Graduation is a celebration of both an ending and a beginning. It’s a time each year when millions of graduates across the country reach a crossroads between their past achievements and future adventures, and it’s perhaps for this reason that graduation parties are so important; they give graduates a chance to pause between all this chaos and change and just “be.”
Central to these graduation parties, of course, is cake! As such, graduations represent an excellent opportunity for your bakery to not only create and sell occasion cakes, but also to build meaningful and lasting relationships with your customers.
Graduation parties are popular at the grade school, high school, and college levels, and the graduation season reaches its prime in late-spring and early-summer.
According to Jessica Liva, decorating manager at Ryke’s Bakery in Muskegon, Michigan, “The busiest time of our graduation season is from the last week in May through the first week of July. Customers start asking for graduation cakes as early as January and usually stop asking around the middle of May. We do get a few last-minute orders, but not too many.”
Nancy Newsom, owner of That’s The Cake Bakery in Arlington, Texas, added, “I get calls off and on all year long—probably the most around April, May, and June. We occasionally get orders in December, too.”
Another, related occasion to be on the lookout for happens in August. “Off to college” parties are growing in popularity, occurring almost as often as graduation parties themselves.
Products and Amounts
Every graduation party is different, but there are some general rules of thumb to keep in mind as you prepare your bakery for this busy season.
First is dessert type. “While sheet cakes are the most common dessert for open houses, there are other great options gaining popularity, including cupcakes, cake pops and donuts,” Liva said.
Mini dessert bars are also a growing trend, as customers are drawn to variety in products and flavors.
The second important consideration is quantity. “People tend to get overzealous when ordering desserts,” Liva said, “so we recommend a simple equation to estimate the amount of dessert customers can count on their guests to eat at their graduates’ open houses.”
- Number of close friends and family + Half of everyone else invited = Number of servings
Not everyone is going to eat cake, especially if the open house is on one of the popular June weekends!
Lastly, while personalized products are ideal, not everyone plans ahead, so offering generic grab-and-go options will help optimize sales.
Dessert designs boil down to two key ingredients: images (including patterns, symbols, and words) and colors.
When it comes to images, Liva expects to see a few trends for graduation cakes this season. “I’m anticipating a lot of chalkboard-themed cakes and tie-dyed designs.”
The classic cap and scroll will continue to be popular as well. And Newsom offers this advice: “Make your fondant graduation caps ahead of time.”
When it comes to colors, Newsom adds that “colors are always dependent on the school.” As such, it’s a good idea to become familiar with your local schools’ colors to make sure your supply will match demand. Additionally, because many schools’ colors are dark, which can be a tough look to achieve with icing without causing bitterness, it can be smart to instead incorporate them through accents, such as sprinkles or small fondant add-ons.
To stay on top of graduation cake trends this season, turn to social media. Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter all offer fun, new ideas to play off of and allow you to keep the pulse of your customers’ interests.
In the midst of graduation cake orders and design requests, it can be easy to forget that if you recreate schools’ logos, mascots, and/or slogans on your bakery products without first obtaining their written permission, you could run into some serious legal issues in the way of trademark and copyright infringement.
“We work with all of the local schools to get permission to use their logos,” Liva said.
And it’s important to do this legwork early. You’ll rest easier knowing you have those approval letters on hand now, before the season arrives.
To market your graduation cakes, ask your local schools if you can advertise in their newsletters and/or include a flyer in the packets that are sent out about ordering invitations, caps, and gowns. You can also take to technology to spread the word.
To draw attention to their graduation cakes at That’s The Cake Bakery, Newsom said they use “Facebook, Google, the bakery’s website, and word of mouth mostly.”
Liva echoed that sentiment. “We market our graduation cakes via our website and social media outlets, including Facebook and Instagram. We also put out a special graduation brochure that lists pricing, flavors, and some of our special designs.”
By the Numbers
3.3 million: Students expected to graduate from high school
Source: National Center for Education Statistics