Monday, June 29, 2009

Cupcakes: Cheaper? Maybe ... Maybe Not

Cupcakes are all the rage .... well, if you listen to wedding magazines and websites, they are. These same magazine and websites usually imply how much cheaper cupcakes are.

Not always.

I want brides to go through the wedding planning process with their eyes wide open. I want them to be aware of all of their options. I want them to take nothing at face value and to do some in-depth research.

So with that thought, allow me to share what I've encountered with cupcake requests.

Bride hears that cupcakes are cheaper. Bride pops into the local grocery store bakery and sees that cupcakes are sold 12 to a pack for about $6 (50 cents each). The cupcakes are your basic grocery store cupcake ... standard size with a swirl of icing, maybe some sprinkles or candy stars on top.

Bride quickly calculates 100 cupcakes for her wedding will run her about fifty bucks. Great! What a boost to her budget!

Here's where the problem starts.

Bride doesn't WANT a grocery store cupcake with a swirl of icing on top. She wants the cupcakes the magazines are showing her, with the fondant icing, topped with a rose that has been hand made from gumpaste, with gumpaste leaves swirling out from under the rose and perhaps a small edible star on a wire rising from behind the rose. Oh, and how about those cute special cupcakes wrappers with hearts cut out in the design (available here: )

Those special cupcakes wrappers themselves start at $1.25 EACH. The baker has to make 100 gumpaste roses (instead of just 15 or 20 buttercream roses to cascade down a small 3-tiered wedding cake). Gumpaste roses can range from $1 to $2.50 EACH. Plus the time/materials for the gumpaste leaves....let's add 25 cents for those. The fondant stars that need to be hand cut out and applied to the food safe wire can add 50 cents to $1 to each cupcake.

What are we up to .... $5 per cupcake and we haven't even added in the cost of the cupcake yet! I know lots of custom design bakeries that will make a full size regular wedding cake for that price or less.

And the bride's mouth drops open as she says, "But it's just a 50 cent cupcake!"

No, darlin', it's not.

The plain, mass produced, made God-Knows-When cupcake at the local grocery store is a 50 cent cupcake. But that's not what you ordered from the custom cake designer.

You wanted a cupcake with bells and whistles. Bells and whistles cost extra.

If you are happy with a simple grocery store cupcake, then it's a smart purchase. But go into this decision with eyes wide open. I find it a conflicting message when the "experts" at the wedding magazines try to tell you cupcakes are cheaper and then show photos of nothing but custom designed "designer" cupcakes. It's confusing to brides and leads them to believe they can get a $7 cupcake for 50 cents.

Cupcakes usually require special stands that must be rented or purchased.

By the way, if you choose cupcakes for your wedding, I recommend you order extra (here you go, having to spend more money to have "cheaper" cupcakes!).
- When cupcakes are the wedding cake, guests are more likely to have more than one.
- If you have multiple flavors, guests are more comfortable having 2 cupcakes than they are having 2 pieces of cake. (After all, it's "just" a cupcake!)
- It's easier to grab a cupcake to take home than it is to grab a plate of sliced cake.

I've seen many incredible towering displays of cupcakes that were wonderous works of art. They can be as grand as any traditional wedding cake and can look truly regal at a reception. My intent, here, is to educate brides on what the cost can be ..... a custom designed wedding cupcake is not the same price as what you see in the grocery store.

So plan accordingly, price shop a few places, and go into this process with a taste of reality.

As a friend said to me once, "Cupcakes can be cheaper but only if you use cheap cupcakes."

Saturday, June 27, 2009

A "P.S." on Centerpiece Cakes

I received a few emails yesterday on the "Centerpiece Cakes" article. It seems some guests are not fans of centerpiece cakes. I'll share their stories so brides who are contemplating centerpiece cakes can think about how they might handle some of these stories.

Sandy was a guest at a wedding that had different flavored cakes on the tables. If your cake had chocolate cake and you wanted carrot cake, you were expected to roam from table to table trying to trade your chocolate for carrot. Sandy said the bride's idea was to get everyone to intermingle and "get to know each other".

Sandy told me, "I work with the bride and I'm never going ever meet her family or the groom's family again. I have no need to get to know them. I thought she humilated her guests by practically making them go table to table and begging for food. Because that's what it looked like to me ... that they were begging for cake from other people."

Stephen shared the story of the bride and groom who followed many magazine suggestions and went from table to table, cutting the cakes themselves for their guests. Said Stephen, "I understand how this enabled the couple to meet and greet each guest, and if this had been a small wedding of 100 or so, it might have worked. But when you have 325 guests, this takes a while, and those in the far corners of the room, who had to wait for their cake to be cut, were getting peeved. Especially those who had small children who were just too impatient to get their cake. Sitting next to a table of crying kids was not fun for the other guests."

Liz said the people at her table didn't realize it was a real cake that was going to be cut for dessert, so their cake was full of finger holes where people poked it. Liz passed on dessert because she "...wasn't about to eat finger-poked cake!"

T.J. loved the centerpiece cakes and the guests cut their own cakes. "I just felt bad for the bride and groom because every table had about half of the cake leftover and I just kept wondering how they were going to store a bunch of half-cut cakes or if they were just going to throw it all away. Either way, it seemed like such a waste."

I've read articles with these very same suggestions to brides. These emails show me that an idea is one thing .... executing it is another.

My husband has a saying in his family about "Paper is a wonderful thing. It will just lay there and let you write ANYTHING on it." Which means, just because it works on paper, doesn't mean it works in reality.

As I mentioned in the previous blog, I think centerpiece cakes can look really nice on a guest table. Just be sure you have a great execution plan to serve your guests quickly and easily.


Friday, June 26, 2009

Centerpiece Cakes .... Not Necessarily Cheaper

I'm frequently asked about centerpiece cakes .... small wedding cakes that double as the centerpiece on the guest tables, in place of a traditional 3 or 4 tiered wedding cake. Bridal websites and magazines are wrongly telling brides that this is a cheaper alternative.

Actually, a bride will most likely pay more for these cakes than she would a big wedding cake. LOTS more. I get very frustrated when articles in the magazines and websites, written by people who have never baked a wedding cake in their life, mislead brides with these kinds of suggestions.

As a cake baker AND a caterer, I’m astonished at the misconception that little food has a little price. Little food (like appetizers or mini cakes) take a lot more time and labor to create, so they usually come with a higher price tag. My rule-of-thumb is that if food is one-fourth the size, then it’s probably 4 times the price.

Making a lot of little cakes is much more labor intensive (read “higher cost”) than making one big cake … increased baking time, takes longer to decorate all of those smaller cakes than it does one big cake (read “Labor intensive” read “higher cost”), add’l supplies (20 cakes boxes instead of 3, more icing, more icing flowers for decor), transportation issues, the extra equipment needed to create a small tiered cake for each table, the extra labor to set up 20 little wedding cakes instead of one big one.

As a baker friend said to me, “With a 3 tier cake, I have to grease/flour and then wash 6 pans. With 20 little cakes, I have to grease/flour and then wash 40 pans. There’s a labor cost associated with doing that.”

A bride also ends up buying more cake than she needs. Wedding cake is sold “per serving” (like paint is sold per gallon and carpet is sold per yard). Let’s assume the bride wants a simple 8” two-layer cake on each table for her 160 guests. Normally you can sit 8 guests to a table, so there will be 20 tables, ergo 20 cakes. An 8” cake yields 24 wedding size servings. 20 cakes x 24 servings each = 480 cake servings. Remember, she only needed 160 servings.

Let’s just use $3.00 per serving for easy math. The individual cakes would cost $1440 (480 servings x $3 per serving). The standard regular wedding cake to serve her 160 guests would cost this bride $480 (160 servings x $3). She is not saving money with the mini’s ….. she is spending THREE TIMES the money by buying THREE TIMES the cake.

Even if your venue is charging you a $1 per person cake-cutting-fee, which would be $160 (160 guests x $1), you are still ahead by getting the larger, traditional cake.

Which reminds me ….. If you negotiate the cake cutting fee by having the guests cut the cake themselves, and if you have 20 cakes on 20 tables, be sure you buy 20 cake cutting knives – one per table – so the guests can have something to cut the cake. And how much do those run? $10-$12 each? More? Times 20? $12 each x 20 tables = $240. It’s cheaper to pay the $160 cake cutting fee.

Now that I’ve finished my lecture, let me concede one thing: If a bride chooses to buy the simple, mini cake from a grocery store bakery or a place that has a freezer full of a hundred small cakes where they can just pull them out and slap some icing on it, she might be able to get them cheaper.

There are concessions to be made if she goes this route, such as limited (if any) design or décor and how fresh the cake might be. If she goes with a local grocery store bakery, most of them do not deliver, so the bride must deal with picking up and setting up 20 cakes.

I think small cakes on the guest tables look very nice. And if it's in the budget, and it's what the bride wants, then go for it! Overall, when the centerpiece costs are factored in, there could be an overall cost savings for the bride. I just want the brides to walk in with eyes wide open and not be shocked when her custom designed table cakes are quoted at more than just ten bucks apiece.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The "Bridezilla" Label .... many brides getting a bad rap

I’ve been very blessed because I can’t really say I’ve had a full blown Bridezilla on my hands. I think all of my brides have been great. I’ve had a few Mom-Zillas, but I think that shows how a wedding is more stressful on a mom than it is on a bride!

It bugs me, though, how a bride is labeled a ‘Zilla at the slightest hint of aggravation on her part. I think it’s an unfair label.

For instance …… the day of the wedding, the bride tells everyone to be at the church, dressed, at 12:15 because they need to take pre-wedding pictures at 12:30. So naturally, one member of the bridal party invariably shows up at 12:25 with their clothes draped over their shoulder, cell phone to their ear, and asking someone, “Where can I change?” When the bride, who is nothing but a walking nerve today anyway, stresses out a bit with “Where have you been!?”, the latecomer sarcastically comments, “Geesh, she’s being a ‘zilla isn’t she?”

No, she isn’t. She’s trying to keep a very expensive pageantry of events running on time, on schedule, and organized. She’s dealing with a bridal party member who is being rude and inconsiderate of everyone else’s time and the schedule of events for the day. Yet SHE’S the one labeled a ‘Zilla.

So what IS a Bridezilla? It’s not a bride who is just upset over something that ANY of us would be upset over. A bridezilla is a self-indulgent little girl with a diamond on her finger who thinks we should all kiss her feet (and other parts of her body), who does everything in her power to make sure she is the center of attention at all times and will throw friends and family under the bus to achieve it. “Etiquette” and “proper manners” are not words in her short-term vocabulary.

The best source for Bridezilla stories (and Groomzilla, and Bridesmaid-zillas, etal) can be found at . I will warn you though ……I found this site at 8:30 at night and was so enthralled with what I was reading that my concentration was interrupted only when my husband’s alarm clock went off at 6:00 a.m. the next morning!


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Guest Favors ... What is the best bang for your buck?

In my lifetime, guest favors are a relatively new expense at weddings. I’ve lived a few decades and for most of my life, I never attended a wedding where a small gift was on the table for the guests. Maybe it’s a regional thing, maybe it’s just a new “tradition” (and I use that term loosely), but it’s pretty new to me, relatively speaking.

What are couples leaving as favors? Seed packets so the guests can plant some herbs or flowers (and those guests who have no interest in gardening will throw them right in the trash), or magnetic photo frames with a picture of the bride and groom (and the casual acquaintance guests, such as your co-workers, will leave them on the table or trash them on their way out the door). I’ve seen couples give packets of personalized cocktail mixes (oh a really good gift for your non-drinking friends and relatives …. Not!) Golf tees and anything sports … half of the guys will take them but most of these will be left or trashed.

If you’re going to the extra expense of buying a favor for your guest, at least spend the money on something that’s going to be used and appreciated.

What I’ve observed over the years of doing weddings is that if you’re going to spend money on favors, get edible favors. Everyone loves cookies, candies, fortune cookies or any type of food item. I rarely see these favors left on the table or filling up a trash can.

Some cute ideas that went over very well:
· The wedding colors were pink and Granny Smith green. The bride put a Granny Smith apple, a popsicle stick and some Kraft carmels in a gift bag, tied with a pink bow and instructions on how to make a carmel apple. I heard wonderful comments about this one from many guests.

· Chinese Fortune Cookies in a Chinese food box and the “fortune” were personalized messages from the bride and groom. These can be ordered from various sources off of the internet.

· A bride sat small buckets of mixed candies done the length of the 8’ rectangle banquet table and then scattered more candies in a line down the center. She combined her favors and table decoration for a real money saver.

· Another idea to combine table décor and favors is to have a floral arrangement of cookies in the center of the table, with a cookie for each guest. These can be any number of shapes or designs. I’ve seen centerpieces with cookies shaped like stars (for “An Evening Under the Stars” theme), cookies shaped like wedding cakes, shaped like flowers (get it? A cookie floral centerpiece instead of real flowers!). When the favors and centerpieces are combined for an all-in-one design, it can be a real money saver.

· Another cookie idea was my bride who ordered cookies shaped like dog biscuits. The couple were passionate dog lovers and attached to the cookie bag was a note that a donation was made to the ASPCA in honor of their marriage. Another had the breast cancer ribbon cookie. Her mother had passed away from breast cancer and this was their way of honoring her mom, who couldn’t be with them that day.

· A bride planned her wedding in October because she was having an M&M theme. By having the wedding in October, she had easy access to the small Trick-or-Treat size bags of M&M’s that she left for each guest.

· Bags of colored popcorn are popular as a small snack and to accent the wedding colors. Flavored popcorn in a multiple of colors (blue raspberry, red cherry, etc) in a clear cellophane bag and a label with the bride/groom’s name and wedding date is always a welcome treat to your guests. (A great source for these is Snack Krackle Pop, . Tell Brian that Debi sent you. Brian can ship these across the country … he’s even shipped internationally.)

So while favors are a very nice touch, be true to your budget and be considerate of your guests. Get something that you can afford, that won’t be wasted, and most important, will be enjoyed by your guests.

Because contrary to all of the Bridezilla shows, taking care of your guests is the most important part of hosting a reception.

Debi can be reached via email at,

Sunday, June 14, 2009

What's the latest cake trend?

I'm frequently asked, "How long does a cake stay "in style" and how do you keep up with the current cake trends?" I don't keep up with current trends. I actually detest the word “Trend”. Why? Because they are merely promotional tactics by the wedding industry to try to sell a bride whatever gizmo they are promoting at that time by calling it a trend and hoping the bride wants to be just like everyone else and have the very same thing that everyone else is having.

I had a cake decorator tell me that I should remove my square cakes from the website because "....square cakes are not "in", especially the baskeweave design, and brides are not ordering those." I didn't have the heart to tell her that I counted up and out of 19 consecutive wedding cakes, 15 were square and about half of those were basketweaves! These are REAL cakes ordered by my brides.So much for "expert" opinions!

Don’t be fooled by the claim of “everyone is doing THIS kind of cake”. Here’s why. A bride, who had been doing some good comparison shopping, came to me and was asking about cakes with ribbon wrapped around the bottom and scrolls/dots on the side of the cake. When she found out that I don’t charge extra for practically any design she wanted, she got excited and began looking at other designs. Her sister asked, “So you’ DON’T want the ribbon thing? I thought that’s what you wanted?”

Bride said, “I was looking at that because that’s all I could afford at that other bakery!” Turns out the other bakery was charging her $65 just to wrap ribbon around the base of the cake and was charging for every little thing the bride inquired about. The bride selected the super simple design for budget reason …. not because it’s what she wanted.

So my question to you: The cakes you see at weddings …. Are they really what the “current trend” is, or is it what the bride settled for because it’s all she could afford?

Don’t settle based on current “trend”. Shop around and get the cake you want.

What's "in style"? Whatever kind of cake the bride wants to have! Don't listen to so-called industry experts who are trying to tell you what you SHOULD want ... go with your own preferences and get what you DO want.

I had another bride, referred to me by a photographer friend, who did not want a wedding cake. She wanted just a big dessert bar. She went to all the bridal shows, talked to all the cake people there and told me that all of them told her, “Oh yes you DO want a cake!” She tried to convince them, “No….we really don’t want a cake” just to be told how sorry she’d be and she HAD to have a cake. No one was willing to do what she wanted.

So we did a fabulous dessert stand for her, made of glass and mirrors and small lights, covered with mini cheesecakes, chocolate covered strawberries, cookies, brownies and other fabulous desserts. We made a small 8” cake to sit on top for their cake cutting photo.

She and her guests just loved it! And it’s been a big hit with clients ever since. (See photo at top of this article. See series of photos at this link: )

It serves HOW many?

It’s so funny to watch someone’s face when I tell them an 8” round cake will serve 24 people. But then I continue to explain that a wedding cake is cut into rectangle, dessert size servings …. Not the big pie-shaped wedged pieces that we cut for ourselves at home, to be devoured with a big glass of milk, curled up in front of the late show on the couch in the dark (because if we eat cake in the dark, the calories don’t’ count!)

Wedding cakes are sold by the serving, and the serving is based on a 1x2x4” slice of cake. This is about the size of a folded over peanut butter sandwich. Here is the Wilton Wedding Cake serving chart that the majority of us go by:

Most people hear “one inch” and they think “paper thin”. It’s not. Here is a photo of wedding cake servings, 1x2x4: It’s a nice dessert-size piece of cake.

How do you cut a wedding cake? Many cake-cutting charts will show (what I refer to as “The Dreaded”) circle method. I’ve cut mine in a simpler, easier method for 30 years. Here’s a step by step on how to cut a wedding cake: If a professional caterer is not cutting your cake (and ask them if they know how …. many caterers are great with food, but they haven’t the slightest idea how to cut a wedding cake. That’s surprising information to many, but I swear it’s true), then do what many brides do …. print out this page and leave it on the cake table as a guide for their cake cutter. Many of my cake designer friends across the country have told me they see this page laying on the cake table when they deliver the cake, so I know it’s being used from Maryland to California!

This size of cake serving works perfect for a wedding reception. Remember, cake is a dessert, not a meal. Many people will frequently ask me to cut them a smaller piece at the reception. But if your family tends to eat like Jethro Bodine, you should talk to your cake maker and probably order a slightly bigger cake!
Debi Brim can be reached via email at

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Watch the placement of your wedding cake

Where are you putting the wedding cake?

Just like in real estate, the key things to consider are “location, location, location”.

Obvious things to watch for are backgrounds. I've seen cake photos that were spoiled by backgrounds such as fire extinguishers, basketball hoops, bulletin boards with kids construction paper crafts all over it, kitchen pass thru windows (which were open so you could see the kitchen clutter!), and yes, even men's room doors!

Do not put the cake table next to the DJ and do not allow the DJ’s speakers to be directed toward the cake. I’ve heard too many stories from cake designers all over the country about wedding cakes that collapsed due to the vibrations from a loud speaker (especially those with lots of bass pulsing out of it!). Many cakes aren’t put together like Lego’s, with nice snap-together parts. They are sitting on dowel supports or plastic pillars, and a loud constant vibration from a speaker IS enough to cause the cake to vibrate its way right onto the floor.

You wouldn’t think I’d have to explain this one, but if you’re planning an outdoor wedding, it’s pretty accepted that putting the cake in direct sunlight is a bad idea. Bad. Very bad. Oh let’s call it what it is … it’s downright stupid. A cake that’s covered in icing made from butter and someone thinks, “Oh let’s sit it over here, where the 85 degree sun can beat down on it for hours and hours! Yeah …. THAT’S a good idea!” (Shoot me now. Just shoot me now.)

Listen, if you ARE one of these folks who thinks it’s a good idea to put a wedding cake outside in the direct sun, let me give you another good idea. Do NOT call your cake maker and ask for a refund when your cake icing melts and runs down the side of the cake. You won’t get one. I swear, you won’t.

Oh .. and indoor weddings have the same rule. Do not put the cake table next to a big picture window where the sun is beating in thru the window, directly on the cake. Do not place the cake table over a big heat vent in the floor, or under an overhead heat duct. Not only is the heat a bad thing, but odds are good there is dust and other air particles settling on your cake as it blows out of the vent/duct.

Once a cake is set up, it really REALLY shouldn't be moved. Some cake designs can be moved, but play it safe and assume yours can't. So don't set up a reception with the idea of "oh, we'll put the cake here for now and move it later." Stacked cakes sometimes can be moved......cakes set up with pillars really shouldn't be moved.

In my never-so-humble opinion, the wedding cake is the centerpiece of your reception, so display it front and center! Don’t hide it in a corner somewhere! For 30 years, I’ve been working wedding receptions and I can tell you that people don’t line up to take photo’s of the table linens or the centerpieces or the banner behind the Head Table, but they DO line up to take a photo of the cake. As they enter the reception room, they are looking for the cake. So put it in a place of honor.


Friday, June 12, 2009

Introducing Ourselves!

Well, at the recommendation of a number of friends and fans, we are jumping on the blogging bandwagon!

It will be nice to have one central place to collect the ideas, tips and suggestions that we share with our brides and clients that helps them have a successful wedding or event. It might even help keep me a little organized!

I have 30 +/- years in the wedding business, starting out making wedding cakes back in the day before the internet, before the Food Network, before fondant! The method to learn was to buy a book and follow the step by step directions, and then it became sink or swim! My family, friends and co-workers either enjoyed or suffered (depending on how you look at it!) through my practice cakes that helped me hone some skills and turn my hobby into a business.
Catering was added and the business grew in unbelievable bounds. Our purpose stayed constant, though … we want to help a bride see that she can have a wonderfully elegant wedding without getting a second mortgage. We “Keep it Simple” for her by sharing our tips and suggestions, by making vendor recommendations, by letting her know our favorite stores where she can get great deals.

We got serious about it being a business and about sharing our experiences when I planned my own daughter’s wedding 10 years ago. She and my soon-to-be-son-in-law were in the Army, stationed in Washington, D.C. and we were planning a wedding in Indianapolis, Indiana. Since I’d been in the wedding industry for 20-some years, I didn’t think it would be any big deal to get things organized.

Oh. My. Gosh. Did I learn a lesson. I ran into barrier after barrier, and attitude after attitude as I went around trying to SPEND money with vendors in the wedding industry. The only thought I had was “And I know what I’m doing!! What are those poor brides and moms, who DON’T have the experience I have, going thru? How are THEY dealing with this?”

At that point, it hit me that it doesn’t have to be this complicated …. there had to be a simple process to this whole thing. And thus was born the idea of “You don’t have to cater it expensive …. You can Cater It Simple.”

I get very frustrated with untruths, exaggerated half-truths and the flat out lies that brides are told by the ‘experts’ in the industry. I also have a low tolerance for the regurgitated articles written by free-lance writers who just cut-n-paste the latest un-truth and exaggerated article that was printed somewhere.

I will warn you now that I tend to tell it like it is. I’m not good at sugar coating things that irritate me; I’m passionate about things I love; and I can talk non-stop about weddings and catering and cakes! I warn my friends frequently, “If you don’t want to know my opinion, don’t ask me …. But even THAT won’t stop me!” I don’t claim to be an expert …. I just claim to be someone who has been involved in weddings for 30 years and I’ve seen, learned and experienced a lot of situations and information that I share with my brides/clients in the interest of saving them money. For every blog/article that you read about one way to do something, you’ll find 2 or 3 that claim the opposite.

Our purpose is to try to give brides/clients an alternate point of view from someone who has been-there-done-that for 30 years. Feel free to take our suggestions and advice …. Or just hit the delete key.

In addition to our blog, we also have a monthly newsletter that goes out. Sign up now on our home page of our website at so you don’t miss a thing!

Our websites:
Debi Brim can be reached via email at