Winning at Weddings

By Kate Rockwood

Wedding Cake

After a couple gets engaged, a new courting process begins—finding the perfect wedding cake for the perfect day. And unlike previous generations, today’s couples now have information at their fingertips, high expectations and many options. To capture the business of brides and grooms, a baker must also be a matchmaker, capable of navigating a couple through their unprecedented number of options from traditional, multitier cakes to one-off designs popular on social media.

According to a 2016 survey by The Knot, 89 percent of brides and grooms who got married in 2015 used their smartphones for wedding planning activities. “A website with fabulous pictures of my cakes, along with a Facebook page and Pinterest page, has been a huge way to get customers in the door,” says Jacqui Zeibell, owner of Jacqui’s Cakes in Renton, Washington.

And getting couples to the bakery’s website is only the first step. Bakeries need to keep the digital habits and expectations of the modern couple in mind throughout the cake purchasing process. Experts weigh in on how to handle tastings, guide decision-making and make sure the final product is perfect for the perfect couple.

Think Outside the Cake Box Online

People love looking at images of lavish cakes on social media, but they also like seeing the behind-the-scenes of bakeries, says Amanda Oakleaf, co-owner of Oakleaf Cakes in Boston. Oakleaf Cakes has more than 8,000 followers on Instagram, and posts range from bakers applying buttercream crumb coat to finishing up an optical illusion on a fondant finish.

Posting these types of images can not only help a bakery stand out, but can estabish the business as an expert, building the foundations of trust.

Once those social posts lead couples onto a bakery’s website, though, they need more than photos to stay interested—they need helpful information. Most wedding cake buyers are first-timers who need guidance. “Usually, the wedding cake is the first custom cake they’ve ever ordered,” says Libby Godecke, owner of Chicago Custom Cakes.

No matter how much they've browsed
online, 
most wedding cake buyers are first-timers
who need guidance.

On Oakleaf Cakes’ site, visitors access charts that make it easy to understand the silkiness versus sweetness of various icings. They can also read about the entire cake ordering process, from how a cake tasting works to what the bakery’s delivery policy is.

Having that information prominently displayed on the website positions the bakery as a seasoned, organized and detail-oriented partner. It also cuts down on some of the back-and-forth with customers, Oakleaf says, and that allows bakery staff to spend more time baking cakes than answering commonly asked questions.

Money Matters

While there’s no shortage of cake photos from bakeries online, few businesses publicize their pricing as freely. When digital-savvy brides and grooms come to a bakery, they may have researched cake prices, but it’s very possible their estimates are way off.

To start off the partnership on the right foot, talk budget early, even before a tasting is booked. “I’ll have the couple email me pictures of designs they like prior to the cake tasting, and I’ll create an estimate for them,” says Zeibell. “If it turns out the price is beyond their budget, they’re not wasting their time— and my time—by setting up a tasting.”

It may be worthwhile to post a rough ballpark of the pricing on the bakery’s site, says Oakleaf. When engaged couples know that a tiered cake starts at $4 per person, it can help them determine whether a custom cake is in the budget.

Some bakeries, like Chicago Custom Cakes, offer complimentary tastings. They see the cost of ingredients and time as a part of capturing new customers. Others don’t shy away from charging, though. At Denise Makes Cakes in New York City, tastings are $45. “If they wind up ordering a cake that’s more than $350, that $45 is applied as a credit toward their final bill,” says owner Denise Passarelli. Whether or not there’s a price tag attached, bakers agree that securing the tasting with a credit card is the best way to ensure that couples show up.

Get in Their Heads

Once the budget’s been established, the next major step is understanding the couple’s wedding vision and preparing for the tasting.

Getting details about the venue and general style of the wedding before the tasting helps weed out people who may be putting the cart before the horse—or the cake before the venue. “Some people get engaged and immediately think, ‘Time to do a tasting,’” says Oakleaf. If the couple winds up booking a venue that only works with partner bakeries or includes an in-house cake for free, then the cake tasting is a waste of everyone’s time, and the bakery’s resources.

Pouring over inspirations and plans with couples makes the process a personalized team effort. “We can create cakes that are trendy, but what we really want is to create something that’s truly custom to the couple,” says Oakleaf, whether that means painted flowers that match the bride’s bouquet or a Harry Potter-themed cake to commemorate the couple’s first date.

At Chicago Custom Cakes, Godecke asks customers to come to tastings prepared with invitations, fabric, flowers and venue photos, along with pictures of cakes they like. “You wouldn’t want to design a rustic cake with burlap details for an elegant venue where [the bride is] wearing satin,” says Godecke. “It’s incongruous. You want the cake to stand out but still fit visually into their wedding.”

Another way bakeries can capture customers’ wedding vision is by asking them to create a Pinterest board to collect images of cakes, flowers, decor and wedding dresses they like. This helps bakeries understand details the couple may not be able to express. Seeing all the images alongside each other will also help the couple—and the baker— determine whether elements are consistent.

Make it an Experience

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The tasting’s a key part of doing business, but it’s important to step back and remember it’s also part of the wedding process. That first meeting is more about brainstorming a cake design and building rapport than it is about flavor, Godecke says. 

In addition, the tasting should be a fun, memorable event for the couple, especially if they’re millennials, a demographic that highly values experiences and spends more on them than any other generation, according to research by Eventbrite

Without overwhelming customers, bakeries can ensure the tasting is special by hosting it in an isolated part of the bakery, setting an Instagram-worthy table and presenting samples on equally appealing stands and dishes. This type of presentation will only further establish the bakery’s reputation as a quality vendor. 

For Monica Simpson, who recently completed a wedding cake order with Sweet & Saucy Shop in Long Beach, California, the tasting struck the right balance. She and her fiance received separate trays of cakes, fillings, icings and toppings, and were then left to sample. “Everything was displayed like a Victorian tea party, but then we were able to have a private, honest conversation about what we loved and didn’t like,” she says. 

Flex Your Expertise

Customers using social media and internet searches to scope out cakes may believe their options are limitless. And engaged couples are used to being catered to, but bakers shouldn’t bend over backwards to meet every request, especially if it’s going to result in a subpar sweet. Godecke remembers a vegan bride who had her heart set on a three-tiered cake. “Without the eggs, the cake didn’t have the same structural integrity,” she says. “I tried a few times, but there’s only so much you can fight science.” So she presented the bride with a few alternatives. “People might come to you with a vision, but they’re also hiring you for your expertise and advice,” Godecke says. 

The same goes for flavors. While there’s a lot of room for creativity, staff should steer customers in the right direction. “We’ll tell people if their flavor choice is bad,” Oakleaf says. Key lime buttercream on a chocolate cake, for example, may sound fun, but it would be a flavor flop. 

When it comes to weddings, bakeries are truly part of a couple’s planning team. Beyond finding a beautiful cake that meets a budget, brides and grooms want a dessert that’s personal and symbolic of their relationship, as well as one that will provide for a memorable cake cutting. 

By accommodating the digital behaviors of today’s brides and grooms and serving as an experienced, friendly guide, as well as a baker, throughout the ordering process, bakeries can ensure their cakes are the sweetest part of every wedding.


FURTHER READING

More couples celebrate without a tiered masterpiece in sight.