Why Are Wedding Cakes so Expensive?
I was googling something wedding-cake-related the other evening, and as I was typing, google did it's auto-fill thing and my trigger-happy fingers ended up searching the term, "Why are wedding cakes so expensive?"
Cake by Nisha Fernando of Sweet Delights Cakery
Hand- piped lace, custom adornments and sensational sugar-flowers come with a price tag.
The first returned result was a Reddit post, and I should have just turned away, but I couldn’t, I felt compelled…and what I read sent me through the seven stages of grief in roughly ten seconds flat.
In a nut-shell, wedding cakes are not expensive! At least not when expensive is meant as a substitute for “over-priced”, which it so often is.
I recently met a bride for a consultation at a local Starbucks, she needed to be able to meet me late in the evening, and required a location close to her work. I arrived a little too early for our appointment, so I thought I'd grab a decaf latte and something to eat as I had skipped dinner. I ordered a grande latte and a slice of lemon pound cake, the grand total: $7
$7 for a cup of coffee, served in a paper cup, by a teenager with almost no culinary training (I'm making an educated guess). And a piece of plain lemon cake, with a smudging of frosting served to me in a paper bag.
I handed over my debit card, paid for my goods and sat down. Did I sit there and spend a lot of time mulling over the cost of my coffee and cake? Did I feel a sense of outrage at the ridiculousness of a $4 cup of coffee? No. I didn't bat an eyelid, and neither did the other 15 patrons that evening, or the millions of happy customers Starbucks serves every year.
Cake by Jessica MV of Floral Cakes by Jessica MV
A custom design like this one takes hours of labor, and years of expertise. Ruffles are beautiful, but it can take upwards of 10-12 hours to cover a single cake tier.
The triple-chocolate-meltdown dessert, served by Applebees, which is a pre-made (likely frozen -- although don't quote me on that) chocolate filled cake, served with a drizzle of chocolate syrup and a scoop of vanilla ice-cream is $6.45, plus tax, plus a gratuity of 15%- 20%. And yet, a piece of hand-crafted wedding cake, created fresh for an event with high-quality ingredients, by an artisan cake maker, and decorated like a piece of edible art is over-priced.
Am I the only cake artist who feels that this perspective is a little out-of-wack?
Why are we conditioned to believe that it's good to pay $10 for a piece of cake in a chain restaurant, but it's not OK to pay $10, or even $5, for a piece of delicious, fresh, beautiful, hand-made cake served at a wedding?
I talked with a (non-baker) friend about this and she said, “It’s like comparing apples with oranges, people order 200 slices of wedding cake, but they don’t order 200 desserts from Applebees.” Well, yes, and no, if you had your wedding at an Applebees, or any restaurant, and they had a contract that stipulated you couldn’t bring in food from outside vendors, then yes, you totally would buy 200 desserts.
What wedding cake makers do, and what people forget, is something so far beyond that piece of sad lemon cake, or that frozen, preservative-laden chocolate cake. What they create is a piece of beautiful, delicious edible-art. They provide a bespoke service. They turn a dream and a fantasy into something people can eat and enjoy.
Cake by Rose Han of Rose Dream Cakes
Wedding cakes can take months of planning and days to execute. Sugar-flowers like this are hand-crafted petal by petal for realism.
The Walmart Comparison
“But, you can buy a wedding cake from Walmart for $2 a serving and it tastes just as good.”
When you order a sheet cake from Walmart, do you sit down with the baker and try different flavors? Do you bring a mood board and watch the baker sketch out different designs based on your specification? Does that baker then send you digital renderings of the design for your approval? Do they respond to your emails, Facebook messages and phone calls at all hours of the day as you finalize the design? Do they coordinate with your venue and wedding planner, and do a site visit ahead of the event to ensure the safe delivery of the cake? Do they make special-order, kirsch-soaked cherries because you want a Black Forrest cake, and it's not part of the regular menu? Do they create buttercream and cake batter from scratch, or do they open a 20 lb tub of something you could buy at Sam's club?
No, and THAT is the difference between a wedding cake, or a custom cake, and a simple store-bought celebration cake, and is thus reflected in the price and the quality.
What you are paying for is not just "a wedding cake" but everything else that goes along with it. Including the tailored service, years of training and experience, and the quality and finish of the product.
You're paying for more than cake.
You're paying for a personalized experience - tailored to your specifications.
While there are a great number of engaged couples who would be perfectly happy with a grocery store cake, and probably a great many who can't tell the difference.
There is a difference.
Brides are not coming to me for a sheet cake, they’re coming to me for a multi-tier, floral-covered extravaganza. You don’t walk into a Mercedes showroom and expect to pay for a Dodge Caliber. Equally, you can enjoy the occasional guilty-pleasure of a Big Mac, and still appreciate a premium Wagyu beef burger from a five-star restaurant.
The DIY Do-Gooders
I've read so many blog posts from well-meaning DIY'ers, who can show you how to gussy-up a sheet cake for $40 with a ribbon and some flowers, well, that's just great but....
A sheet cake is not a substitute for what we do, and stop trying to tell us it is!
There's still thousands of brides who want THIS >>>
There are not enough ribbons and fresh flowers in the world to turn a sheet cake into this>>
Cake by Nicole Slater of Sweet Love
I've never gone to Applebees and shed a tear over a chocolate sundae, I've never spent hours googling pictures of pieces of lemon pound cake, but I have seen brides burst into tears at the sight of their wedding cakes. I've watched newly-engaged couples pour over pictures of beautiful cakes in admiration.
I've never seen a tower of donuts go viral, or watched guests excitedly snap pictures, whilst gasping in awe, as someone brings out a Costco sheet cake; but I have watched as crowds of venue-workers and bystanders watch in wonder and amazement as I've added hundreds of individually hand-crafted sugar-flowers to a 6-tier wedding cake.
So, no, wedding cakes are not expensive, they are priced appropriately, and we need to do a better job of educating the general public about the true value of our art.