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how to best manage large events/weddings as a non-catering-centric bakery?

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 

Hello all,


I've been running a delivery-only bakery business for a couple of years that is finally opening a legit storefront and I'm just flooded with wedding orders for the season already. Great news!


I'm not a catering business nor do I or have I ever offered full catering service. As a baker servicing weddings, I offer cloths & cake stands in addition to delivery and set-up. Return the amenities in the same condition, and be refunded your deposit. The set-up fee reflects the labor involved in travel and time spend on-location. I don't offer cutting service or tools or flatware/plateware. It's very basic: cake or other dessert you've chosen, and what is required to make it look nice, and labels.


When I'm working with a wedding coordinator, s/he naturally handles the details. But I'm finding it difficult to navigate my way through events where a caterer is involved and I'm dealing directly with the bride or groom.


I see a lot of statements like:


1. I'm not sure if we'll need a table or not yet.


2. I'm hoping the caterers will cut/serve dessert.


3. We need you to show the caterers how to cut/serve the dessert.



I'm not completely sure of the appropriate way to handle these things. Should I be asking to be connected to the caterer to finalize these details, or should I simply be urging the bride/groom/organizer to clarify these details with the catering company him/herself?


1. In my mind, something like a table is the responsibility of whomever is organizing the wedding, be it a coordinator or some member of the wedding party.


2. The caterers, who I'm sure were informed ahead of time that dessert is being delivered by someone else, should be informed by the coordinator/organizing wedding party member that they will need cake cutting service and associated amenities. In all of my weddings this season, every client negotiated set-up and delivery only.


3. I don't mind showing the caterers, but am a little apprehensive about stepping on toes: I assume that a catering company knows how many slices to cut out of a pie if there are 20 pies and 100 guests. Am I being oversensitive on behalf of the caterers? 



I'm just looking for a little bit of guidance from you fine pastry chefs who have likely been in this situation a million times over.


Are these things that, in fact, should be taken up with the catering company by the bride, or should I be middle manning this? It feels like my being in the middle would be a recipe for confusion.


And do you find it unsavory for a bakery to not offer more expansive services surrounding desserts or hors d'oeuvres for a large event like a wedding?


I've been very successful in doing drop-off packages of goods to larger events, but as I get busier and bring on more clients, the waters are getting a little murky, and I want to be sure it's being handled appropriately. Is there anything wrong with providing people who desperately want you to make the food for their event with what they want without offering full service?


Please, share your thoughts and opinions per the weddings and large events you've done. I would so appreciate the guidance. I want to make the customers happy, but I'm also working on not undercharging or being walked all over, which has been an issue in my business past.



Thanks in advance to anyone who has insight to share.



TL;DR: what is too much to expect of a bakery providing desserts or hors d'oeuvres for a large event or wedding? what is appropriate? when should the baker direct the client to resolve issues with the catering company handling the remainder of the event/food/drink?

post #2 of 8

I've been a pastry chef/baker/cake designer for over 20 years, and I have a lot of experience in the wedding industry. 


The best thing you can do for your clients and yourself is to keep things as simple as possible. 


Wedding planners are great, you work with them and they handle everything. You don't have to worry about whether there's a table for the cake, or where the table is going to be (out of the sunlight), whether the caterers can slice and serve....etc. All you have to do is deliver the cake, set it up, and you're golden.  I love wedding planners. 


However, I can count on the fingers of one hand how many times I got to work with a wedding planner. Most of the clients I had/have plan their own wedding, and most of them don't know what they're getting into, and just how much actual coordination has to happen. They don't think of half the stuff that they should because they just don't know. It's your job to educate them, but only worry about educating them as it pertains to you and the cake you are providing....don't become a wedding planner yourself.....you don't have time for that. 



I see a lot of statements like:


1. I'm not sure if we'll need a table or not yet.


2. I'm hoping the caterers will cut/serve dessert.


3. We need you to show the caterers how to cut/serve the dessert.


When you hear these types of statements, you just need to tell them what they need to do, because most of the time they don't know. If they say, "I'm not sure if we'll need a table or not yet", you would say, "Wedding cakes usually have their own table, so you do need one. Check with the event space or the caterer about getting a table, and make sure it's not in a place with direct sunlight."  If they say "I'm hoping the caterers will cut/serve dessert." Tell them they need to ask the caterers that question, because it's important. Most caterers do slice/serve, but you should never assume they do. Always ask. But THEY need to ask....it's not your job to be the middleman. On that topic, in the case that the clients wanted to slice/serve themselves, or if the caterer was unsure how to do it, I always provide a slice/serve guide when I deliver the cake. If the caterer is available, I'll hand it to them, or sometimes I will tuck the guide underneath the cake board in the back out of sight, so when they go to cut it, it's right there for them. Sometimes I provide the guide to the caterer in advance. It all depends.


Make it a point to communicate with just one person in regard to details. For instance, if you are in contact with any other vendor, like the florist or the caterer, and also coordinating with the bride, you risk miscommunications. When it comes to wedding planning, miscommunications are bad news. Absent a wedding planner, I prefer to communicate with the bride/groom (or the mother, as the case may be). If you talk to one person, and something goes awry, then you know who dropped the ball as far as communication goes. Of course all this advice is circumstantial. The bride may want to you to coordinate only with the caterer so she can be freed up to do other things, and that's fine too. Just keep in mind it's best to have one "point man". 


Most important: PUT EVERYTHING IN WRITING. It's kind of cumbersome getting it written, and printed, but once you do, it will make things so much easier and you won't find yourself repeating speeches ad nauseam if it's already written down in a sales agreement. You need to cover yourself, because you wouldn't believe what can come back to bite you. Some important documents to have include:

-A sales agreement, detailing terms, deposits, refund policy, your responsibility and when it ends, their responsibility, etc

-A cutting/serving guide

-Disclaimer forms, as pertaining to the sales agreement

I found a website that actually has some pre-written disclaimer forms that might be useful to you:




And do you find it unsavory for a bakery to not offer more expansive services surrounding desserts or hors d'oeuvres for a large event like a wedding?


I've been very successful in doing drop-off packages of goods to larger events, but as I get busier and bring on more clients, the waters are getting a little murky, and I want to be sure it's being handled appropriately. Is there anything wrong with providing people who desperately want you to make the food for their event with what they want without offering full service?


Only you can determine what you will/won't can/cannot do, but set those boundaries and stick to them. If it's too much for you to provide an expansive dessert table or do hors d'oeuvres in addition to doing a cake, then don't do it. If your quality suffers because you've taken on too much, it will only reflect badly on you. Protect your reputation.....ALWAYS. Word of mouth is BIG in the wedding biz, and the more stellar your reputation is, the more business will come your way. Vendors talk to each other......a lot......and if you make a mistake? LOTS of people know about it. Don't worry about "stepping on toes" so much....your best bet is to always be very direct and honest. People like sincerity. Don't feel pressured by a client to do something you're not comfortable doing or don't have the time to do. The ability to say "no" is probably one of the hardest things for people like us who are basically doing what we do to please others. "No" isn't supposed to be part of our vocabulary, but it needs to be. If a bride, for instance, wants you to provide, say, some petit fours or some savory hors d'oeuvres in addition to the cake and you know you won't be able to pull it off, soften the "no" by having a list of vendors that WILL provide what she needs. Often they are grateful you have provided them a resource along with your recommendation, as well as appreciating your honesty. 


Associate with other vendors. Form a network of preferred vendors that you work well with, and can recommend to the bride if need be. Florists, photographers, caterers, crafters, event venues, wedding planners, musicians.....etc. Do a business card exchange: you give all your preferred vendors a batch of your cards, and they give some to you. When everybody is referring business to someone else, everybody wins. People love recommendations......there's nothing more disconcerting than dealing with a business "blind" (minus a recommendation). It feels like a crapshoot.


I hope this addresses your most important concerns.



post #3 of 8
We get asked in the kitchen ( hotel caterer)more often than not to cut the cake that was dropped off, which we didnt know about. It happens a lot. Oh and dont forget or worse; for the love of-god dont throw out the top!

There is a service charge. Plating would be another charge.
Must be nice to just drop the cKe off in the fternoon nd walk away. Maybe I need a change, I ordered some disposable piping bags.....

Surprises are not fun for the Bride ( capitol B) at cake cutting time lols.

Do what you can its your business.
post #4 of 8
Thread Starter 

@chefpeon thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions point-by-point. it's incredibly helpful, and mostly affirmed my thoughts. regarding not offering expansive service, though, i was talking more about not offering full-service catering in the capacity of actual tools and service people and tables and so on and so forth, but i think you essentially answered this question, anyway. 


i do have one last question: it looks like i may have an approaching wedding with over 2 hours travel required. how do i fairly work this into the price? i don't have a disclaimer of radius, but i do charge for travel.

post #5 of 8
Glad I was able to help!

Regarding delivery/travel fees, you should have at least a two tier pricing system. A rate for local (like within a 25 mile radius) and then one for out-of-town if you choose to do that. What I do is charge a flat rate for local ($25 for delivery only and $35 for delivery and setup). For out-of-town, I charge the flat rate that applies plus per mile over and above the 25 mile mark. Sometimes if I deem the delivery "risky", I'll add a little more. Risky deliveries for me are things such as having the cake sit in the car too long on a long drive on a warm day (even with the AC cranked), going off-road (yep I've done it), and cake designs that require special care and handling, like large sculpted cakes or super tall cakes.

I've always said that the baking and decorating is easy compared to delivering. I've never had a delivery disaster, but I've come close. The worst thing that happened was one of my delivery people had to slam on their brakes because someone cut in front of them. The cake was in a box, but it still flew forward. She drove back to the shop in a panic hoping I was still there. We figured I had 45 minutes to fix it and get it to the venue. It had several gum paste orchids on it that had completely broken, and I had to touch up the buttercream where it had hit the sides of the box. I moved the good orchids to cover up bad spots, re-iced some spots, and added more gold ribbon to cover up empty spots where I no longer had orchids. I don't know how I did all that so fast, but I did. It looked OK, but not as good as it did when it first left the shop. I was nervous the bride would call the next day and complain. She did call, but not to complain. She said it was the most beautiful delicious cake ever and she wanted to thank me. If she only knew! The delivery gods were smiling on me that day.
post #6 of 8
Thread Starter 

@chefpeon that is my absolute worst nightmare. there was some cake tv show a while ago, with competing pastry chefs, and they made everyone slave over cakes for who-knows-how-long before purposefully destroying all of them with poor driving after they'd been loaded into the truck, to make a point, and as part of the competition i suppose. my heart fell into my stomach when i saw that. i died. also, with your rates and your take on handling other details, it looks like i'm definitely on the right track. i should really be a little more secure in my approach to these things-- i've been in the industry for over ten years and focusing on pastry for the last four.


another, more random, question for you: do you think it's insane to offer round layer cakes but not sheet cakes?


i don't like the limitations or appearance of the sheet cake, i essentially never have any requests for them, and my bakery is 8 feet wide. sheet cakes are an unfriendly component to my business. do you find it strange or alienating to customers to say, oh, we actually don't offer sheet cakes, but this is the equivalent in layer cake, etc., etc. 


the only request i've ever had for sheet cake is a couple who have turned down every adjusted tier of pricing i've offered, and after i informed them i don't do sheet cakes, they've asked for a sheet cake.

post #7 of 8

Yeah.....sheet cakes......I have a love/hate relationship with them, but it's mostly hate. I love them because they're easy to ice up and there's plenty of area for decoration/inscriptions. I hate them because they take up too much space, are cumbersome, and have this kind of "I-just-bought-a-cake-at-Costco" kind of feel to them. They just scream "cheap". Because, well, for most, they are the quickest and cheapest cakes to make. 


A lot of the time, brides on a tight budget would order a very tiny wedding cake for the traditional display and first cut by the bride/groom, then have plainly iced sheet cakes hiding somewhere to serve their guests with, in addition to cutting up the display cake for servings as well. My per-serving price for plain sheet cakes (which are two layers with a filling) is $1.50, whereas my per-serving price for a basic decorated wedding cake starts at $4.00. So you could see why budget conscious couples would opt for that plan. 


It's my guess that people want sheet cakes because they know it's the cheapest way to go, and that's why they ask. If that is their primary reason for wanting one, then you can inform them that you don't do them because of the space constraints you have, and you can do smaller layer cakes for about the same price as a sheet cake. People also like sheet cakes because they are easy to portion, slice and serve. Small layer cakes can be just as easy to portion, slice and serve, especially if they are rectangular or square. Quarter sheet cakes really aren't THAT large, so that's an option. It's when you get into the half and whole sheet cakes.....then limited space is a problem.


No matter what and how much you do, people will always ask about stuff you don't/won't do. Don't be afraid to tell them no, and why. If you are a good salesperson, you can always steer them in another direction to pick something you DO make, and explain to them why they'll be much happier with it. I've gotten pretty good at that. I know this will sound strange, but I REFUSE to do red velvet cake, even though it's popular. I have a personal problem with red velvet on two levels: One, I think red velvet just ISN'T that good, and is highly overrated. I've tried a LOT of different recipes, and I've never even come close to liking any of them. Two, the amount of red color you have to dump into those things......just.....really puts me off. Ugh. I just can't make a cake with that much color. And yes, I've tried the whole beet juice thing, but I just get reddish-brown with that, so no. It just doesn't have any redeeming qualities as far as I'm concerned. The amount of cocoa in a red velvet cake isn't even enough to make it a chocolate cake, so it's not chocolate, nor is it vanilla......it's just a bland, unnaturally red, underwhelming cake. So I don't do them. Lots of people don't "agree" with my policy.....that's fine.....they can go somewhere else. Luckily though, I've only lost one sale in regard to red velvet. The rest of the people I was able to convince they could do better, especially when I showed them my tempting list of flavors!!!!


Have I rambled on long enough? I think so!


post #8 of 8

Be very clear as to what you are doing and providing.  As stated above... get it all in writing. 


If they are not clear if they need a table or not... flat out tell them they need a table. Have one on hand along with table cloths as a rental if needed. Yes... there will always be emergencies where no table has been provided.


If you are not cutting the cake... be very clear that you are not cutting the cake and someone there will need to do it.  I would suggest having a diagram printed out as a helpful instruction sheet. Also when you deliver have a disposable knife and spatula on hand to offer if the desperate need arises. The dollar stores are great for this purpose.



as for sheet cakes.....


Wedding cakes are expensive... and i always get calls to do them much cheaper then normal. A way to cut costs to the bride and groom is to offer as small presentation tiered cake....and sheet cakes to be cut behind the scenes.... 

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