Clients often ask how much cake (or cupcakes) they should order, and there are a lot of variables that go into the answer to this question. You need to consider if the party is for kids or adults, if a meal and/or other desserts are going to be offered, and take into account that not every person who cuts a cake will divide it up the same way. While there are no strict rules on this topic, this is what I typically recommend to my clients.
Children's Birthday Parties and Other Children's Events
Generally at an event geared toward kids, every child in attendance will want a piece of cake. Every once in awhile I hear of a kid turning down their slice, but that's very rare. On top of the kids, usually around 80-90% of any adults in attendance will also have a piece of cake if it is offered to them.
Grown Up Parties
Events geared towards adults can be separated into two categories, those where a meal is physically being served to the guests and those where the food is self serve.
Seated / Served Meals
A party where a plated meal is served is the easiest to plan when it comes to serving amounts. At a seated event, like a wedding where the cake is sliced and served to the guests at their table by wait staff, enough cake should be ordered for each guest in attendance. The wait staff usually move fast when delivering plates, so even if a guest wanted to decline, their server will probably be off to the next table before they can say no thank you. At this type of event, I recommend enough cake be ordered to cover the RSVP count.
Self Serve Events
For parties where the guests are responsible for picking up their own piece of cake, I recommend cake only be ordered for about 85% of the head count. There are any number of reasons people don't eat cake at a party - they left before the cake was cut, they were having too much fun on the dance floor, they wanted to hang out at the bar instead, they were too full from dinner, they were on a diet... the list goes on. Whatever the reason, if it is not served to them, not everyone will have dessert.
Additional desserts being offered
If you are having a dessert table, the size of the cake can be reduced even further. Guests will still want to try the cake, but because they also want a sugar cookie and chocolate dipped marshmallow they expect the slice of cake to be smaller than usual. Depending on the amount of other dessert offerings, I typically recommend cake be ordered for about 65-70% of the head count.
The overall design of the cake may also dictate if additional servings are needed. For instance, if a wedding cake has a large waterfall of flowers trailing down the side of the cake, a good number of those outer portions will be cut away and not served. Once the flower picks are removed, you will be left with slices that look more like Swiss cheese than cake. Not what you want to serve to Great Aunt Edna.
Be sure to relay the final head count and the food details of your event to your baker at least two weeks in advance or more depending on their requirements.
Curious how many servings you should expect from the different size tiers? Check out the chart on our Resources page.
DIY is en vogue right now, partly because of Pinterest I think. Where else can you find ideas for upcycled furniture, cool hair trends (you should have seen my husband’s face when I tried pin curls the other night), and of course, wedding décor and food all in one place? It can be a great resource for planning; a place to collect visual concepts of your dream wedding. But for certain wedding details, going it on your own is not the best option.
Brides magazine posted an article last year citing the 5 things a bride should never DIY which included flowers, hair, planning/coordinating, photography, and food. I have to agree…for anything bigger than a dinner party I’m getting a caterer.
Imagine for a moment that it is the day before Thanksgiving. The doorbell rings and your first guests have arrived. They are staying in your house, so you have some level of hospitality to provide – dinner and breakfast before tomorrow’s big meal. Even if it’s just cereal, you’re going to have dishes to clean because you will need every last bowl in the house for that butternut squash soup you had to have on the menu (thanks again, Pinterest!). Fortunately though, you thought ahead and spent ALL WEEK straightening, vacuuming, dusting, washing sheets and towels, decorating, and you had time left over to make two of your side dishes and a pie. Now it’s the day of, and you can’t fit the turkey and three casseroles into the oven at the same time. Your nephew is antagonizing the dog to no end. Your cousin wants to help, but the kitchen can’t hold another person – and she doesn’t know where anything is so it’s just faster to do it yourself anyway. The remote batteries die in the middle of the big game so you have to help find more. Various in laws start to show up, and you haven’t even had time for a shower yet. You manage to pull it together, get dressed, and get everything on the table (including the slightly burnt rolls) only an hour after you wanted to have the food laid out. Stressed yet? I am, and that’s only a holiday meal for 10 or 15 guests.
Now imagine what would need to go into cooking a meal for 100 of your nearest and dearest on top of getting ready for your wedding. No thank you! “But we’re only having an afternoon reception with cake, and they do that in an hour on TV,” you say. No, they edit that show down to an hour from footage spanning days including preparation (emails, marketing, licensing, etc.), shopping for supplies and ingredients, mixing batter, baking, making frosting, torting and filling the cake, icing the cake, assembling the cake, decorating the cake, and delivering the cake which can entail more decorating on site (notice how the cast is never wearing the same outfit through the whole show?). Not to mention the years of practice those decorators have had working with cake all the time. Even if you only want to serve cupcakes, you still have to take the time to find recipes you like, bake and frost all those little guys, figure out a way to store them so they don’t go stale, transport them without damaging them, and set them up…instead of getting ready for your wedding.
And when it comes to wedding cake, skill is important. You need to know how to stack and transport a cake properly so it doesn’t sink into itself. People get a slice of cake and think, “this is so light a fluffy”, but a whole cake is crazy heavy. You also need to know what to do when things go wrong. Cake is an edible sponge, so it compresses which can cause a myriad of issues - from filling bulges and icing bubbles to sinking tiers and complete collapse. Cakewrecks.com is an entire website dedicated to professional cake failures (research your vendors!). Just think what those cakes would look like when made by someone with little to no experience.
The photos below were found on photobucket.com. These ARE NOT my cakes.
I like to think I’m a frugal gal, so I completely understand not shelling out the big bucks for something that just isn’t important to me. However, I also understand that my time is important, and while I’m great at a lot of things, I do not have every skill needed to pull off an entire event by myself. I’m not saying you have to go out and hire someone to take care of every last detail. You absolutely have to consider your budget and wishes (it’s your wedding, right?). However, sometimes as a consumer, it is in my best interest to delegate or seek help, and that means paying someone else for their service, time, and skills – especially if it is something that is a high priority to me.
We have been a “Dave Ramsey” family for a few years now. And I’m not going to lie - it is not easy. In fact, there are times when it is really hard to not get exactly what I want; when I want it (I swear a different pair of peep toe pumps call my name every time I walk through Macys). If I blow the budget on those cute shoes though, will we be in a panic at the end of the month when the water bill comes in? Not if I plan ahead and have an allotment for clothes in our monthly budget!
It is so worth it when we stay on budget for several months in a row. We see our finances headed in the right direction, and we can plan for the future. Hosting a wedding reception or other big party is no different. You need a game plan that will see you through several weeks or months of expenditures so you don’t spend your honeymoon with buyer’s remorse.
There are several wedding web sites and magazines that can suggest how to divide up your wedding budget, and regardless of what the number is, you need to be candid with all of your event vendors about how much you have to spend on their particular service. Uncomfortable as it may be, this part of the conversation needs to happen very early so we can tailor our service to you.
As a baker, it is extremely difficult to have a bride not provide a budget, light up as she describes her perfect dream cake, and then deflate when she realizes she had no idea it was way out of her price range. Or even worse is the all too common email with a picture and only one sentence asking, “How much would you charge for this”. That is really a loaded question, because the picture sent is not generally the final product the client wants – the picture will be of a 6 tier cake that serves 250 but there will only be 75 guests at the wedding, or the picture looks like a sugar masterpiece on the outside but the materials were only used to make the photo pop off that glossy magazine page and are actually inedible (please don’t eat glitter, sure it’s non-toxic, but so is glue! Use it on fake tiers only). Or the client really wants a small round cake, but only sends a picture of a 3D / carved cake out of curiosity and is then discouraged about the price of the cake they didn’t even want. Giving a vendor both your budget and your vision for their service will allow them to get creative and design a dream look that is in the correct price range for you.
Maybe you haven’t priced custom cakes in a while. Believe it or not, that’s normal - after all, these are typically special occasion desserts for milestones in life, not something you purchase every time someone at the office has a birthday. Your baker will tell you if your budget is unrealistically low which will give you the opportunity to do a little research and decide if you want to increase your budget or seek another vendor for that service.
I recommend you have an open conversation with all your wedding vendors and inform them of your price range upfront along with your design wishes. If everyone is on the same page from the beginning, your baker will be able to offer a couple of options with varying detail so you can decide on your dream cake from an assortment of designs that are all within the budget.
Hi! I'm Melisa
I am the owner, baker, designer, decorator and all around 'one woman show' of Sweet By Design, a home based, custom cake bakery which is located just outside of Dallas, Texas. I hope to shed a little light on the wedding and event industry and make your day a little sweeter!
Find us online