This is actually a very important part of the service that you offer as a cake maker, as you will be representing both yourself and your service, so the best advice I can give is to BE PREPARED.
You need to be clear of your own terms and conditions first of all, and it really is best to only hold consultations for cakes which are valued over a certain amount, unless you like giving away your time for free.
Hold the consultations either at your place of work, or at the couple’s venue, or at a local coffee shop. I would avoid going to customers homes just for your own safety.
You can break the consultation down into four stages, as follows:
Before the Consultation
Your customers will initially have been in touch via phone or email, and it is at this point when you can garner information from them and to manage their expectations.
Start by asking them the following questions:
1. What is the date of the wedding?
Possibly the most important question of all, as its no good waiting until they are at the consultation and then realising you cant accommodate them!
2. Where is the venue?
You need to know where you are going to be delivering the cake. Even if you don’t mind driving 100 miles to get to their venue, they may not want to pay for it.
3. How many guests are they looking to feed?
This will help with the size and number of tiers that they will need, and you can work out some elements in advance for them.
4. Are there any food intolerances that need to be catered for?
If you don’t make gluten free cakes, and the bride has a gluten intolerance, it’s best that you both know now!
5. If a tasting is to be included at the same time as the consultation, which of the flavours that you offer are they interested in?
I would generally only offer up to five flavour options at a tasting. and a good idea is to have a small charge of £20 or £30 for the tasting, which can then be deducted from the price of the cake once order is placed.
6. What is their budget?
This is SO important to ascertain. Trust me, you don’t want to spend hours designing a seven tiered monster cake complete with fountains and Disney castle only to find out down the line that the budget is only £300.
Its also worth bearing in mind that while some couples know exactly what they want for their wedding cake, others are quite confused by the whole thing, so suggest to them that they may like to have a look at some images and play around with ideas before they come to see you. Also, advise them of the time that you have available at your cake consultations. Time passes quickly when you’re looking at ideas and drawing up sketches, and as enjoyable as it can sometimes be, you need to think about your time.
Set a limit as to how many people can come to the consult. I limit mine to three..the bride and groom and one other, otherwise you can end up with an entourage.
Preparation for the Consultation
Always send a courtesy email reminder of the consult either a week or a few days beforehand. It looks professional and also saves you baking and waiting around for a couple who have completely forgotten about their appointment.
On the day of the consultation, get everything ready in advance:
Have pad & pen ready to take notes and draw sketches
Have a laptop or iPad handy to look up venue details and any other information
Bring business cards
Present your tasters well, and provide napkins and/or forks.
Make sure there are the facilities to offer them a drink
Have a sizing/price chart to hand
Have your portfolio available to show them
If at your own premises, display some of your previous work
During the Consultation
It’s likely that your customers could be nervous or excited or a mixture of both, so try to put them at ease, offer a drink and let them flick through your portfolio or any cake magazines that you have.
Even though you’ve already got a wealth of information from them from your initial email, it’s always best to go over everything once more with them, as it will confirm that that you’re on top of everything and that no mistakes are going to be made.
Do make sure, that even though they’ve told you how many people that they want to feed with the cake, whether it is going to be for the buffet, or for the dessert at their wedding breakfast, as this will affect portion size greatly.
One of the questions that most couples ask is when the cake should actually be cut. I always advise my couples that it is entirely up to them, but traditionally it’s cut later in the day so that the evening guests can be a part of the ceremony. I also tell them that the cake should be cut into 1” by 2” slices, and that their venue kitchen staff or catering staff will be the people who do that for them after the cake cutting photos.
When it comes to the design of the cake, ask about their vision. What style do they want? and the tone of the wedding? A cake with a cartoon cake topper may not go down too well with a chic Gatsby inspired theme. Make lots of notes and draw sketches for your couple to look at. Make it a fun, personal experience for them, and don’t be afraid to ask about the story behind their design ideas. It shows that you care.
Quite often a couple will want fresh flowers on their cake, and this has become more popular lately. It’s always best to bear in mind that some flowers and foliage is poisonous, or unavailable due to the season, so before agreeing to anything you or the customer should check with the florist as to what is suitable. If sugar flowers are the way forward, then make sure you do your research. If in any doubt, ask the bride to send you images of the flowers that she wants.
Most couples will want specific colours for the cake to tie in with their wedding hues, so do ask for a swatch so that you can match it closely. Sending colour samples via email are not always very reliable as colours can show up differently on computers.
Always keep in the back of your mind the practicalities of each design too. A buttercream cake set up in a hot marquee in the middle of summer is not going to last very long. A cake carved into a particular shape may also not work if the couple want a coffee and walnut or carrot cake either. Carved cakes are best suited to plain sponges or firmer cakes such as madeiras.
Couples who are picking up and setting up their own cakes should be warned about how to store their cakes too. Any cakes with fondant covering, edible models, or sugar craft flowers should be kept out of direct sunlight and not refrigerated. There’s a lot to think about, but it will soon become second nature.
Once the final design is decided, it’s a nice time to do the tasting element of the consultation. This allows you time to work out costings without feeling embarrassed that your customers are watching every number you crunch. If you would prefer to work out the pricing once the couple have left that is your prerogative, but just let them know you will be in touch by a certain time, so again their expectations are managed.
Try not to get too flustered working out the cake quotation, and make sure you add in the delivery and set up costs too, as it all takes time. Once you’ve added up your figures at least twice, give the couple your quote, and just go over your terms and conditions quickly too.
Once the quotation is agreed (and why wouldnt it be!) you still need to jot down a few more points:
The time of delivery/pick up.
The contact details of the customer or any third party who is in charge of the cake
The contact details of the venue
Any information needed about the table, cake stand and knife.
After the Consultation
All that’s left now, is to accept your customer’s order and get them booked in.
If they haven’t paid their deposit on the day of the consultation, I would send a follow up email about a week later, just confirming everything you discussed, and you can take things from there.
My final tip is that its so important to show your enthusiasm for your customer’s cake order. The wedding cake is a massive part of most couple’s wedding day, and they will want their cake maker to be almost as excited as they are.
This blog was originally written by me for the wonderful guys over at Occasion Maker, who are a fab company that take the stress out of marketing your cake company.