Image © David Jenkins Photography. Cake by Lilibet Bakes.
A short while ago we began our blog series on ‘The Tasks of the Wedding Supplier; What Do They Do?’ with the aim of educating engaged couples about the work that goes into the creation of the individual elements of their wedding day from the supplier perspective. It is our intention to provide a detailed account of this work to enable couples to make an informed decision on what they choose for their wedding day, and to justify the prices charged based on the work that goes into the services they are selecting. Whilst it is true that couples do need to choose suppliers wisely and ensure they stick to their carefully pieced together budget, all too often hard hitting news stories about rip-off suppliers and prices being hiked up for weddings prevail, leaving the independent wedding supplier with a potentially bad name.
We started our blog series from the perspective of the Photographer (read all about it here), and today’s post comes from the Wedding Cake Supplier. I interviewed Helen of Batch 17 Bakes and Libby of Lilibet Bakes to find out more about what goes into their typical tasks in the lead up to creating the work of art that is the wedding cake.
What is the process you undertake when you’ve received a new enquiry?
Helen: “The first thing I do when I am contacted by a couple asking about a wedding cake, is to recommend that we arrange a consultation appointment so that we can meet to discuss their requirements, and also so that they can try some cake samples! Face to face contact is so important I think when ordering a wedding cake. I want to give my clients the opportunity to get a sense of who I am, how I work, and importantly what my cakes taste like! We will discuss all their design ideas, the size of cake required, as well as flavours etc. The cost of the cake is not really discussed at this stage, because I quote individually after each consultation, but I will get an idea of their budget while we chat. As I work from home, I hold all my appointments at a local hotel, where I will provide drinks for the clients, as well as some samples of my cakes. I don’t charge for my consultations as I think that it’s such an important thing for clients to have met me and tried my cakes, and as I don’t have a shop front I think it is much more reassuring for the clients to be given the chance to have this face to face time. I certainly would not want to order something so important without having met the supplier and sampled the product”.
Libby: “I always try to give as much information as possible and provide guide prices or an approximate quote. I also tell couples about the complimentary consultation and what it involves, and links to my website and flavour menu. Couples can get cheaper quotes but my prices reflect the standard of my work and the service I provide. The consultation is a very important part of designing the cake and getting to know each other, I don’t charge for this. Couples have the opportunity to select 3 different flavours from the menu and taste them before making their decision. We discuss their ideas, plans for the day and colour scheme to help us finalise designs for the cake”.
How much time on average do you spend responding to an enquiry before the business is confirmed to you?
Helen: “Before an order is placed, I would say that I will have spent on average at least 7 to 8 hours of initial contact time with a couple. This would include email, phone calls, preparing samples, the consultation appointment itself, and then the subsequent design and quoting time. This can vary greatly though depending on whether the clients know what they want or not. Some designs can go through a number of changes before they are finalised, and this can add on quite a bit more time”.
Libby: “ Every couple is different. The booking is usually confirmed after the consultation and couples have agreed the designs I send them. Occasionally couples do book well in advance and select the design of their cake nearer the wedding. Some couples have very clear ideas of what they want and others are unsure so the design stage can take longer but I’m happy to tweak until it is perfect”.
In much of my research and talking to wedding suppliers, as well as from my own experiences, one of the greatest areas that makes up the price of the service in question is the sheer time everything takes. This is an area I feel is difficult to comprehend when, as a couple, you are researching quotes and getting ideas of prices. It is completely understandable that time in terms of correspondence, meetings, travel, quotes, creation of designs and contracts, etc is not necessarily considered, but as a supplier the time that goes into working on something that may not even result in a confirmed booking is quite significant. Helen explained above that the hours worked for a couple in the initial discussion of their wedding cake can equate to more than an entire working day, and if the supplier is not successful in gaining the business, that’s a lot of time to spend earning nothing!
Helen agrees; “Time is certainly the single biggest cost when it comes to wedding cakes, but it’s the one that’s often most easily over looked. Because I work alone, I do everything myself – which means I am doing everything from the shopping, washing up, cleaning, baking, making fillings, as well as making the decorations and constructing the cake.
A large four tiered cake for example, can take me around 3-4 days alone just to bake, fill, cover and stack, before I have even thought about the decorations. Sugar flowers especially are very time consuming. I adore making them, but a single large rose or peony can take at least an hour in total to make, so you can imagine the time involved in a large 20-30 flower cascade arrangement for example”!
It is due to this lack of guarantee in achieving and not achieving business that suppliers need to be and remain as attractive, cost effective and high quality as possible, whilst also trying to ensure that a living can be earned. Helen and Libby are both excellent cake makers, with a high level of service and quality that goes in to every cake they make and booking they take;
Helen said “I think it’s the personal touch that makes all the difference with my clients. By getting to spend time with them discussing their requirements and ideas, I hope that they get a sense of me as a person, and build a trust that I will work really hard to create the perfect cake for them.
I also work very hard to make sure my cakes are all as tasty as possible – there’s nothing worse than flavourless dry cake, so I am always working to ensure my recipes are perfect, using the best ingredients. I also hand make all my cake decorations and flowers, which means customers can completely customise their cake to be exactly what they would like, rather than stick to ordering from a predefined design”.
In addition to time, as we learnt from our last blog post in the series on the work of the Photographer, one of the most costly areas for the wedding supplier is the equipment and education they need to continue running their business successfully and competitively in order to provide the best service possible to clients, as explained by Libby:
“My prices cover time spent on designing and making the cake; best quality ingredients, materials, equipment and expertise. I have spent thousands; a lot of money on equipment over the years and I still take classes occasionally to learn new techniques. I also work from home which impacts on my bills and I pay insurance, website costs, fees for exhibiting at wedding fairs and have an accountant”.
Helen agrees “My pricing structure is simple – ingredients, equipment, my running costs, and time. I try to invest as much as I can into the business. I obtain most of my new equipment as I need it, because some items are bespoke and quite specialised, so are only needed for certain orders. I also try to keep my skills up to date and attend courses on new decorating techniques as much as possible.
I run my own website, as well as Facebook and Twitter, so people can keep up to date with what I am up to. I also pay to attend local wedding fairs as much as I can, so that more people get a chance to meet me and see my work close up, and again, try some samples! I also have all the usual costs related to a home business really – insurance, bills, and for directory listings on wedding websites etc. Most of my running costs are actually ingredients, equipment, and packaging etc though”.
The time it takes to create a bespoke wedding cake can be significant and really quite difficult to comprehend if, like me, you are a rather useless cake maker and completely unaware as to the detail involved in creating such a masterpiece!
Helen says “I would estimate that for a 3 tier cake, with a few sugar flowers, I will probably have spent in total around a week working. It would be around 8 hours for initial communications, design and discussions, then around 2 days for making decorations/flowers. It would then be around 3 days for actually making the cake, and a couple of hours for construction, delivery and setting up on the day. So, approximately 45 hours in total”.
Libby’s experience is very similar “Every couple and wedding is different. Couples usually get in touch 6 months to a year before the day and we can communicate by email or phone until then. Consultations usually last 1-2 hours. I spend a long time on designs which may have to be tweaked or adjusted. Sugar flowers take hours to make and I might begin these up to a month before and I usually work on figures for a week. Preparation of the cake includes baking and resting them for 12 hours. I make the icings to layer the cake and then ganache it which is left to set overnight. The following day I cover with fondant and decorate. This process can take 3- 4 days depending on the design. I deliver and set up the cake on the day of the wedding”.
So, if we are looking at a 3 tier wedding cake with a few sugar flowers costing a Bride and Groom roughly £350, that’s a whopping £7.70 per hour for these hard working ladies working 45 hours on just this one cake. At just £1 over the current minimum wage, it’s becoming increasingly apparent to me that the work of the wedding supplier is indeed much more about the love of the job and skill of the individual, than it is being out there to rip off couples and charge silly, unjustified prices.
I asked the ladies just what it is that they love about the wedding industry, and what it is that motivates them;
Helen: I love the thought of making people happy on the most special day of their lives, and providing them with the perfect cake that makes them go ‘Wow!’ when they see it for the first time. It’s what motivates me to make everything I do the best it can be”.
Libby: “Being a part of one of the most important days of people’s lives is a big deal and the cake is a centrepiece for that day. I love it when a couple are really excited about a design and then creating it for them. Inspiration for your bespoke wedding cake can come from anywhere; your jobs, names, travels, wedding colours or the venue. My passion for design and edible art ensures your cake will provide a stunning centerpiece for your special occasion”.
Helen made an important point when I asked if there was anything she disliked about the wedding industry, specifically relating to our topic today:
“I think there is a perception that all wedding suppliers hike their prices up ‘just because it’s a wedding’, which is frustrating given the amount of specialised work that is often involved. My price structure is no different for birthday or wedding cakes; it’s all based on my time. I have had birthday cake orders that have cost more than some wedding cakes, because of the amount of detail that a customer has requested.
Most wedding suppliers are working in the industry because it’s something they really love doing, and they are not just out to rip people off. A detailed wedding cake is like commissioning a bespoke piece of art, it’s hand created to be exactly what the Bride and Groom wants. You can go and get something less costly of course, but if you do want something extra special, then it’s worth investing a little more in someone who is trained and experienced, and wants to make something amazing and beautiful for your special day”.
Talking to Helen and Libby was, yet again, a real eye opener for me in terms of the sheer time and dedication it takes to run a successful cake business. The wedding cake is such an important focal point to a wedding day and it is in the hands of professionals such as these to not only understand your vision, but design it, create it and see it through. It takes a high level of commitment and dedication to do this and it is clear that it is a real labour of love.
Agreeably, on paper and in the grand scheme of things £350 upwards does seem a lot to spend on a cake. It is a price that you would have to thoroughly justify spending on any other normal day on something like an item of clothing or piece of furniture. But £350 certainly doesn’t go straight into the wallet of the hard working cake maker. I hope through today’s post the time, equipment, education, ingredients, tools and all other necessities needed to create the perfect wedding cake and run a trustworthy and committed business are clear, and that as a couple planning a wedding the high costs involved in creating such an event are becoming clearer and more validated.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences in this area. Has this helped you to understand wedding supplier pricing?