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 d├ęcor 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.


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