Friday, January 21, 2011

How Many Servings??

Until now I’ve mostly used this blog to showcase the design and decorating process behind some of my favorite, most interesting cakes.

But there is another side to my job that I really enjoy; meeting with customers and discussing not just the flavor and design of their cake, but also how the cake will be displayed, cut, served, etc. I find that many of the same questions are asked over and over again. So I thought it might be helpful to write a series of blog posts that address some issues that are consistently raised by my customers.

Today’s blog post will address a question that comes up at virtually every wedding cake consultation: “How many servings of wedding cake do we really need?”

The reason I address this question first is that I often read or hear misleading information about how to save money when ordering a wedding cake.

I realize that some of this advice may seem self-serving, since I am in the business of selling wedding cakes by the portion, but I can tell you that most of my business has been built on referrals and I (and I believe most other cake designers) am not willing to compromise my reputation by pushing a customer to over-spend. There are ways to save money on the cake, and most cake designers are willing to work within a reasonable budget. But you should be aware of the realities before deciding “How much cake?”.

Q: “A lot of people don’t eat wedding cake, so do I really need enough cake to serve everyone?”

A: Much as I am loathe it admit it, there are wedding guests who don’t eat the cake. Some people simply don’t like dessert (gasp!), or maybe the dry, awful wedding cake that used to be the norm has convinced them that they don’t like wedding cake or, as is often the case, by the time the cake is cut everyone has been drinking and dancing and either don’t know the cake is being served or are too busy having fun to stop, sit down, and eat cake.

Most weddings in our area feature a sit-down dinner where each guest is served at their seat, and the wedding cake is served the same way. So, if you order a cake that is 50 portions short, how do you decide who will get a piece of cake and who won’t? You can’t know ahead of time who will want cake.

I’m sure it’s frustrating for the bride and groom (and/or their parents) to pay hundreds, or even thousands of dollars for a cake that is not completely eaten. But there are ways to mitigate this.

One option is to not order extra desserts in your catering package. Since the cake is so traditional, most people are not willing to totally forgo the wedding cake in favor of other desserts and end up paying for both, only to see the cake go uneaten because it’s served as an afterthought. You can use the cake as the main dessert and maybe save a little money on the dinner package.

marjolaineslice When a slice of cake is set down in front of your guests, it should look tempting enough to make even those who think they hate wedding cake want to take a bite. Order a cake with interesting flavors, fillings and textures to make it as appealing to the taste buds as it is to the eyes. I’ve had brides tell me after their wedding that the venue staff couldn’t believe that all the cake was eaten. Work with a cake designer who is as focused on the taste of the cake as they are on the look and I bet you’ll find you have less uneaten cake.

Of course, even if the cake is meant to be dessert, it is often not treated as such. Dessert is eaten right after dinner, not 3 hours later. I always recommend to my customers that they schedule the cake service for right after dinner (when their guests are still eating) not after hours and hours of drinking and dancing.

Q: “I read in a bridal magazine (or on-line) that I can save money by having a very small cake for display and the rest of the cake served from sheet cakes in the back.”

A: First of all, I caution that you understand what is meant by “sheet cakes”. When I offer “service cakes”, a service cake portion is exactly the same as a decorated cake portion; all the same layers, fillings, etc. Be sure that “sheet cake” doesn’t mean just a slab cake with icing. You’ll want all the servings to look the same on the plate.

So, of course this means that “service cakes” are not labor-savings as far as the baking and filling of the cake. But, they can be labor-saving if your decorated cake has a very intricate design. E.g,, if you want a fondant finish with detailed brushwork as a part of the design. By eliminating one tier from the display cake you are reducing the decorating time. In this instance you may save some money by using a service cake.

maurerview But keep in mind that the cake is also a part of the decor for your wedding and should be in proportion to the reception venue. If you have 200 guests at your wedding you’re going to be in a large, open room with tall ceilings. You can get away with a decorated cake for 150p and a service cake for 50p, but if you have a decorated cake to serve 50p and service cakes to serve the bulk of the guests, that small two-tier display cake will look out-of-proportion in the setting.

Q: “I read in a bridal magazine (or on-line) that I can save money by having fewer servings and using ‘fake’ tiers to make the cake look bigger.”

A: Just as a wedding dress is not simply fabric and thread, and a photograph is not simply a piece of paper, a wedding cake is not simply butter, sugar, eggs and flour. If that were the case then, yes, eliminating the butter, sugar, eggs and flour would save you money. But the fact is that a great deal of the cost is in the business overhead (insurance, utilities, etc) and the labor (and years of experience) involved in stacking, decorating and transporting the cake.

Actually, by the time you pay for shipping, the styrofoam dummies that are used for fake cakes cost about the same as the cake ingredients, and the same effort is expended in decorating a dummy as a real cake. In fact, the dummies can actually be more difficult to decorate because they’re so lightweight they move all over as you work on them.

Servings are servings, whether they’re made of cake or styrofoam.

Q: “My catering package includes dessert, so we don’t need cake for everyone.”

A: As I mentioned above, one option is to not have the dessert included in the package. But if you do have additional desserts and your cake will be served as a part of a dessert buffet (and not at each seat) then you could order fewer servings since not everyone will take a piece of cake from the buffet. But again, remember to keep the proportions of the room and the number guests in mind when deciding on the size for the display cake.

Q: “We can cut smaller pieces to get more servings than we ordered.”


A: If the standard cake portion was as big as a “diner wedge” of cake this might be true, but the standard cake portion is 1”x2”x4”h. Trying to get extra servings by cutting smaller is unrealistic.