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sugarseattle

colored frostings, special designs etc.

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we're a bakery in our first year which translates into we are hungry to sell as much as we can to keep our head above water.

while we are trying to have more ready made cakes available in our case, most of our cakes are "made to order". a lot of times, people request different colored frostings, special decorations for a baby shower cake, etc. In a way, they are sort of asking a lot. We tentatively just charge a $5. surcharge for this, which I know is ridiculously low for all the extra time, extra piping bag, inevitable waste, etc. Instead, i am thinking of asking substantially more, say 5-10% of the price of the cake or something.

however, my gut is saying I would like to assert myself as a creator of fine cakes that have a certain look, take them or leave them. we do try to assert ourselves as using all natural ingredients, only using food color on certain frosted cookies, so in a way it doesn't make sense for our cakes to look like grocery stores. whatever they choose to do with their cake after they buy it is their business.

I suppose my fear is turning away business because I'm being a stickler. we do want our customers to be happy, but I think they're taking advantage of our kindness.

How do those in the cake world address these requests?

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it's not the natural or unnatural of the food color...it's the perception of unnatural...butter is not blue...i want to respect the flavor of the cake, does that make sese?


Edited by sugarseattle (log)

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I say stick to your guns. I wouldn't ask a high end pastry shop to churn out a blue frosting--unless the frosting needed to be flavored with blueberry liqueur or something.


Edited by sanrensho (log)

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I do mostly wholesale but sometimes have individual orders too. I have a policy that I don't do custom decorating but my cakes are attractively decorated. (Meaning, nicely iced, piped borders, chopped nuts on the side or sprinkled with nuts and coconut, or ganache covered, etc. ) This has worked out fine. I also add, if needed, that I'm primarily a baker, not a cake decorator.

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I'm seeing a sort of Venn diagram here. In one circle, there are some people want a truly delicious and beautiful looking cake to have for dessert, or a special celebration, or whatever - these are the people you want to make your cakes for, right? And then in another circle, there are people who see a cake as a kind of symbol, a blank slate for conveying their celebratory wishes on, one that happens to be really sweet, and perhaps, if the occasion demands, blue? And you don't really want to make those kinds of cakes, and those people normally sort of self select, and just get a cake at the supermarket, but occasionally (or frequently?) in the space where those two circles overlap, you have customers coming in asking for a delicious cake which is also blue?

It sounds like you're eager to establish your business, and so you've been decorating cakes on demand, and maybe compromising a bit on how you'd normally present your cakes. I'm not really sure about the sort of market you're in, but I'd be worried that if you start making all sorts of compromises on how you present your cakes, that eventually your market may start to see your cakes as the supermarket kind- blank slates, as it were. At the same time, you don't really want to lose the sales...I would suggest a compromise. Let your customers know that you're not really a cake decorator, as suggested above, but try to work out some way that birthdays, anniversaries and the like can be recognized. Maybe you could develop a chocolate/white chocolate plaque onto which a message could be piped or transferred, and charge a small premium for adding it?

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Yeah, that makes sense.

My personal taste tends to agree with you. I'm really not a big fan colored frostings, but I'll make them for my kids.

When I was making my second son's birthday cake last month, I was really shocked at just how much food coloring it took to make that frosting red, and knowing that made it not so appetizing to me... but he loved his cake.

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I don't like to make buttercream roses because with our house buttercream, they don't look like the same type the veg shortening icing produces. Plus, festoons of various colors of buttercream roses are the type of decoration the supermarkets around here produce, which is something I do not want to be.

So early on, I decided that I would make a fresh berry garnish "my signature". So my all occasion cakes have berries on them, usually a few strawberries depending on the size of the cake, with some raspberries and blueberries to fill in between the strawberries. It's the same for a cake finished with white buttercream or chocolate ganache. I also use chocolate curls (white, dark or strawberry) or choc cake crumbs to mask the sides of the cake, which no one else around here does.

I make sugar plaques or chocolate plastique "banners" with the message so a cake already made can be personalized as needed. This works for the gourmet stores I sell through, it gives them a chance to respond to an impulse purchase.

For custom orders, I write directly on the cake. But one of my "signature" cakes is a basketweave with a top covered with berries (and the plastique banner on top of the berries with the message). People around here recognize this as a Jeanne Cake, and it works for most occasions. Eventually people will want something different though, and that's when having some extra fondant decorations at the ready can help. When I am cutting out stars, or flowers, or making bows, I make extra - way more than I need so I can use them on the spur of the moment if I need to. For baby showers, you might get a carriage or onesie cookie cutter and use that for the message, or use that to cut out fondant decorations for the sides as a way to personalize it without having to color frosting (you can color fondant in advance and as long as it is stored airtight, it will last a year). Use a colored fondant or fabric ribbon to bring in color if you like that look better.

You might want to look around at what your competition produces so you can make your cakes different from the rest. Have a range of pricing (e.g., a 10" round cake, serving approximately 20, ranges from $55 to $80 based on how elaborately it is decorated) so people can tell you what they want to spend.

I don't think customers are deliberately taking advantage of your kindness; they're asking for personalization (which is what they want). If you are charging more, it won't feel like you're being taken advantage of.

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Unless your cakes are more than $50 to $100, $5 is 5-10%!

I agree that you need to develop a signature style but have an easy way to do minimal customizing. You can't please everyone, do what you do best & believe in. Life is too short to make food you hate.

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I own a pretty successful (i'm in business for 5 years and its growing) pastry shop in Long Island, Ny. The dessert and cake market is very demanding and most people know what they want. I'm not a shop that makes cheesy super market cakes, we do use food coloring but where necessary. We state that all cakes at Sweet Karma are birthday cakes, we can write on a cookie or a chocolate plaque. Cakes in the case are taken as is, if they want a custom cake then it needs to be pre-ordered, no exceptions. I dont keep freezers full of cakes, we bake regularly to insure freshness. You have to stick to your guns or customers will walk all over you and take advantage of your generosity. My store cakes are priced differently than custom cakes, I define custom cakes as any variation in anyway from a "store cake"

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Im not in business, but I used to work at an upscale bakery local to me (of course) they have house cakes (their reg. cakes with their regular icing finishes that have been deemed regular for that flavor.. they will write on it, in piping chocolate. anything outside of that, like Brian said is custom and needs to be preordered.

in addition, if I'm not mistaken, on a special order cake, there is a charge to tint the icing. initially i was like wow, everything is extra if its 'custom" but more and more I began to understand. especially when there is time and extra product involved

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it's not the natural or unnatural of the food color...it's the perception of unnatural...butter is not blue...i want to respect the flavor of the cake, does that make sese?

Personally, I would respect a baker who told me up front that they didn't use any artificial colours or flavours. What if, for example, someone wanted pink frosting – would you be willing to do it if it were coloured and flavoured with a berry purée added to the frosting? In which case the colour reflects the flavour. And is still all-natural. I would be willing to pay extra for that.

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we do get requests for custom flavors a lot as well and it opens up a whole other can of worms..."you make mini cheesecake bites, can you bake me a whole cheesecake?" well then technically i have to cost it out to determine the price, and usually I don't have that luxury because they usually want an answer on the spot.

the comments so far have been extremely helpful!

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So i am the Executive pastry chef for a bakery that has been in business for more than 20 years, and in the last 5 years,which i have been there we have really changed the menu to a more modern product but have also had to keep much of the original product. We go through a lot of the same problems.

I flex between modern french entremets, to Cars decopac cakes like the supermarket, customers what the lame decorations, etc. but they also want the quality of our cakes, so we charge much more than a supermarket but do some similar things. I will say i never do a cake like the photo, i add my own stamp, i tone the colors down, etc.

I do offer buttercream roses but only in 5 Pastel colors. If they want a more garish color we charge for custom coloring. I always try to steer the customer away from the supermarket look, with either offering them more stylish alternatives, or with price if they really want something you do not want to do, raise the price to ridiculous heights. If they still want the product then at-least you are well paid for it.

We also make minimum orders, for things that we normally do not do, if you do not customers will take advantage, like with mini cheesecakes, they will ask and then when you say yes, they will only want 5 which is not worth the time it takes to make them, so we make a dozen or two dozen minimum, unless we think we can sell the extras in the store, again to make it worth while.

Most of our custom items are like what were mentioned above, if it is not a store cake in exact size and style then it is a custom cake. Which we always have to explain when they ask why it is so much more, and we have to tell them, that store cakes are made in volume which reduces the price. The cake they are requesting is made only for you a 1 of a kind and so it involves much more time and labor to create. We created a chart of options of fillings and flavorings with prices, then broke the decorative items down a la carte. So they want flowers, x amount, you want fondant that is x amount more, or you want fresh fruit decoration that is x amount on top of the cake.

so just a few thoughts on how we do it... but you are correct it is hard to do on the fly, the customers always wants what they want and you have to find your balance between your style and reputation and paying the bills.

for us the store cakes, and individuals pay the bills, but the decorative cakes and weddings make the profit.

hope this helps.

:-)

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......

however, my gut is saying I would like to assert myself as a creator of fine cakes that have a certain look, take them or leave them. we do try to assert ourselves as using all natural ingredients, only using food color on certain frosted cookies, so in a way it doesn't make sense for our cakes to look like grocery stores. whatever they choose to do with their cake after they buy it is their business.

WRONG! How is anyone at home going to write Happy Birthday on their cake? With that gawdawful grocery store icing that comes in the tubes, that's how. Then all of their guests are going to think you use that crappy icing in your shop, which can hurt your business. So you do need to come up with a way to give your customers a "completed" cake for their occasions.

As nakji suggested, the white chocolate plaque is the way to go. I'm not doing cakes right now, but when I was I kept a few handy and they were just ready to be placed on a normal cake whenever I got an order for one. (I didn't have a shop, just custom orders made in a studio.) My signature look was the plaque, piped white chocolate written on it, then edible gold painted onto the writing. Looked very elegant, but I didn't have to spend too much time on it. I had white chocolate teddy bears and blocks etc. for baby cakes, a scroll for graduations, etc. Or sometimes I would just airbrush food colouring right onto the buttercream, so you can get pretty creative with that without having to dye a bunch of icing. But I NEVER decorated anything outside my own style. Never garish sparkly blues or bubblegum pinks, or anything I'd be embarrassed to say I'd made. There's no point trying to accomodate every customer's whims because it is important to develop your own style; you end up becoming known for it.

Life is too short to make food you hate.

YEP!

P.S. Edited to add there's nothing wrong with telling a customer you can't accomodate their request for cheesy decorations because it doesn't fit in with your business style, then suggesting a more appropriate alternative. I once told a bride who wanted those horrible plastic stairs and bridesmaids all over her wedding cake that I'd have to charge her extra because I didn't know how to make anything look that bad! But then again, I'm not always known for being very tactful. :raz:


Edited by Sugarella (log)

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My suggestion would be to tell customers that you have a policy of not tinting icing. While you are under no obligation to give the entire reason, if they ask I would say that artificial colorants, waste and costing made it unprofitable for you. However, I do agree with Emmalish about the purees. Tinting with purees is a great way to get color and flavor in a frosting. You could offer a limited number of options and of course the purees could be used for other applications.

I would suggest one of the cakes you sell along with a way to customize it that is in keeping with your style and still gives the customer something they will be happy to present at their celebration. The customer may even be happier with your suggestion than their initial request. However, if they have their heart set on colored frosting, just let them know you will be unable to accomodate them. I would just do it in a way that doesn't sound like you are insulting their personal taste, you never know when she might want something right up your alley.

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we already offer writing on the tops of our cakes, free of charge. I would never expect a customer to do their own writing...but if they want a cake shaped like a drum, perhaps they should buy their own pair of drum sticks rather than have me shape them out of modeling chocolate.

we do use purees often when the flavor is appropriate...strawberry makes a great addition to buttercream!

Oh, and by the way, I just convinced a customer NOT to color their cupcake frosting, saying it's an extra charge and we like to keep everything natural. It felt great to be strong about my vision, and the customer was happy because they still were getting a high quality product.

I think it's a philosophical shift from the customer is always right to the supplier may be right. The customer is seeking my pastries and cakes because I am a specialist in what I do, and they are buying my vision of what I think good pastries and cakes are. Of course, if nobody buys my vision, the customer is right, and I need to shift my vision. But if enough people buy my vision so I can make a profit, I am golden. If I keep letting the customer's "vision" get in the way of my vision, then there's no vision, just a mass of millions of ideas. The number one reason people return to a place is confidence. Hard to be confident in a place if it's not confident in itself.

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Google "Color Maker" or variations. It's what we use at the earthy crunchy groceria where I go through this all the time. We write on cakes no problem, on the spot. But I have people who rhapsodize about this that and the other thing while I have to stand there and listen while I have a bunch of other stuff I really need to do. I really resist the custom decoration idea. If they want to put cars or robots on a cake the most I'll do is to make a landscape and tell them to bring in toys. And most of the time they do, and the cake looks ok. It's when they want a border in one green and the leaves around the flowers in another green that my eyes start rolling. Generally I'll work with people while admitting that my skill level for high end decorating isn't as high as my skill level for baking the cake in the first place. I get a lot of requests for vegan and wheat free stuff that I have been able to accommodate. I also have a friend who gets the referrals if I don't feel up to the job.


Edited by McDuff (log)

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