Making Money on Wedding Cakes

 
According to new research from The Knot, the average cost of a 2016 wedding reached an all-time high at $35,329, while the number of guests dropped. That correlation means spend per guest is on the rise, as couples are spending more with a focus on guests.
 
Custom guest entertainment has more than tripled since 2009, with photo booths (78 percent), games (18 percent), musical performances (12 percent) and fireworks (8 percent) at the top of the list. So how does the wedding cake fit into this important trend?
 
Cake trios, quartets and quintet tables come with big benefits for wedding cake bakeries. For one, a large cake table gives you the opportunity to create a visually stunning display at the wedding reception, which means you get another place to spotlight wedding colors and theme. 
 
Further, having more than one cake also makes it very easy to offer multiple cake flavors. "Guests love to have a mini-bite of lots of different desserts," says Melody Brandon of Sweet and Saucy Shop in Newport, California. Give guests choices, but don't overwhelm them. "I recommend between two to four mini-desserts per person," says Brandon. "Try not to choose more than eight options of desserts—too many choices can overwhelm your guests."
 
Pastry chef Bronwen Weber, owner of Frosted Art Bakery & Studio in Dallas, creates cake designs that range from out-of-this-world sculpted cakes to the tiniest mini wedding cakes (made with special 3-tier molds that are just a few inches tall) you’ll ever see.
 
“Tiny little baby cakes are becoming popular,” Weber says. “You can buy a chocolate cup shell and turn them upside down, they become little tiny cakes. You can fill it up with whatever you want: lemon curd, marshmallow, whatever.”
 
Take a cake pop stick and insert it through two or three mini chocolate shells to create a mini tiered wedding cake. Then decorate as you wish to make an eye-catching treat. Or Weber recommends you can work with chocolate companies like Callebaut to create your own three-tier chocolate mold for ease of use. “People ask why mini cakes are so expensive,” Weber jokes. “I tell them, ‘so are diamonds.’” 
 
Earthy, whimsical wedding themes are hot this year, so it’s no wonder this same aesthetic is big for wedding cakes. “Millennials are much more into having the taste of the cake be as good, if not better, as the look of the cake," says Amy Noelle of Sugar Flower Cake Shop in New York City. To get the look, choose an edible white or ivory color and accent it with fresh or lifelike sugar flowers and leaves. One pretty idea is to order a simple white cake and place it on top of a wooden tree ring decorated with moss and leaves.
 
 
Mark Seaman, culinary applications chef, specialties, for Barry Callebaut, says watch for nature-inspired trends in 2017. Gemstone (or geode) wedding cakes “are huge right now,” Seaman says, “and I think a lot of cakes will be created based on the bride’s birthstone.” A gemstone cake is made by removing parts of the center and adding a gemstone made of rock candy or other edible materials. Popular gemstone cake ideas incorporate amethyst, rose quartz, agate, and turquoise and gold.

Geode cakes are "huge right now," according to Mark Seaman of Barry Callebaut.

For a contemporary reception setting such as an urban loft, eye-catching patterns (squares, chevron and stripes) are a fun, fresh twist. "We're seeing a lot of fondant triangles rather than dots," says Mary Maher of Cakegirls in Chicago. A few places to find inspiration include the following: wedding invitations, ready-to-wear fashion runways and home design blogs and stores. Stick to a simple color palette (think: orange and white or purple and white), so the colors don't compete with the design.
 
Focus on profitability

Five key factors impact the profitability of your wedding cake business: product selection, pricing strategy, product innovation, competitive landscape and your time, according to David Dirks of Satin Fine Foods. “Profitability is the litmus test for everything you do in your business,” Dirks says. “A lot of cake decorators work for very little money, even in their own business.”

In the cake decorating world, Dirks points out that many of today’s customers are looking for a unique experience. Decorating with rolled fondant can help you stand apart from the competition, he says. “Play in the whitespace, where there is little or no competition in your area,” Dirks recommends. “This is the space that provides continual growth and profitability.”
 
Experienced cake bakers are turning out tiers decorated with beautiful designs, reminiscent of the most gorgeous wedding gowns imaginable. "A lot of brides are looking for patterns copied from the lace in their dress, or their china pattern," says Sylvia Weinstock, of Sylvia Weinstock Cakes in New York City. So decide which detail from the dress to highlight on the wedding cake, from a few simple sugar-made buttons to ivory and white fondant lace appliques wrapped around each tier. The key to pulling it off is in the color. This trend works best with light hues and little contrast.
 
In other trends, watch what many invitation designers are doing and push the limits of your cake design. This can include marbleized cakes, stained-glass painted cakes and even Monet-inspired wedding cake designs. Pair the hand-painted tiers with solid-colored layers or even simple flower accents. For a cake design that's intricate, keep the tiers simple and stick to all one shape (either all classic round tiers or all square).

Metallics are big for wedding cakes, according to research from The Knot. "We’re not talking about a gold and silver vintage style, but more a stylized glam, art-deco, old-Hollywood look," says Betsy Thorleifson of Nine Cakes in New York City. Metallics can adapt to any style; delicate embroidery in gold feels opulent while geometric shapes give off a fresh, modern feel. If an entire tier is too much glitz, consider adding a little sparkle all over. Fine edible glitter can add a decorative sheen to your cake without overpowering the whole design.

Metallics can adapt to any style.
 
Barry Callebaut’s Mark Seaman agrees that metallic cakes are going to continue to be very popular. “Brides like shiny objects,” he says. “There’s going to be a lot of bling.”
 
“Gold is definitely in. That’s the trend right now,” says Lia Weber, owner of Made. By Lia and baking ambassador for AB Mauri North America “About 90 percent of my wedding cakes have gold incorporated into them these days.”
 
Gold leaf is one of her favorite ways to add gold to cakes because it provides a beautiful shimmer. When applying gold leaf to fondant, she recommends adding a little water first. But with buttercream, simply take your cold cake out of the cooler and start applying gold leaf. “I like adding gold leaf to buttercream best because it gives more of a matte texture.”
 
Gold leaf comes in a variety of sizes and costs about $50 for 10 sheets (enough to cover a 6-inch round cake), she explains. “That is a good upsell for your brides,”
 
Ruffles and elegance

For a seriously elegant look, skip the bold patterns and add-ons in favor of subtle embellishments with sugar ruffles. The look is light and airy and needs very little added detail. Finish it off with fresh flowers in between each tier or a few sugar flowers on top. "Frills are at home in every type of reception, from avant-garde to country chic," says Maggie Austin of Maggie Austin Cake in Alexandria, Virginia.

The rosette trend (with textural sugar-made roses all over the cake) is fun because the added dimension is different and unique but the look is still elegant and beautiful. One caveat is the color. Stick to white or ivory rosettes. (Allover light pink rosettes will look too juvenile.) Jan Kish from La Petite Fleur in Worthington, Ohio, also cautions against using rosettes on a single tier. "You have to make sure you balance that textured layer with something else so your eye doesn’t get stuck there."

Sugar flowers add an appealing element to wedding cakes.
 
Sugar flowers are practically synonymous with wedding cakes. The new take on wedding cake flower accents is to cluster sugar-made flowers into a mini-bouquet. "The key is to create a balance of size, shape and color," says Paloma Efron of Coco Paloma Desserts in Austin, Texas. The flower bouquet works best on a muted cake base color, like ivory, peach or mint. Finish off the tiers with a gold or silver metallic trim, or even a beveled lace treatment, for a look that’s simple, sophisticated and classic.
 
Another profitable idea is to design a cake made to highlight the wedding couple’s new shared monogram. A few ideas include creating a hand-drawn monogram in a scripted style on a beveled gold sugar plaque or a rustic sugar-made plaque, or a patterned monogram on a square cake for a modern look. "When used in a repetitious design around the cake, the monogram becomes a pretty pattern, except to the discerning eye," says Jan Kish of La Petite Fleur in Worthington, Ohio.
 
Naked cakes are equally popular. With the deconstructed cake, the aim is to show off the inside. For a summertime wedding, berries work well. In the winter and fall, fill the layers with seasonal fruits like apples, pears, persimmons or even blood oranges. "The exposed cake and filling of the naked cake appeal to both the eyes and the stomach," says John Rusk of Alice’s Tea Cup in New York City.