Why do cake decorators get paid upfront before the event — party, wedding, bridal shower, etc?
For weddings, it is important that a deposit of 30 – 50% be provided to hold the date. Moreover, because of the stress of the day, you don’t want to attempt to collect on the wedding day itself. The balance should be paid at least 7 days before the event. In all my years, I can recall only a few protests for this arrangement and even then we worked it out, with the final third of the balance paid on delivery.
Nearly everything else related to the wedding is paid in advance, the caterer, the venue, the band, the photographer. The cake should be no different. Think about it this way, when a painter is commissioned to create a painting, she is paid up front because of the investment in time and materials for a very specific request. Cake decorators are no different. We are creating a cake for a unique event or individual. If the client fails to complete the transaction, we can’t resell the cake to someone else. As professionals, we pay our bills when they are due for the cake supplies, utilities, rent, etc and so there is no reason to avoid or feel uncomfortable about discussing money with our clients.
For the wedding cake business, there is a level of uncertainty when booking clients. There are stories of buyer’s remorse where the bride or mother of the bride tries to find a cheaper alternative — like “Aunt Betty” at the last moment. Therefore the cake decorator needs to capture a portion of the payment upfront to secure the deal and lock-in their time for that week-end. The lost income for a cancelled cake can mean the difference between a profitable month and an unprofitable one for a small cake decorating business.
Of course, in different communities there are different standards for wedding service providers so you want to work within the established precedents.
In some locations it is common for a 3-payment wedding cake contract: 1/3 to book the date, 1/3 a week week prior and 1/3 final upon delivery. This is tricky though because of the aforementioned stress of the event. You have to make sure someone with a checkbook will be there at the point of the cake delivery. One thing is certain; you should never leave the event without being paid first. Don’t plan two deliveries, one after the other, where you are rushing to leave and they individual with the checkbook can’t be found. Don’t worry about appearing pushy — it’s business. If you and your wedding cake client are comfortable using Paypal, you can set up a recurring “subscription” payment option so that the 3 payments are deducted automatically and with less stress on both parties.
Keep in mind that your clients are most focused on their event and their concern. They don’t care about your bills or overhead so don’t bring these things up. Don’t let them use the promise of future business or “telling all their friends about you…” to make you change your policy. Make no exceptions, even for friends. Providing great customer service means that sometimes you have to turn down clients who simply refuse to work within the parameters of your cake decorating business. If they complain about paying upfront, chances are you will have difficult interactions with them in other parts of the wedding cake process.
Finally, you should always consult a lawyer and check that your contract and deposits meet local, state/provincial and federal laws.