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!