The wedding cake is a traditional focal point of the wedding reception festivities, but with prices continually rising, many couples are disappointed at the fees for their favorite designs. By understanding what factors affect the price of the cake and how to choose the best option for their budget, couples can easily afford a wedding cake that will make their celebration even sweeter.
How Wedding Cakes are Priced
Prices are determined by many factors, but the overriding consideration is the size of the cake. Cakes are generally priced according to the number of servings they contain, with a standard serving measuring only two cubic inches - a fairly small, thin slice. Serving prices range from $1.50 each for a simple, basic cake to $6 each for more gourmet confections to $10 each or higher for elaborate, designer desserts. Couples for whom money is no object can even find bakers who will charge $15 - $20 per extravagant serving . When the cake is intended to feed 100 guests or more, those costs can rapidly add up.
Factors Affecting Wedding Cake Prices
Several factors go into determining the per-serving price of a wedding cake. The most important factors include:
- Assembly Difficulty: A 2- or 3-tiered wedding cake is standard. A greater number of layers or designs that include fountains, multiple layer separations, or extravagant figurine placements have higher costs.
- Cake Type: Sponge cake is the least expensive type of cake (and the most common). Pound cakes are denser and require more precautions for delicate assembly, and cheesecakes are the most expensive basic types of cake to choose.
- Cake Flavor: Basic flavors such as classic white, red velvet, chocolate, or marble cake are relatively inexpensive, while more elaborate options such as black forest, carrot, or German chocolate are mid-range cakes. Gourmet flavors like mocha, liqueurs, and tiramisu are generally the most costly.
- Number of Flavors: Couples who choose different flavors for each layer of cake proportionally increase the final price of the cake.
- Filling Flavors: Basic icing fillings are least expensive, especially if they match the outer icing of the cake. Fillings with nuts, crushed fruit, or liqueurs are more labor-intensive and often use more costly ingredients, increasing their prices.
- Icing: Buttercream icing (classic cake frosting) is the least expensive option. Fondant icing - the type that appears smooth and seamless and can be folded or molded onto extravagant shapes - is significantly more expensive.
- Cake Shape: Round cakes are the most popular and cheapest wedding cake shapes. Square wedding cakes often require the edges to be built up and sharpened for the desired design, creating more work for the cake designer. Unusual or wacky shapes are also more expensive because they require special pans and assembly techniques.
- Design Intricacy: Wedding cake designs with layers of lace icing, monograms, basket-weave frosting, hundreds of small pearls or beads, and customized sugar flowers are naturally more expensive than simple cakes with rosettes or piped icing in simpler, classic patterns.
- Cake Supplier: A gourmet "designer" bakery will usually charge more than a supplier with less cachet. Beware that the must-have wedding cake bakery in your town may have prices that reflect their high demand. Remember that grocery stores often have bakeries that can provide delicious options for more frugal budgets.
- Geographic location: Of course, prices vary in different locations, commensurate with other costs of living. Expect to pay more in midtown Manhattan or Los Angeles than in some other regions of the United States.
In addition to the different cake characteristics that affect its price, couples should also be aware of other fees that can drastically increase the price of this wedding reception centerpiece. Many bakeries charge setup and delivery fees depending on the size and cost of the cake as well as the wedding location. Rental fees may apply to necessary cake equipment such as pillars, fountains, or platforms, and steep replacement charges will be levied if the equipment is not returned.
Trimming Cake Prices
Despite the high cost of wedding cakes, many couples are eager to host a designer dessert at their wedding reception. Fortunately, there are many ways to trim wedding cake prices without diminishing the elegance and deliciousness of the treat.
- Consider a smaller decorative cake to display and cut, and have the bulk of the cake made up as inexpensive wedding sheet cakes that cost roughly half the price of the showpiece cake. The cake can be wheeled out of sight to be cut and guests will not notice the difference in the shape of their pieces. Small "satellite" cakes can be used as well - small round, square, or heart-shaped decorated sheet cakes that surround the more elaborate centerpiece cake.
- Arrange to pick up and assemble the cake yourself if the baker charges high fees for this service, but be sure you understand how to arrange the cake without damaging it.
- Offer a range of less expensive desserts - cookies, chocolate-dipped strawberries, etc. - to augment a smaller cake. Some guests will choose these other desserts instead of the cake itself.
- Choose a simple cake design and decorate it with fresh or silk flowers that match the wedding colors for a coordinated, sophisticated look.
- Choose a simple cake flavor that will not only lower the wedding cake price but will also appeal to a larger number of guests.
- Used iced cardboard for the large, lower tiers of cake (the ceremonial cutting is usually of the first or second layer) to simulate the appearance of a large cake, but substitute sheet cakes for the actual dessert.
Finding Discount Wedding Cakes
There are many places couples can find wedding cakes without exorbitant prices. Culinary and baking schools (if there is one in your area) may be able to create luscious desserts at a fraction of the price of an established bakery. Furthermore, many grocery store bakeries offer delicious wedding cakes, though their designs may be simpler and less customizable than those from full-scale bakeries. Opting for a cupcake wedding cake instead is another cost-cutting measure, though couples should be aware that heavily decorated, designer cupcakes can cost as much or more than a traditional-style cake.
Choosing Your Best Cake
Some couples must regretfully abandon their visions of designer confections as the best wedding cake is one that fits the budget. By understanding how prices are determined and ways to trim the costs, however, every couple can choose a cake that meets their wedding design, preferences, tastes, and pocketbook.