Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Food Review: Stacey's "Crunch"

My friend Stacey sent me a sample of her "Crunch" that she makes out of her shop, "Truly Custom Cakery" as a gift and I had to share my wonderous experience with you!

The plain packaging impressed me the second I opened the shipping box. A simple brown box wrapped in a brown & turquoise ribbon had that simple-but-elegant look we all like. Not overdone, simple in it's presentation, yet elegant enough to hint of great things yet to come.

Two cellaphane bags of her Crunch awaited me as I opened the box. Ripping open the first bag, I popped a cluster of popcorn, carmel, pecans and chocolate into my mouth .... and like butter over flame, I just melted in ecstasy as the salty-sweet sensation flooded my taste buds, each flavor standing on its own as it melded with the others to create a one of a kind flavor combination.

I noticed Stacey had used pecans and almonds, opting for the higher end part of the nut family, and the clusters had the perfect amount of nuts ... enough to enhance the taste and flavor yet not so many that its a pile of nuts with a little chocolate on the side. I also noticed there weren't any unpopped kernels and all of the popcorn was light and fluffy. In talking with Stacey on the phone (because I just HAD to call her right then and there to tell her how great this stuff was!) she explained that she actually hand sorts the popcorn twice so that only the fluffiest popcorn pieces are used! Quality is certainly Job One in her shop!

While one does not need a special reason to order a supply of Crunch, I can see this as the perfect food item for birthday party gift bags, party or wedding favors (great wedding favors!). Order in large quantities and put a large bowl in the center of the guest tables to double as the centerpieces and favors. Its the perfect birthday or Christmas gift for the office, for neighbors and casual friends.

It was fun for me to (sparingly!) share my Crunch. My husband, whose best compliment to anything is "not bad", absolutely loved this. I shared it with a friend and I actually watched her eyes roll back into her head as she said, "oh my god this is the best stuff ever!"

Putting Stacey's Crunch on your "gifts to buy" list will make you the hero of all of your family and friends! Here's a link to her website with the story of how she created it and how to order. Just tell her Debi sent you!!


Monday, December 20, 2010

Guest Blogger: Chris Jaeger on "Clunker Websites"

My friend Chris Jaeger graciously said yes when I asked if I could share his blog on "Clunker Websites". As many of you know, bad websites really get under my skin. It is not because I am a website snob, or anything like that. What gets to me is the bad marketing that bad websites represent.

Don't put up a bare bones website thinking that brides/clients will call you and THAT'S when you'll "hook 'em" with your sales pitch. Too many brides have told me, "If the information isn't on the website, I click out and move to the next one."

Read Chris's blog and then critique your website. If you are driving a Clunker Website, it might be time for a trade-in!

Chris's Blog from "Marketing to Brides Online":

Saturday, December 18, 2010

My Shamrock Cake Was Featured ....

I'm very proud to share that my Shamrock Wedding Cake was included in an article on Irish Wedding Traditions. Thanks, Carly, for the compliment!

Monday, December 13, 2010

"Just Serve a 'Cheap' Sheet Cake" she said

Well, this one pushed my hot button! Brides, please pay attention to this one. Please. I'm about to teach you how to NOT insult your guests at your wedding.

I actually saw an online article entitled "How to Buy Cheap Wedding Cakes". Now I understand in this day of a tough economy that we are all on the lookout on how to save money. And weddings can be expensive. So I know that anyplace where costs can be cut, all of us should endeavor to cut them. I get that.

However, I've never seen an article entitled "How to Buy a Cheap Diamond Engagement Ring" (bride, how would you react if you saw your groom studying up on such an article?) or "How to Buy a Cheap Wedding Gown" (or if mom was reading a series of these?).

But here I find an article (written, by the way, by someone who, based on her bio, is not in the wedding business and definitely not a cake expert) who is encouraging a bride, on her wedding day, to "oh, just go get a cheap cake!"

Wait ... it gets better.

Further down in the article is the tired and uninformed opinion about buying a fake cake (see my article on why THIS is false!).

She says a couple can "cut" the cake of their dreams and "serve a cheap sheet cake to wedding guests."

Serve a "cheap sheet cake."

Doesn't that make you sad? It does me. It makes me sad that someone with some fake and self-imposed authority on wedding cakes is regurgitating the same tired, worn out, untrue advice about cakes and encouraging brides to serve their family, their friends, their guests who have elected to incur some personal expense of their own to come and share in the couples wedding day .... she tells these brides, "oh just serve 'em some cheap sheet cake."

This article of mine is in danger of going on and on because I am just in SHOCK that someone would actually say that to a bride. Am I getting my frustration across? Because the only thing that would appall me more is to hear a bride say, "That's a good idea! I'll spend a fortune on my venue, my dress, my bar bill and my fabulous dinner. Then I'll just slap some "cheap sheet cake" in front of my guests!"

As I take a minute to take a deep breath, let me clarify that a low-cost cake to fit in a budget is not a bad thing. Many highly skilled decorators have many options for brides to enable them to have a wonderfully decorated and great tasting cake at their wedding. That's not what I'm talking about.

I'm talking about serving guests cheap tasting sheet cake: Mass produced, frozen for months in a warehouse, shipped to a big box grocery store bakery, already iced when it arrives, pulled out of the freezer the day before it is due so a decorator can spend 4 minutes putting a border with icing that from a big bucket that is commercially made.

Most people can tell the difference between this grocery store sheet cake and a wedding cake that is custom made just for the bride's special day. That is part of what is irritating me on this. That someone just so nonchalantly suggests a "cheap sheet cake" is good enough and that a bride shouldn't care if her guests actually LIKE the cake or not. That, too, is just sad.

Brides, the key to being able to stay in budget involves careful planning, including control of your headcount (see my "60% Rule" article), good comparison shopping, working with a wedding planner (yes, they DO save you money!), and being realistic about what you can afford.

But please. Please. DON'T slap your guests in the face with an attitude of they are only worth some "cheap sheet cake" for your wedding. Plan accordingly. And treat your guests with the respect they deserve.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Cupcake Stands

First the disclaimer. I do not get paid or reimbursed or compensated in any way for any products that I recommend or endorse. My function and purpose is to share new ideas, products and innovations to help those in the baking and wedding industry. That said .....

I recently came across a wonderful product that I project to be very popular with the increased demand for cupcake weddings and parties.

There is always a question of how to display cupcakes other than just lining them up in a box on a table. Nice. But no "wow" factor. There is also a concern with the baker of renting stands, getting them back, wanting to make sure their sugary art is displayed in the best artistic way, etc.

Enjay Converters Ltd, a company that has been in business for more than 25 years, offers disposable cupcake stands to the commercial baker.

The tiers are approximately 8", 12" and 14", plenty of space to display cupcakes. I can see two or even three of these on a cake or dessert table. With the various colored foils available, (the photo shows three of them) one could almost color code the display: white cupcakes on the white stand, chocolate cupcakes on the silver stand and yellow cupcakes on the gold stand.

As your demand for cupcakes increases, be sure to visit their website at

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Meeting the Client's Expections ... Do We REALLY Want to Do That?

In watching an episode of "The Apprentice" this past week, I heard a great line that should be a part of every business person's philosophy and vocabulary.

First, I am a BIG fan of this show. Every week, I pick up a little Donald Trump insight and expertise pertaining to business, dealing with people, strategy and more. It is one of the great free classrooms of business that I know of. And come on, let's get real .... its Donald Trump expertise, for goodness sakes!

This week, Trump's son, Donnie Trump, visited one of the teams who were planning a large golf outing at one of Trump's golf courses. One of the team members expressed concern about "meeting everyone's expectations."

Donnie said to her, "Oh you never meet everyone's expectations." And then there was a slight pause during which the team members seemed to laugh with agreement. Donnie then continued and said, "You always exceed them here."

Wow, did I sit up and take notice of that line! Yes! We should ALL be thinking that way. Sadly, too many businesses take the same road that everyone else takes. The road to mediocrity.

How many mission and vision statements have we read in which a company proclaims they will "meet or exceed customer expectations"? It is the very reason I'm never impressed by mission statements .... they all tend to say the same mediocre thing.

Will your business can be like everyone else, who lackadaisically believes, "Eh ... meet it, exceed it. Same thing." Or will your business have a mission statement that follows the Trump viewpoint of "We will never meet a customer's expectation. We will always exceed a customer's expectation."

Excellence costs no more than mediocrity ---- Donald Trump

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Lame Excuse for Losing a Sale

On the coattails of my November 4th article, "But I Don't LIKE Sales....!" I am proud to offer this link to an article by Wedding Marketing guru Andy Ebon about pricing and bridal budgets. I must totally agree with him that "brides do not have money allotted for most wedding expenses in a truly thoughtful and rationale way." That is why I believe a wedding vendor should be an expert in their field so they can help guide the bride through the process and why I believe that a business person's sales and marketing skill are key, absolutely KEY, to having a successful business.

Please take a minute to read Andy's article. I'm sure you'll enjoy his wisdom as much as I do!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thanks "Confectionary Designs"!

I have been honored to have one of my blog articles reprinted on fellow caker "Confectionary Designs" blog in New Jersey. Pam and Stephanie are two very talented ladies.

Check out their blog and photos:

Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Friday Customer Service Lessons

I LOVE Black Friday shopping! It is not the deals or the stuff or the doorbusters that make me feel great. It is the mother-daughter time I get with my girls as we make our annual pilgrimage to the stores, ending with a great breakfast at our favorite breakfast restaurant.

This year, with many stores opening at midnight and 1:00 a.m., the crowds were not a thick by the time we ventured out at 5:00 a.m. So I had plenty of time to do some simple observing while I stood by the parked cart, waiting for my daughter to search the shelves for a particular item. I share these observations for the benefit of business owners and customer service managers who may want to see how their own customer service training measures up.

Our first stop was a major toy store and the staff was super impressive! Staffers were stationed at points inside the store and we had access to an employee any time we had a question. We found these employees to be well informed, knowledgeable about the store layout and very helpful. In looking for a Buzz Lightyear item, we found an area of nothing but Toy Story items but the item we wanted wasn't there. A store employee, who was within ten feet of the area, told my daughter, "That item may also be in our Disney aisle (and she gave instruction on where that aisle was), but they will be bringing more inventory out to the shelves in about five minutes" so we made sure to hang close to see if her item was brought out. It was.

At our second store, a department store specializing in mostly clothing, we were looking for a certain football jersey for an 8 year old girl. The employee we asked (again, lots of employees within eyesight at all times!), the employee wasn't sure where these jersey's might be, but she located another employee for us, who walked us to the display where the jersey's were hanging. At the checkout we learned it was the first day for one of the two ladies manning the cash register. The store had hired additional staff just for the sole purpose of bagging merchandise for the cashiers, which helped the cashier get folks checked out faster which resulted in faster moving lines.

The third store was not as impressive. It's a huge national chain that carries everything from groceries to clothes to car repairs. In looking for another Toy Story item, my daughter is informed by an employee, "I don't know where they might be." Pointing to the long line at the register in the hardware department which was next to toys, she said, "You need to go ask the lady in hardware. She might know where they are." My daughter looked at the long line at the checkout and said, "I can't butt in line to ask a hardware cashier where the toys should be. Let's go."

This was such a contrast to our first two experiences where, at the first store, the staffers were well informed about the inventory and the store layout, and at the second store, even though the staffer was not sure where the item was, she personally handed us to another employee who walked with us to the display. But the third store? We were pretty much told, "I've no idea. Go ask someone else."

I do not fault the employees of the third store. What this business owner's eye saw was a lack of management care and interest to see that the employees were well informed and knowledgeable about their department, their inventory and their store layout on what is heralded as the biggest shopping day of the year. A good manager and management team takes the time and makes the investment to have employees who are ready to assist the customer, especially in this economy when everyone is fighting for the same dollar.

What I hope is taken from this article is that those in charge of training new staff and those in charge of major sales promotions and those over customer service functions will see that managers can not just hire someone and say "Ok, go help the customer." The employee needs the tools, the empowerment and the knowledge to be able to do that.

And that takes an investment of time and training, and a level of care on the part of management.

So decide today ..... will your business hand walk a customer through the problem solving process? Or will it be one of those "I've no idea ... ask someone else" stores?

It seems like a no-brainer to me.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Pick Up Time is Not Party Time

Clients and businesses alike ... listen up.

When ordering a cake (or any product, actually), be clear about when the cake needs to be picked up.

Clients tend to talk to the baker in terms of what day the party will be. "We're having a party on Sunday ....." Bakers tend to listen to the conversation for a clue on when the cake is needed. "She needs the cake on Sunday." Confusion takes places when the client arrives on Saturday to pick up the cake (that she needs tomorrow) and finds the cake isn't ready. The baker is confused because her order form says the cake isn't due until Sunday.

Party Time and Pick-up Time are not the same thing. Both parties need to be clear on when the item is needed. I'm going to put the weight on the shoulder of the baker and suggest the business should have a place on the order form for day and time of PICK UP (or delivery).

The best phrasing isn't "When do you need the cake?" (they NEED it on Sunday for the party). What SHOULD be asked is "What day and time will you pick this up?" For some bakers/bakeries, there may be a specific window of time for order pickups in which case the baker should let the client know, "Your cake can be picked up on Saturday between 2 and 4."

It works the other way also, with clients who do things at the last minute. I had a client who was planning a Sunday party. I asked her "What time on Saturday do you want to pick it up?" She reminded me, "Oh the party isn't until Sunday."

I said, "I'm closed on Sunday. What time on Saturday do you want to pick it up?"

She said, "I didn't really want to pick it up before Sunday."

I said, "I'm closed on Sunday. What time on Saturday do you want to pick it up?"

In this world of 24/7 everything where nothing needs planned ahead and people are used to picking up things "on the way" to an event, details like pick up times need to be clearly stated up front so both parties understand what is expected from the other.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Doing The Math or "Going Math-Dumb"

There are a number of websites that help brides find vendors for their wedding. Just plug in a zip code and check off all vendors that you're looking for and the bride's request for information is sent to all of the vendors in her area. Sites such as and offer this service at no cost to the bride and a minimal per-lead-fee for the vendor.

I've received a number of inquiries from these sites and the one thing that always astonishes me is how brides can't seem to Do The Math when making a request. One example (and trust me, it's not the only one I received like this!) is the bride who checked off:
- "I expect a cake to cost $2-$3 per serving."
- "I need 250 servings."
- "My budget is $150."


I am not making this up. I really received this lead info. Even at the lower end of the price range, $2 per serving times 250 servings equal a minimum of $500. How in the WORLD does this bride expect to get a custom designed cake for her very special wedding day at a price that is less than a pack of Twinkies? How did she come up with a budget of $150 for 250 servings at $2 each?

Do The Math.

What is a shame is that this bride, who obviously needs help planning her wedding, isn't going to get it. Because when I receive a lead like this, I just delete it. I am NOT paying $2 to $5 per lead just to get her email so I can tell this poor bride that she is being unrealistic in the $150 budget. And I'm not the only vendor who thinks that way.

Do. The. Math.

Part of the problem is that people are not used to planning food and entertainment for 100+ people. If I tell someone that it will cost them $10 per person to take 6 people out to dinner, they can do the math and figure they will need $60. But when planning an event for 100+ guests, they seem to go math-dumb. Tell this same person that it will cost them $10 per person to feed 100 guests at a wedding and the only thing going through their head is .......


Yes, folks. A Thousand Dollars. Do The Math.

A relative asked me to look over the cost for her son's rehearsal dinner as it seemed high to her. As I looked over the menu and did some price comparing in her area, I found the prices were really a great bargain. But I told her, "It only seems like a lot of money because you're feeding 50 people. And 50 people times $20 a head comes out to a thousand dollars no matter how you calculate it."

Back when postage was $0.35, one of my brides turned to her dad during the consultation and said, "Oh, Dad. When we leave here, we need to go by the post office. I'll need $70 for stamps."

Dad went thru the ROOF!! "SEVENTY DOLLARS!!" I held up my hand and said, "Dad .... do the math. She's mailing 200 invitations and 35 cent stamps times 200 comes to $70 no matter how you add it up." Dad calmed down, but it's a great example of the reaction of people who are not used to planning events for 100 or more people.

Another common reaction is to focus on the total cost rather than comparing a per-person price. For example, when a bride gets a quote for $3/slice for a wedding cake to serve 200, she tends to focus on the total of $600 and some make comments about it being "just a cake" (oh don't EVEN get me started on THAT one!) and she can't see why it's so much. And I tell them ....

"Darlin', it's not a $600 cake. It's enough cake to feed TWO HUNDRED PEOPLE!!!"

A $4 cup of coffee doesn't seem like a lot of money .... until you have to buy 200 of them.

This is frustrating to everyone. It's frustrating to the bride because she thinks no one can meet her budget, when the truth is she didn't Do The Math to see what she would really need to budget. It's frustrating to the vendors because we WANT to work with the bride but we can not work with an unrealistic budget.

Here are some recommendations that a bride should do (and questions vendors should ask) when figuring a budget:

- What is the total dollar amount available to spend?

- How much will be spent on the wedding and how much on the reception?

- How many guests are you wanting to invite? Divide this into the reception dollar amount to get a per-person budget.

- Tell the vendor how much you have to spend. If a bride has only $2500 to spend on the dinner, the caterer will not try to sell her the $7500 package but will work to come up with a presentation that will fit inside that budget.

- Be realistic. I've had brides offer a per-person budget that was so unrealistic that I have honestly said to them, "Darlin' you can't get Happy Meals for that amount."

If the per-person budget ends up in the fast food range, then the bride should consider simpler ideas such as either reducing her invite list to a number that her budget can accommodate or having a cake-and-punch reception instead of a buffet or plated dinner.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

"But I Don't Like Sales......"

I hear it frequently. There is someone who loves making cakes, who loves creating artistic displays of sugary art, who has every friend and relative encouraging them to start their business. So they start the process. They buy business cards, they get a website, they set up their facebook page. They are ready. They are "in business".

Then it hits them. They have to do "sales". They have to talk to people. They have to promote their business and promote themselves.

And they hate that.

I mean, all they wanted to do was make cakes. That was their passion. That's what they loved. They wanted to be a baker. A cake creator. Yes, even a business owner. But a salesman? Ah, geesh, THAT wasn't part of the deal, was it?

Well, darlin', I hate to break it to you but yes .... it is. And it's a 24/7 job.

Once you hang an "Open" sign in your door, you are a salesman. Unless you're selling, you have nothing to bake. Selling is all the time, every time.

Every time you hand someone your business card, you're doing a sales call. Every time you mention "I make cakes", you're doing a sales promotion. There's a rule of thumb that you have to knock on ten doors to get one person to listen to you. So a baker who needs to sell twenty cakes a week has to talk to two hundred people. Hand out two hundred business cards. Send an emailed promo newsletter to two hundred email addresses. Shake hands hundreds of times.

In one week. And next week you get to do it all over again.

I love encouraging new entrepreneurs who are starting their business. I revel in their excitement and in their grand openings. I celebrate their victories and when they hit their goals. I love it.

But as much as I encourage the free spirit of capitalism, I have advised people "Don't go into business .... get a job at Walmart in their bakery department." Running a business is tough, hard work. And sales is Job One. You either throw yourself into that part of it 1000% ..... or you don't do it at all.

So before investing thousands of dollars into a commercial kitchen or even into business cards, decide up front if you're cut out for sales. Because if you can't take the heat of sales, you should definitely stay out of the kitchen!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Question NOT to Ask: "How much are your cakes?"

Sounds too simple. A bride is researching costs for her upcoming wedding and it just sounds simple to call a baker an ask "How much are your wedding cakes?"

Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. It's like calling a home builder and asking, "How much are your houses?" and expecting to get a one-price answer. We all know the price of the home depends on the square footage, how many rooms, size of rooms, type of extras like fireplace, air conditioning, cheap or expensive carpet, if there is a dishwasher or not and the quality of the dishwasher, ultra fine wood cabinetry or cheap buy-em-in-any-home-improvement-store caliber. This list and more affects the final cost of the house.

Cakes are the same way. A baker's version of square footage is "how many people does it need to feed?" How many rooms and the size of rooms can be compared to the number of tiers and what size those tiers are. And dont' be mistaken. Many bakers charge more for small tiers (sometimes also known as "mini cakes") because these are harder to work with and therefore incur higher labor costs.

"Extras" on a cake include things such as hand-made gumpaste flowers or fondant figures, some of which are VERY labor intensive and can take hours to make for a wedding cake. As I've pointed out in other columns and other writings, some sugar flowers can take an hour to make just one, so a cake with a small assortment of just 20 flowers will incur 20 hours of labor and if we assume $15/hour for the sugar artist, the bride is looking at $300 JUST in the labor costs. This doesn't include the costs of materials and any overhead the bakery must cover. For a cake for 100 people, this breaks down to $3.00 per person JUST FOR THE FLOWER WORK.

Another example of "extras" can be cake and filling flavors. A white cake with plain white buttercream icing as the filling is pretty quick, simple and easy for a baker. Customized and exotic cake flavors and fillings can have higher ingredient costs and additional labor costs.

This is why bakers encourage a one-on-one consutlation appointment with brides so both of them can have a conversation about the bride's vision for her wedding cake and the baker can get a better idea of what the bride is looking for, enabling the baker to offer a more accurate quote for the bride.

But to address the original problem of a bride trying to find out a general price range so she can determine her budget, I DO recommend calling bakers to ask the preliminary questions. Bakers are happy to help brides who are working to see what things do cost.

I recommend the bride tell the baker she is in the prelinary planning stage and is looking for an idea of what cakes to serve 100 will cost. It's helpful if the bride explains to the baker "I'm aware there are many factors that affect price, but I'm just looking for a general price range right now so I can establish the budget I'm going to need."

Being prepared with accurate and current pricing information greatly reduces the stress of planning a wedding for a bride!


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

More Website Advice - The "Oh Yes!" factor

Just a few days after posting my article on websites (see below), I receive notice of another blogger entry with similar advice.

The blog of "Marketing to Brides Online" article is interesting ..... read it here:

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Is Your Website Welcoming or Uninviting?

I encountered a website peeve yesterday.

Bad websites irritate me. There's the standard list of big no-no's we all know about such as bad grammar and spelling, photos that take too long to download (so please consider that some people still DO have dial-up!), and annoying music that gets you busted at work for browsing non-work related websites!

I was checking the website of a Texas event planner. I had encountered her through my facebook and was interested in knowing more about her.

Unfortunately, her website had the biggest no-no of all: The inability for me to even get IN her website!

It's too bad she hired some gun-ho web designer who was anxious to show everyone how smart and skilled he or she was, because I just got tired of waiting for all of the "pretty animation" to stop so I could just get into her website. The site had so many bells and whistles, it was taking forever for the site to download and open. Unlike other websites that gave me the option to "skip intro", this one didn't. I was stuck. Waiting.

And like I'm sure many of her potential clients did .... I left the site without even looking.

So as you start a business and get excited about how thrilling and unique your website will be, please factor in that the folks looking at it will have to actually get into it before they can be impressed.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Being a Speaker

I recently had the honor of being invited to be the speaker at a cake club in Columbus, Ohio. Now, those who know me, know that I love an opportunity to speak in front of people (no, I’m NOT one of those people who fear public speaking!) and I love talking about cake and caking! So while some may say they got a “job” speaking, I think of it as having fun speaking!

My 18 year old daughter went with me. Coincidentally, the day of the event was her 18th birthday and a member of the cake club presented her with a birthday cake! We had lots of fun on the 4 hour drive, plus some shopping and just having some great mother-daughter time.

The best compliment a speaker can receive is a lot of animated discussion and questions during and after the event, and I was certainly complimented in this aspect. We cakers love talking about cake, about our passion, and about our art. We love sharing our experiences and our expertise with others.

Wherever I speak, I find many of the common questions and concerns such as how to conduct a consultation and how to battle the problem of no-shows at a consultation.

Consultations, while necessary in this day of wedding marketing, can become expensive for the caker. Different flavors of cakes and icings are prepared; time (from 45 minutes to up to two hours) that could be used in sales production is set aside just for the potential client, plus the time spent preparing the samples. So a client who just doesn’t show up can be cost prohibitive for the business owner.

There is always good discussion on how to conduct a consultation. Cakers have many different styles and methods of how they conduct their own samplings with brides and the bottom line is a person should evaluate the great ideas and select the ones that work best with their personality and style.

My advice is always to keep it simple. Planning a wedding or a large event can be very intimidating for a bride/client. They’ve never bought cake for 200 before and odds are good the only time they’ve ordered a cake is when they walked up to the grocery store counter and said, “I need a cake …. Chocolate …. By Friday.” Wedding cakes are just a little more involved than that. A good caker helps a client feel at ease and gently walks her through the decision making process. A “bad” caker sits back and says “What do you want?”

Another common question is how to battle the pricing perception …. or rather, the LACK of the proper perception. The consensus is that the TV cake shows add to this problem. Viewers seem to think an “Ace of Cakes” cake or a “Food Network Challenge” cake can be made in one day. But the biggest problem is these shows never give an idea of the cost of these cakes. Too many times, a caker has to explain to a client that the $3000 cake they saw on TV just can’t be made by tomorrow for only $200. (See my blog on this topic, , and this USAToday link for examples of what I mean: )

I received a wonderful letter from Cindy, who organized the Columbus, Ohio meeting, that I am sharing here:

Dear Debi,

I am sending this letter to personally thank you for attending the August meeting of the Central Ohio Sugar Artists. Our group is a diverse one, and your presentation was informative, entertaining and fun! I have never seen so many in the group participate in a question and answer session. You not only offered information for the business owners, you included those of our club who are new to this and made all of us feel comfortable talking with you. I have received several phone calls since the meeting from different members, and they all made it a point to tell me how much they enjoyed your visit.

We wish you well in your future endeavors, and would highly recommend you as a speaker to anyone! It is rare to find someone of your caliber willing to share so much knowledge about their business with others. I know that our members all appreciated everything you shared with us.

Thank you again,

Cindy Patrick

Debi is available for speaking engagements for your club, meeting, or organization. Presentations can range from a simple presentation up to one of the workshops or seminars that she has written.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

What's Your Message?

I was in a meeting not all that long ago when the speaker asked anyone from the audience to tell her their slogan and what their company stood for. A gentleman in front of me stood and said, “We offer the best product and the best service at the best price.”

I sat there mentally shaking my head. Even the speaker whizzed right over this one. What he said meant nothing. Everybody says that. I mean, who DOESN’T think their company offers the best product and the best service at the best price?

I see too many generic Claims to Fame in company names, slogans and taglines. I learned a long time ago that if you have to explain what your company does, then you have the wrong name or tagline.

Have you ever sat down and gone through your stack of business cards that you’ve collected? If you’re a good networker, you collect at least 25 to 100 cards a week. And like many of us, you throw them on your desk until you “have time” to put them away.

I’m guilty. I’m a procrastinator.

But when I do get around to sorting through them, it’s a weeding process. Bad business cards get thrown away. And what I mean by bad business cards is that I can’t tell what the company does by reading the business card. Catchy name, artsy logo, pretty colors. But what do you DO? Since I can’t tell what the company does, I see no value in keeping the card. What a waste of money and advertising.

I heard the story of a person looking for day care for her child. A friend asked her if she had checked out a place called “Teddy Bear Care”. The woman said, “I thought that was a sewing shop to repair torn teddy bears!” Nothing in the name of the business keyed this woman in to the fact that it was a day care center for children.

As you set up your company name and your marketing strategy, think like a consumer and not like an insider. When you introduce yourself and company, listen to the response from the other person. If the first thing out of their mouth is “And what is it that you do?”, then you don’t have a strong message …. or the right one.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Sometimes it *IS* Personal --- My George Bailey Moment

There’s an often quoted phrase in the business world of “It’s not personal …. It’s business.” I am one who uses it frequently simply because it just applies.

But sometimes we are reminded that there’s a personal side to what we do. And it’s very humbling.

Allow me to share.

I am a regular contributor to the discussion forum on, a cake decorator’s website, where I’m known as “Indydebi” (that becomes necessary to know later in this article). And when I say “regular”, I’m not kidding. I hold the record for having the most posts. Cake Central even created a new category just for me: “Forum Matriarch”.

My son was reading some of my posts and of course my blog and said to me, “Mom, what are you doing? People get PAID to give out advice like this!” I didn’t have an answer for him.

For the record, I DO get paid for my monthly column in Cake Central magazine and for other articles that I’ve written for various other publications. So I’m not totally uncompensated. And I am working on expanding my public speaking work, so that avenue is moving along.

The truth is I just like sharing my ideas, tips and experiences with others in the cake and catering world.

But once in awhile I get a “George Bailey Moment.” That’s what I call those points of realization that the gifts God gave us are not just lying dormant and that we HAVE made a difference in someone’s life.

About a year ago, I shared my business plan with a woman who wanted to open her own cake business, so she could see what a finished plan looked like and model her plan likewise. I paid a lot of money for professionals to help me construct this plan, but I’ve never hesitated to help others by sharing my plan as they work on their own business plan. The other day, I received an email from her and with her permission, I am sharing some of what she said.

I just felt moved to write you. I don't know if it's hormonal or just stress but I feel like I know you.

I am 47 and last year, you sent me your business plan as I was working on my own business plan. I am so grateful and it helped me out tremendously. I don't know how many times I've been talking to my husband as we work on some plan and I say "indydebi says..." or now, it's just "debi said...". I don't even have to put the Indy on because he knows who I'm talking about.

Your confidence is amazing. I am confident when I am in a situation where I am in control but it is so tough for me to cold call or walk into a place to sell myself. I am more the mother hen - don't mess with my chicks or I'll be all over you but if it is for me, I'm a wuss. You have been such an inspiration in your approach to selling and running your business. Through that, I have been strong in my prices and haven't cut my prices to meet someone's budget. In fact, after almost a year in business, I am raising my prices on Sept. 1.

My cake business is going great! Our local TV station is currently running a 'Best of Little Rock' competition and after only 1 wedding season, we were nominated for best wedding cake. And, we are getting wedding cakes now from being referred by other brides or bridesmaids so things are going well.

On April 1, I went part-time at my day job and unfortunately, I am still there but I will stay for probably another 6 months. It is extremely stressful and poorly managed but it is guaranteed income.

After a really frustrating morning, I took a break and ended up going to your writing blog. I was so touched by your stories. The story about Vicky was incredible. She was indeed a very special girl.

Then, I read "I thought I'd missed it". If I could write, I could write a similar story. I've had a wonderfully blessed life but at times, it's easy to forget. I always wanted children but wasn't blessed with any. But, I have lots of them. I teach 4/5 years each Sunday morning and they are wonderful kids and I love them.

I don't know why I wrote this, this isn't something I normally do. Just having a really rough morning and your writing was such a breath of fresh air. Sorry for the rambling. I just wanted to say thank you but being such an inspiration.

Tracy McCauslin
aka Tracycakes
Seasons of Love Cakes

This made me cry. I mean make-up ruining, grab the tissue cry. It is very humbling to be reminded that sometimes a little thing, a small piece of sharing, makes a difference to others, and that we have left our mark as we travel this road of life.

Thanks, Tracy, for your very kind words and a reminder that sometimes it is NOT just business; that sometimes it is just being helpful and paying it forward.

"Dear George, remember no man is a failure who has friends. Thanks for the wings, Love Clarence." ---- inscribed on a book for George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life”

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Venue vs. Wedding Coordinator

I'm a big advocate of having a wedding planner. In this day and age, with the cost of weddings getting more elaborate and expensive, I believe a bride needs someone on her side who is looking out for every detail on behalf of the bride.

Many brides choose to skip the cost of the planner because "the venue has someone who does that." I'd like to caution brides to take care in this decision. The venue coordinator works for the venue, not for the bride. The venue coordinator will probably not be at the church before, during and after the ceremony, nor will they be there between church and venue during the photography shoots.

I could go on and on but I'm just going to refer you to this wonderful article from the Get Married blog. They list it out perfectly.


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Lying About the Wedding Date. Yes, They Are Doing It

I discovered an interesting new piece of advice being circulated on some wedding forum websites. Brides are lying to their vendors about the wedding date to help insure "prompt" service.

This is being done mostly to bridal shops so that dresses will be received in plenty of time prior to the wedding, with no last minute surprises. Kind of like building in a cushion of time for the shipment and alterations.

But conversations on these forums reveal it is not just bridal shops being told a false date. Some brides confessed to telling the florist an earlier date "to make sure I got the flowers in plenty of time". I wondered at the time of reading her comments if this bride realized that fresh flowers won't last the four weeks she cushioned in with the florist?

I did go in and tried to do the honorable thing and reminded these brides that many vendors will only book one wedding or book a limited number of weddings on a particular date. A bride that lies to the florist and says her wedding is the third of the month only to go back later and say "Oh, sorry! It's really the 24th of the month!" may find the florist is fully booked on the 24th and can no longer do her wedding, leaving this bride with no florist at the last minute.

I also reminded these brides to check their vendor contracts. Many contracts have monetary penalties for changing a date, if the date can be adjusted at all. Some contracts consider a date change the same as a cancellation-rebook, with monetary fees attached.

I can understand wanting to be sure the dresses arrive in time. I really can. But the solution is not for a bride to lie to the dress shop (or the florist, or the invitation designer). The solution is for a bride to make sure she is dealing with a reputable company that has a great track record with their clients.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Cake Reality Shows ... Oh, let's get "real"!

In the great and recent influx of so-called "reality" shows involving cake world, we in the "real" cake business are seeing too many things that grate us the wrong way. We are concerned about the image going out there that bakers allow dogs in the bakery and don't have good food safety practices. We are concerned about the impression being left with the viewers that those who work in a cake business are bumbling fools who can't even carry a cake.

My good friend Evelyn recently posted an entry on her blog that I just have to share with everyone. In plain, everyday, no-holds-barred language, she says what many of us are dying for the networks to hear. That cake drama for the sake of good TV isn't good TV.

Take a look at what she says. I believe that once cake-show-viewers read her blog, then they will understand more of what REAL "reality" is.

Friday, July 9, 2010

My apologies to my readers......

Due to a sudden bombardment of sex sites (mostly from out of country) trying to post comments on a number of blogs, I've been forced to screen comments before allowing them to be posted. I dislike this process and would much prefer to permit your legitimate comments be posted immediately, but I've had to add this security to protect the integrity of the site.

All comments will be reviewed as quickly as possible so they can be posted and shared with other readers.

Monday, June 28, 2010

What Does it Mean to be a Preferred Vendor?

When a bride shops for her wedding vendors, she frequently depends on word of mouth referrals and other vendors' "Preferred Vendor" list. This is usually a list of wedding vendors that a venue (and I'm going to use "venue" as the example while acknowledging a photographer, or wedding planner, or caterer could also have such a list) has listed on their website that pretty much says, "We recommend you try these folks."

A bride may look at this list and assume the venue is vouching for the quality and business practices of the listed vendors. This is not always true.

It is in the venue's best interest to only list vendors that are reputable and offer quality products and services to the venue's clients, otherwise it looks bad on the venue.

How does a vendor get on a "Preferred Vendor" list?

In my experience, some places just charge a fee for the exposure. I could have been on the Preferred Vendor List of one venue in town just by writing them a $300 annual check to be on the list. A bride would have thought my name on the list meant the venue was recommending me because of my great food when the truth was they were recommending me because I paid them to. (I refused to be put on their list just for this reason.)

Some places would have been happy to put me on their list if I just showed them a copy of my health department license and proof of liability insurance. Actually, every venue should ask for this documentation, regardless of whether I'm on their list or not, but in most cases, my name on their list merely meant "Yeah ... she's legal and we'll let her in."

Some venues required that I do a "payback" to them based on the bookings at their venue (notice how I refrained from using the term "kickback"!). I had no problem with giving finders fees or referral credits when I actually received the business from the venue (and for the record, there was only one I encountered who operated this way), but I DID have a problem writing a mandatory check to a venue when the bride/groom found me on their own and the venue had nothing to do with it. Had I agreed up front to this venue's terms, they would have been happy to make me a "Preferred Vendor". In this case, my name NOT on their list just meant I wouldn't play Kick(back) Ball with them.

Before you think I'm just a big Negative Nelly, many venues select their Preferred Vendors based on performance and the relationship they've built with the other wedding vendors over a long period of time. As I mentioned, the venue's reputation is also at stake if they refer a bride to a vendor is just doesn't make the grade. Many "Preferred Vendor Lists" are helpful to couples who have no idea who to call and the venue has done a preliminary pre-screening for them.

As you shop for your wedding vendors, ask the venue how a company gets on their Preferred Vendor list. Ask if the venue will personally vouch for their character, their quality and their service.

A big assumption is that couples believe the "Preferred Vendor List" means they can only use those vendors. While a Preferred List is usually exclusive, it's not always. Ask if the Preferred Vendor List is exclusive or if the bride/groom can select their own florist / photographer / caterer, etc. Sometimes there is an additional fee to bring in an outside vendor, but depending on the pricing, it could still be cheaper for the couple.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Let's Talk Cupcakes!

What picture comes to mind when someone says "cupcake"? Is it the regular cupcake-with-a-swirl-of-icing on top?

Here are a few photos showing what you can do with cupcakes. Great ideas for weddings, parties, showers, birthdays or just because!

Love chocolate covered strawberries? Here are white cupcakes topped with a chocolate ganache, then a chocolate-dipped strawberry placed on top. The whole thing was then drizzled in white chocolate.

Cupcakes can be a wedding favor AND double as a centerpiece. Here are champagne flavored cupcakes, topped with a raspberry buttercream, with and without a fresh strawberry on top. Have a bottle of champagne on each table and your guests will be wowed with this simple but elegant refreshment/centerpiece.

Cute for a baby or wedding shower, these ladybug cupcakes will add color and that extra touch of pizazz to your event! The icing is a special recipe topping made with melted chocolate and butter that will have everyone licking their fingers to get every drop!

For the next family reunion or neighborhood backyard BBQ, confuse everyone with a cupcake that looks like a cherry pie! Fruit filling is placed on top of the cupcake and buttercream icing is 'woven' into a lattice pie covering.

Not really a cake person? (ok, I'll forgive you this once!). Here are brownies baked in cupcake liners, topped with a chocolate fudge icing. We then topped them with a few cherries (we used canned cherry pie filling), then drizzled with a white chocolate. We called them "Black Forest Brownies".

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Centerpiece Ideas

I had one bride who combined her appetizers as her table centerpieces, saving her some money and making the pre-reception snacks nice and handy for her guests! She had a tray of fruit, cheese, bread and wine beautifully arranged on the tables. Her guests didnt' have to stand in line at an appetizer buffet table. They could just sit at the tables, visit with each other, while helping themselves to the foods. It was inexpensive yet classy. Non-alcoholic wine could be substituted, or could be omitted altogether if a bar is available.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

How to Cut a Wedding Cake

Cutting a wedding cake can make even the bravest person quiver in their shoes. It's really not that hard. If you do it right.

Many cake charts show what I refer to as "The Dreaded Circle Method" of cutting a cake. I've not yet met someone who can cut a good circle with a knife and I find this method just messy and inefficient.
I've been cutting cakes for 30 years and I can cut and serve a cake for 200 in under 15 minutes .... in less time if I have a helper.

Here are some step-by-step photos of how to cut a wedding cake. This method can be used on round or square cakes and coordinates with the Wilton Wedding Cake Serving Chart servings, based on an industry standard 1x2x4" dessert sized piece of cake.

First, I disassemble the entire cake so I can cut the largest tier first. Why? Because if there is any cake leftover, it will be the smaller, easier to store, tiers that will fit in your freezer instead of a partial big cake that won't fit anywhere.

Then cut a 2" strip of cake down the side.

This part is optional, but easy. When pushing the knife down on the icing part of the cake, this can cause a "squishing" effect and some of the filling can be pushed out, creating a messy piece of cake to serve to your guests.

Using a gloved hand (or I highly recommend the cake cutting comb as shown in the photo) and the knife, gently lay the 2" strip on it's side. It won't fall apart, I promise. I do it all the time. And it really helps eliminate the "squishing" effect.

The easy part.... just begin cutting the 2" strip into 1" pieces.

Helpful hint: Did you know that if you bend your thumb, the distance between the bent knuckle and the end of your base nail is about one inch? So you always have a ruler handy to know how wide one inch is!!

Using a cake cutting comb or a gloved hand is a sanitary way to move the cut pieces of cake to the serving plate. Less messy, too!

Many decorators and venues have emailed me from across the country to let me know they've printed out these photos and left them on the cake table so those cutting the wedding cake will know how to do it. It is extra helpful when a bride has family cutting the cake rather than a professional caterer (and I've even met caterers who have confessed, "We don't know how to cut a wedding cake!"). So feel free to link to this page or print it out for your brides to help them ensure a smooth cake cutting at their event!

Debi can be reached at


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Speaking of Buttercream Roses....

A friend, whose birthday falls on Valentine's Day, always throws herself an office birthday party for her and her co-workers. She mentioned she wanted a cake with yellow and red circles. I was a little confused and said, "You mean like a target?" She hesitantly said "yeah..... something like that."

I told her not to worry. I'd make her a cake that looked prettier than a target circle!

If you're a person who fights over the big buttercream roses on family birthday cakes, then you would have just loved this cake!

Instead of just flat stripes in a circle, I created circles of color using 30 big buttercream roses and about 15 smaller rosebuds.

In a world of over-the-top fondant cakes and push-the-material-in-a-mold decorating techniques, the art of making buttercream roses is in danger of becoming a lost art. I was thrilled to be able to showcase this edible art again!!

When I dropped it off to her, she almost cried at how pretty she thought it was! Which is the best compliment a caker can get!


How Much Ribbon?

Wrapping ribbon around the base of a cake is a very popular design these days. Many bakeries/bakers ask the bride to provide the ribbon simply to assure the correct color the bride is looking for. I can do a week's worth of stories on how brides were upset because it was sage green instead of hunter green, or it was baby blue instead of pastel blue! To avoid these issues, it's usually best for all concerned when the bride hands the baker the ribbon and says, "THIS is the ribbon color for my cake!"

Many times I've been given a quantity of ribbon that wasn't sufficient to go all the way around a cake. Fortunately in the couple of instances this happened, it was a color that was easy to match and I ran out at the last minute to pick up some additional feet of it.

But as a bride, how do you know how much to provide?

Remember those math, algebra and geometry classes where you tried so hard to stay awake? Well, let's hope you did because those lessons will apply here.

Square cakes are pretty simple. A 10" square cake means each side is 10" long. So a minimum of 40" is needed (10" x 4 sides = 40"). But don't hand your baker just 40". Add a little extra to allow for the icing that will extend the sides ever so slightly. Add a little extra to give the baker some slack to work with in case something happens. A cake that requires 40" of ribbon, I would recommend at LEAST 50 to 60 inches.

And that's just for one tier.

Round cakes is where the geometry class comes in. A 10" cake is 10" across the diameter. To find the circumference (the distance around the cake), it's a simple case of "diameter times Pi", or 10" x 3.14 = 31.4 inches of ribbon. Again, add a little extra "just in case". I'd recommend 40 to 48".

And that's just for one tier.

Seriously, I had a bride who was thinking out loud and said, "So for a 10" cake, two feet should work, right?" Uh......... No. So I had to do the math with her so she could see how much she would really need.

As you, the bride, shop for your wedding cake, find out if the baker provides the ribbon or if the bride provides the ribbon. If you, the bride, are required to provide the ribbon, work with your baker to make sure you provide enough ribbon to create the cake of your dreams.


Monday, March 15, 2010

Changes in the House

Well, I have been very busy the last few months and noticeably absent from updating this blog.

I have "retired" from the baking/catering side of this business and closed my shop. I have an arthritis issue that required a change in work-lifestyle. The decision was hard to make because I just love being a part of the weddings in my area, but very necessary.

I am not leaving the wedding industry, however. This change has enabled me to devote more time to my writing and speaking activities (so if you have an opening for a speaker at your event, you know where to find me!).

Almost immediately, I began doing some writing. I received two offers to do magazines articles, and it helped my ego when the emailed requests arrived in my inbox on the same day. American Cake Decorating (ACD) magazine requested a single article, which will appear in their next issue. The magazine has a new editor who is excited about making changes and improving the magazine devoted to the love of cakes.

Cake Central, , is my favorite site for all things to do with cake, whether the decorator is novice or professional. They have launched a new magazine for the cake decorating world that just shipped this month. Here is a link to the first issue preview:

I wil be writing a monthly column for this magazine on "The Business of Baking", with information on the business side of wedding baking.

The magazine is very high quality .... great photos of fabulous cakes, wonderful articles on new products, recipes and more. I am absolutely honored to be a part of this publication.

Subscribing is the best buy for your money, but here is a list of where you can get this magazine:

Now that some of the dust is settling, I should be back on here with some regularity!