is served, do the official cake cutting photo with your photographer. Since the cake cutting ceremony is traditionally the first "meal" shared by man and wife, it is logical that they share this special bite of cake before they open their buffet.

The cake-cutting event is now taken care of and out of the way. The couple can sit back and enjoy their family and friends and not have to worry about yet one more thing that they have to do. Your caterer is able to cut the wedding cake after the meal, when he/she sees that your guests are ready for dessert.

This can save you money in photographer time, also. If your photographer charges you for flat time (i.e. 4 hours), then you want to eliminate any reason to keep him for "overtime".

So please, as you plan the timeline of your reception, think about your guests and how much they are looking forward to a taste of your luscious wedding cake. Time it so everyone can enjoy it and serve it at the end of the MEAL, when dessert is supposed to be eaten.

Friday, July 3, 2009

What is this "Cake Insurance" Thing?

Thanks to a few shows on TV, brides are asking about getting “cake insurance”. Evidently, the way it’s depicted on TV, a bride pays for “cake insurance” and if something happens to her wedding cake (car wreck while enroute, drunken best man falling into the table, etc.), the baker magically appears with a duplicate cake to save the reception from total ruin!! Wow! What a concept.

I’m in conversation with hundreds of cake designers across the country every single day via a cake decorators’ website, and so far, no one on this site has ever heard of “cake insurance” other than seeing it on TV.

Let’s not confuse “cake insurance” with “wedding day insurance” …. two totally separate things. Wedding Day Insurance covers expenses for the bride and groom if the photographer or caterer doesn’t show up, or if the wedding has to be canceled or postponed due to military deployment or illness or death (not due to change of heart!) and deposit money for venues, etal are reimbursed to the couple.

Cake Insurance, according to what we see on TV, guarantees the bride a fully decorated wedding cake within (dare we say?) “minutes” of the original cake being demolished! (A pretty awesome feat in itself when you consider it takes days to make a wedding cake.)

So let’s ask the question: what exactly did the bride pay for?

A friend of mine contacted one of these TV shows to find out what this was all about and got this explanation: the bakery bakes the same size and flavor cakes and keeps them on hand in the event of a disaster, like a collapsed table or a drunken uncle that falls into the cake. Then if/when they get the call, they can assemble a replacement cake of the same size and flavor with minimal to no decorations, and a new cake is whisked into place within the hour.

So the bride paid, not for “insurance”, but paid for a 2nd wedding cake to be made.

If the wedding goes off without a hitch (as 99.9% of them do), then the baker has the extra money collected for “cake insurance” AND a spare cake that can be sold later.

(Hmmmmm ….. let me think about this …. Could this be a great secondary income for me? Nah……I don’t think so!)

But brides …. Don’t fall into the “latest trend trap” and think you HAVE to have this. Think about all of the weddings you’ve been to, and that your mother has been to, and your grandmother has been to. How many of THEM had a cake demolished? I come from a large family and with all the weddings we've been to in our lifetime, none of us have ever seen a cake disaster that would justify "cake insurance".

It must be something that happens with regularity ONLY on “unscripted” (?) reality shows!

Debi Brim can be reached via email at

Our websites:

Thursday, July 2, 2009

"Sponsored" Weddings ... Oh Pul-LEAZE!!!

I'm going to warn you up front that I'm got my Mom-Finger out on this one and I'm shaking it in the face of all of those who read this and find it hits home with them.

I belong to a cake decorator's website where I am in conversation with cake designers (and some caterers) from all over the country. And periodically the topic of "Sponsored Weddings" comes up.

In case you don't know what it is, it's the idea that a bride will get vendors to "sponsor" her wedding by doing the cake or the food or the DJ'ing for free in exchange for advertising, like listing your company name in the program, and the promise of "all of those guests who will see your cake!" (or eat your food or hear your music).

This is not a new concept. It surfaces about every 7-10 years. This is my third or fourth round of dealing with the concept in my cake-making lifetime. But everytime it surfaces, people think it's a new idea and think they are so original for thinking of it.

Will I sponsor a wedding?


Let me make it perfectly clear. No.

See, I still have a daughter at home and she's kind of used to having 3 meals a day and sleeping in a home with heat and running water. I haven't figured out how to get the power company to "sponsor" my monthly electrical usage, so they expect me to send them cash every month. Walmart won't sponsor my grocery bill, even if I promise to tell everyone that I buy my groceries from them.

I've also figured out that all of the wedding guests will see my cake and eat my food whether it's paid for or if it's donated (aka "free"). So I don't see the benefit at my end.

I've had a number of brides list my company in their program and THEY paid full price for their cake and catering. Again, I don't see the benefit for me to be listed for a FREE cake as opposed to a paid cake. (By the way, I don't expect to be listed, so my extreme thanks to those brides who went above and beyond by thanking their vendors in this way.)

If I can't afford my grocery bill, I have to cut the amount of groceries I buy, or I have to have Mac-n-Cheese and hot dogs for dinner, instead of steak on the grill with lobster tail on the side. If I can't afford my electric bill, I need to buy energy efficient lights and make sure if no one is watching TV, that it's turned off.

It's considered an oddball idea, but hey, brides, try this one. If you can't afford the party for 250 guests, try trimming your guest list or having a luncheon instead of a dinner. But please don't play the poverty card with me and try to get me to take food off of my family's table in one breath, then turn around in the next breath and tell me you're planning a party for 250 of your "closest friends"

It doesn't fly with me ... and it doesn't fly with other vendors either. I am not here to subsidize your grandized dream wedding. I'm in business to make a living to feed my family.

What usually happens is the free advertising we get is "call Debi ... SHE does free cakes!" I can't afford that kind of advertising.

Now before you think I'm a big Scrooge and can't sympathize or emphathize with those who are trying to have a nice wedding on a tight budget, let me assure you that I HAVE done free and donated weddings. We dont' advertise it (well, until this blog post, I guess!) but once a year I pick a couple and just decide to do their cake or food for free.

Being a military mom, it's usually a military couple. I don't tell them ahead of time. I just surprised them by telling them "Keep that check .... today's event is free."

And I'm not the only one. Read this newspaper story where a number of us pulled together for a Valentine's Day wedding for a groom who was shipping out to Iraq just 72 hours after his wedding. http://www.greenfieldreporter.com/articles/2009/02/14/news/01.txt

We work very closely with our brides to cut their costs as much as possible. We coach them on how to get control of their headcount. We have flat pricing for our cakes, meaning we dont' charge extra for every little thing. We offer suggestions on whether they need appetizers or if they can skip spending the extra $1000-$2000 or not. We're already working to keep your costs down because we respect the fact that no one has unlimited funds and they are spending a lot of money on this event.

Please respect the fact that I can't afford to do free cakes. That's not why I went into business.

Debi Brim can be reached via email at info@cateritsimple.com

Our websites:


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Debi's 60% Rule (or "Why RSVP's Don't Work")

How many people are coming to the wedding? How much food do I order? How much cake do I need?

These questions probably cause more stress on a bride than any part of the wedding planning process. And of course they do .... the reception is about 50% of a wedding budget and the food is a MAJOR expense of that budget.

Miscalculating the number of guests can cost a fortune. Suppose a bride plans for 250 guests and only 200 show up. Assuming a dinner cost of $25/person, cake at $4/person, appetizers at $12/person, and alcohol at $16/person, she's spent $57/person x 50 people = $2,850. I don't know about you, but almost $3000 is a lot of money to me that I'd rather spend on my honeymoon!

Over the 30 years I've been in this business, I've noticed a few things. And one thing I noticed is how much food I served, how many pieces of cake I cut, how many plates I washed. And a pattern has emerged.

Debi's 60% Rule says that approximately 60% of the total number of people invited will actually show up. There are exceptions, of course.

1) If the bride or groom is active military (this includes police and fire), there will be a higher show rate.

2) If the bride/groom are very involved in their church, there will be a higher show rate (because they have an extended church family).

3) The more people invited, the more accurate the 60% Rule.

I add 4 to 7% for each of these exceptions.

There are other factors that only the couple can determine. How do the families react to weddings? Does EVERYONE in your family have a really high show rate, or is it pretty average? Are there a number of family members out of state who may not make the trip to town for the wedding?

I'm asked frequently, "Why not just go by the RSVP's?" I'll tell you why. Because too many people are rude and inconsiderate and don't return them.

True Stories:
A mom called me a week before the wedding to increase the headcount by 9, bringing her total to 149. She has 149 confirmed RSVP's. I told her I was not going to change the invoice just for 9 people but we'd have plenty of food. Because I knew they were not going to have 149 guests at that reception.

When I did a headcount, they had 92 guests. Which means there were 57 people who said, "Yes. Yes, I will DEFINITELY be there!" and then they did not show up.

A co-worker shared with me her experience when she was the mother of the groom. She was calling all of the no-responses to see if they were coming or not and one of them was her very very best friend. When told the reason for the call, the friend gave a big exasperated huff and said, "Well you should have KNOWN that I would be there!" Friend didn't see a need to actually respond to the RSVP because "....oh they know!"

Too many brides have come back to me with a revised (read "reduced") headcount and told me, "We just should have gone with your 60% Rule because that's pretty much what we ended up with."

Whether you're spending $10 a person or $100 a person, a difference of just 20 or 50 guests can make a BIG difference in your total cost.

Getting control of your headcount is the biggest, most important thing you can do to control your costs.

Debi Brim can be reached via email at info@cateritsimple.com

Our websites: