Save Money on Your Wedding Cake With These Simple Tips
There’s nothing quite as special as a showstopping wedding cake —but we get it, every budget has its limits. And if the price per slice of wedding cake is giving you budget anxiety, don’t feel like you need to nix the idea altogether. Instead, speak openly with your cake baker, tap into your creativity and use these straightforward tips so you don’t have sacrifice this sweet detail.
Order a small display cake.
Ask your baker to make a one- or two-tier cake for display and cutting, and supplement with sheet cake in the back to serve the rest of the party. This can actually save you around 20 percent per slice. And have fun with your table. Have a one-tier wedding cake surrounded by loads of cupcakes, macarons, doughnuts, cookies or a souped-up candy bar.
Keep it simple.
Sugar flowers, tall tiers and intricate piping can quickly jack up the price of your cake. That’s because most cake bakers price their work by “touch time,” which is the amount of labor and number of hours spent designing the cake. (There’s a lot that goes into this confection—it’s way more than just flour and eggs!) So when it comes to choosing your cake style, look for designs you love that don’t include any over-the-top add-ons.
Pare down your flowers (or choose real ones).
If your heart’s set on flowers, go with fresh blooms or choose flat designs such as painted flower motifs instead of ornate sugar flowers. Sugar flowers are very labor intensive—it can take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours to mold and dust one pretty sugar replica. (Now you know why they’re so gorgeous.) To pare down the cost, choose a simple cake with one large stem or a spray of flowers on a single-tier cake. Another trick is to choose sugar flower types that don’t require as much time and detail. For example, skip the cascade of peonies and shoot for hydrangeas or calla lilies. But fresh flowers are one of your best bets for a cost-friendly alternative. Just let your florist in on your plans so they can source pesticide-free and food-safe buds.
Be resourceful with your cake display.
Some couples go all out buying or renting elaborate cake stands, which are pretty, but not really necessary. Besides, most bakers will provide a decorated base board you can place right on the table. Once you have your cake display, focus on adding to the space around it—choose a fun linen from home, lush greenery, old family wedding photos, candles or flowers to bring some life to the table.
Serve smaller slices.
Consider scaling back on cake slices and see if your caterer can also include a round of sweets to supplement (think: passed chocolate-covered strawberries, assorted cookies or mini truffles). Let your caterer know they should cut tasting portions to about three quarters of the usual amount, and plan to plate your cake slices with the other desserts. Ask your caterer to place slices on a buffet or cake table instead of serving a plate at every place setting—or have the staff bring bite-size pieces right to your guests on the dance floor so they can enjoy cake while getting down.
In the world of frosting, there are two big hitters: buttercream and fondant, and there are pros and cons to each—including cost. Buttercream is typically less expensive. Fondant, on the other hand, requires extra steps and materials, and can be difficult to work with, making it more expensive. But do your due diligence regardless and don’t assume your cake will be less expensive with buttercream: You might want a smooth, seemingly simple appliqué finish on a buttercream cake, when in reality, this pristine style requires precision and time. Long story short, you may not save as much as you’d hoped. And some bakers may charge you extra for fondant, especially if you’re requesting a lace appliqué or a detailed pattern design, so it’s good to ask your baker these questions up front.
Another way to save money on your cake is to skip an outer layer of frosting. Naked cakes are not only gorgeous to look at, they’re actually pretty practical too. They’re a lot less expensive because they use less buttercream and take less time—it’s as simple as that. To make up for the lack of frosting on the outside, up the wow factor on the inside by experimenting with unique flavors and fillings, like lemon curd, champagne buttercream or chocolate ganache with toasted almonds.
Have your cake pull double-duty.
Here’s a fun idea: Instead of spending extra on your favors, have slices of your cake packaged in to-go boxes so your guests get their dessert as a take-home on their way out the door. You could also serve your cake first and use cake slices or cupcakes decorated with everyone’s names and table assignments as escort cards.
Choose a boutique bakery (or add a cake to your catering package).
You might not get tons of tiers, intricate patterns or realistic-looking sugar flowers, but if you love your local bakery, ask if they’d be willing to make your wedding cake. Because they’re not a wedding-specific bakery, you may have more limited design choices—but the savings can be big. Otherwise, ask your caterer if they include cakes in their packages. Sometimes if you order your cake from your caterer, the overall cost will be lower. Some caterers even require you to use them, and if you don’t, they’ll charge a fee for bringing in another baker. So do a little cost comparison to snag the best deal.
Ready for cake? Let’s find wedding cake bakers near you!
Want to save money on your wedding cake without sacrificing on style and taste? Here are 9 wedding cake budget tips you need to know.
The Top Wedding Cake Tips No One Tells You
You might not know much about wedding cakes (besides the obvious fact that they’re delicious), but the more informed you are, the better your decisions will be. Help pick your perfect confection with our top tips, below.
You have to go in for a tasting.
At tastings, clients are invited into the bakery to sample exemplary cakes, ask questions and review portfolios. This is an excellent opportunity to meet bakers, bond with them and fully understand the range of their abilities. Picking your baker is a big deal—you’ll want to get to know their personality and make sure they’re genuinely excited about your wedding day too.
Picking your cake style should be one of the last things you do.
You may love a rustic semi-naked cake, but if you’re hosting a black-tie ballroom wedding, that style may not jive. Deal with the cake after all decisions about dress style and reception décor have been made. These elements can serve as a blueprint for the design and structure of your wedding cake. Choose a cake that’s compatible with the style of the venue, the season, your gown, the flower arrangements or the menu. If you want colorful accents (such as sugar flowers or icing ribbons), give your baker fabric swatches. The cake should be part of the wedding, not a glaring sideshow.
You need to finalize your guest list (and size of your space) first.
When deciding what size cake to order, first look to your guest count. Generally, three tiers will serve 50 to 100 guests; you’ll likely need five layers for 200 guests or more. If the reception is in a grand room with high ceilings, consider increasing the cake’s stature with columns between the tiers. (A “stacked” cake is one with its layers stacked directly atop each other, with no separators.)
Wedding cake is often priced by the slice.
The cost varies, but generally ranges from $1.50 to $15 per slice (though this is a very general and loose estimate). The more complicated the cake (based on intricate decorations or hard-to-find fillings), the higher the price tag. Fondant icing is more expensive than buttercream, and if you want elaborate molded shapes, vibrant colors, or handmade sugar-flower detailing, you’ll pay for the cake designer’s labor. (For the record, the average amount couples spend on their wedding cake, according to our Real Weddings Study, is $540.)
There are tons of ways to save.
Order a small cake that’s decorated to perfection but can only feed a handful plus several sheet cakes of the same flavor to actually feed the guests. Stay away from tiers, handmade sugar flowers and specially molded shapes. Garnish with seasonal flowers and fruit for an elegant (but less expensive) effect. If you’ll have a dessert table (or another sweet) in addition to the cake, consider a cake sized for half your guests. Servings will be smaller, but the fee will shrink too.
Choose the right frosting.
Buttercream or fondant? That’s the main question. Buttercream is often much more delicious. But if you love the smooth, almost surreal-like look of fondant as much as we do, consider frosting the cake in buttercream first and then adding a layer of fondant over the entire confection. You can also go for ganache—a decadently rich frosting with a fudgy texture made from chocolate and cream. Even though it’s dark brown in color, you can ask your baker to make it wedding worthy with colorful fruit. (A white chocolate version, however, can be dyed practically any shade.) Don’t count out swiss meringue either—it’s icing made by whipping egg whites together with sugar. Even though it’s less popular for wedding cakes, it has a light and fuzzy appearance that make it look instantly whimsical and romantic. (And your guests will love the airy mashmallow flavor, which pairs perfectly with fruit-based cakes and fillings like lemon, raspberry or strawberry.)
Always consider the weather.
If you’re having an outdoor wedding in a hot climate, stay away from whipped cream, meringue and buttercream: They melt. Ask your baker about summer icing options; you might want to go for a fondant-covered cake—it doesn’t even need to be refrigerated.
Don’t set your expectations too high.
Keep in mind, magazines (like ours) have food stylists, editors and assistants working nonstop to keep the cakes looking perfect. These people spend hours fixing the sweating, dripping, leaning or sagging that can happen to a cake after it’s been sitting for a while. And if what they do doesn’t work, they can fix it with Photoshop. They also have the luxury of creating cakes from stuff that isn’t edible—most cakes in magazines are iced pieces of Styrofoam, which certainly doesn’t taste very good. So don’t expect your cake designer to be able to replicate exactly what you see in print.
It’s all in the details.
When it comes to decoration, adornment costs run the gamut. The most inexpensive option is fresh fruits or flowers that, in some instances, can be applied by your florist for a minimal fee. On the high end are delicate gum paste or sugar paste flowers, which are constructed by hand, one petal at a time. But here’s the bottom line: All add-ons—including marzipan fruits, chocolate-molded flowers and lace points—will raise the rate. (For the record, we think it’s worth the cost!)
Think about adding a second cake to your reception.
The popularity of the groom’s cake, traditionally a Southern custom, is on the rise. The bride’s cake—the one cut by the couple at the reception—is traditionally eaten as dessert. The groom’s cake is usually darker and richer (often chocolate) and nowadays crafted to show off the groom’s passions and obsessions. Give slices to guests as a take-home memento, or cut and serve both for dessert.
You can always go mini (but it’ll cost you).
Many bakers agree that the idea of a mini cake (where each guest gets their own) is a great idea—in theory, but not always in practice. Not only does each cake require its own decoration (often as intricate, if not more, than one that’s four times its size), each will need its own box. Unfortunately, boxes don’t come in mini-cake sizes. Often the bakery must construct individual boxes in which to transport these cakes. Multiply by however many guests you’ll be having, and you’ll see what a costly, time-consuming feat this actually is. That said, if you can swing it, they look amazing being passed around by waiters on sleek silver trays (and of course, they taste just as great too).
You need to think about display.
Your cake will likely be on display before it’s cut and consumed. Make sure there’s a designated cake table that allows the most elegant presentation possible. A round table is perfect for round cakes, but a linear cake design may call for a rectangular table. Figure out your options. Once you have a cake table, have fun dressing it up: Drape it with sumptuous fabrics and decorate it with motifs, colors and flowers to match the cake (your florist can help).
Your cake topper options run the gamut.
A classic figurine is an ever-popular choice, but more couples are using the cake topper (and even cake stand) as a moment of personalization in their day. Choose something that represents you as a duo, like a clay model of your pet, figurines of your favorite comic action heroes or a chic monogrammed acrylic pedestal. If you have an heirloom piece—especially a fine porcelain antique—work with your baker to integrate it into an appropriate design. A pair of sugar or gingerbread cookies can look charming atop a country wedding cake. Finely sculpted maple sugar or marzipan figurines are quaint. Other alternatives: a bouquet of sugar flowers, a cascade of icing ribbons or even a sugar block carved out to reveal your new monogram.
Cake delivery takes coordination.
Complex cakes may not necessarily be delivered in final form. Allow time and space for assembly, if needed. Refrigeration may also be required.
Do you know enough about wedding cakes? The more informed you are, the better your decisions will be. We've got you covered with our top tips.