To run a successful baking business, you need to know how to deal with all sort of customers in a professional manner. We’ve known fellow bakers to lose their rag (or apron) over many different, decidedly awkward orders, and it’s not always good for your sanity.
Here’s our list of top reasons to turn down a cake order
Whether you’re making cakes for a profit in your spare time, or you’re running a larger business, difficult customers are unfortunately something you’ll encounter at some point. They can come in different forms; bombarding you with phone calls and emails, repeatedly changing their original request, asking you for different quotes, refusing to pay deposit or simply making you feel uneasy. Politely turn away such customers and you will certainly thank yourself later on.
- What to do? : One way to deal with a difficult customer is to simply explain them that you don’t have the time, skills or expertise to fulfill their request to the highest standard. If you have already taken on the order, you may want to let them know that certain things are unacceptable, such as refusing to pay a deposit or changing the design as its too late now as the cake is being made. Try to keep things professional, keeping the customer satisfied without compromising your own business.
Everyone loves free tastings, especially when it comes to cakes. Tastings are often vital when it comes to securing that 3-tier bespoke wedding cake order. Most customers who are looking to book a particularly expensive cake will expect free tastings. Unfortunately, there are some customers out there who will request a completely free tasting session for a fairly plain, an inexpensive 6- inch birthday cake. This is where you’ll want to draw the line; as they take up your time and energy along with a chunk of your overall profit. If you’re trying to secure a big order for a cake that has more than one tier, it is expected that you’ll offer a tasting session; especially if it’s a wedding cake. Be sure to bear in mind that you can’t be expected to provide tastings for every cake you make as it’s just not cost or time efficient.
- What to do? : Explain that most bakers only provide tastings for wedding cakes. It’s also helpful if you explain your tastings policy and minimum order limit. If you want to ease your customers worries then you can also show photos of your previous work and give them the opportunity to discuss their requirements. If they wish to purchase, half a dozen cupcakes then this may be a way around this.
One of the worst cake orders you can receive as a baker or cake decorator is one that requires you to create a cake that is a complete replica of someone else’s work. We know exactly how disheartening it can be to receive a new request, only for the customer to produce a picture and announce “I want a cake exactly like this”. Not only does this raise copyright issues but it also might be a drain on your creativity as you are being asked to copy someone else’s design.
- What to do? : Explain that you’re unable to copy someone else’s design for legal/artistic reasons but you can create something similar. You’ll then be able to use your own creativity and skills while using the customer’s original request as a starting point; you never know, the customer will probably prefer your design to their original request!
This probably falls into the bracket of ‘difficult customers’, but price haggling is becoming such an issue that we felt it deserved its place on this list. Customers who try to haggle with your original quote most probably don’t appreciate what goes into making a cake. They wouldn’t go into a local supermarket and say they’re only willing to pay a certain amount for a pre-packaged Superman birthday cake, yet they feel they can with you. You have to remember you’re not a charity, so don’t be afraid to tell your customer that the price is set. Of course, if you’re happy to accept a little price haggling here and there, and you feel that you are not being exploited, you’re more than welcome to do so. The main point here is that you are running a business and customers can’t expect you to drop your prices to fit their budget. What they should expect is a cake that represents their budget
- What to do? : Politely explain to your prospective customer that you’re unable to drop your quote any lower due to the price of ingredients along with the time, effort and artistic skill involved. Be sure to tell your customer that you’ve given them the very best price you can and wish them the best of luck with whatever they choose, you are producing a bespoke service, not an off the shelf manufactured cake.
Last Minute Cake Orders
This is most likely one of the top reasons to turn down a cake order and, to be honest; you shouldn’t feel bad. If you find yourself faced with an order for a less- than-simple three-tiered birthday cake that the customer expects it in less than 48 hours, then it’s probably best to turn it down; no matter how bad you feel. Before taking on what seems like a last minute order, make sure you have calculated the amount of time it will take to create the finished cake, with added time just in case.
- Explain to your prospective customer how much time a cake order such as theirs would usually take. In addition to this, tell the customer that you do not want to create a cake that is below your usual standard; therefore you cannot take on the order. Most customers will understand as they will want to receive the highest quality cake for the money they are paying. If you believe that you do have a little space in your work schedule, then you can suggest taking on a less time-consuming version of the customer’s original order. Overall, customers are usually very understanding, as long as you take the time to explain how difficult a last-minute order can be. Plus price appropriately for the work, as this may mean working hours you would not normally take on.
Too little Time
We all know how difficult it is when you’re working late into the night, staring bleary-eyed at a half-decorated three tier cake with hours of painstaking decorating yet to go; this is why we always recommend not taking on too much. It’s more likely that you’ll become disheartened with your work if you completely overdo it. There’s nothing more precious than spending time family and loved ones. Keep that work-life balance and don’t take on too much.
- What to do? : The best thing to do is to organise yourself so that you don’t take on too much in the first place. Firstly, keep a diary, log all your family commitments and cake orders and be sure to allow yourself at least one day off per week. If you find yourself tempted to take on that extra order, weigh up how much time you have, how much profit you’ll make and ask yourself if it’s worth it. If not, then politely explain to the customer that, unfortunately, you are fully booked and tell them that next time, you’d be happy to take an order a certain amount of time in advance
Taking on a free cake order can sometimes be great publicity for your business. In contrast, it can mean that people are taking advantage of your good nature. You may find from time to time somebody you have never heard of or met gets in touch to ask for a free cake for their charity. Our advice is to ensure that you only take on orders if it’s for a genuinely good cause. We suggest that if it feels right to you, take on an occasional charitable order, providing it is for a good cause (family friends asking for freebies does not apply!).
- What to do? : If you don’t want to take on a order without getting paid for it, then politely explain to the requester that your ingredients, skills and time are very precious. Most people will understand that you cannot run a business by simply giving away cakes.
Trademark Image Cakes
Cakes that depict copyrighted images and characters from popular films such as Frozen and Cars are becoming increasingly popular. Because of this, copyright when it comes to cakes is becoming an increasingly hot topic. Firstly, it’s important to say that there is no law to say that you can’t make a cake that depicts famous characters or images. However, using another person’s design without permission infringes their rights, which means by law, you could be sued for copyright infringement. This only applies if you are selling a cake that bears a trademarked image. The law is a lot more lenient if you are not selling or distributing to the general public. Being a business, you will be selling these cakes. Some bakers follow the school of thought that even though they create cakes using trademarked images, no one will take any notice if it’s a small business. Other bakers view the risk of being sued by big companies too great and decide not to create any trademarked cakes at all. So, what does all this mean for you and your business? The bottom line is that it is against the law to sell a cake that depicts a trademarked image.
- Remember that your best bet is to follow the law. If you need to, research copyright infringement until you’re comfortable with the pros and cons of creating cakes that depict popular images. If you were to buy a licensed topper, edible image or toy this would be ok; as the licensor is compensated from your original payment. They can not dictate how you use the product.
Not your core skill/Cakes that don’t inspire
This isn’t one of the most obvious reasons to turn down a cake order, but it’s fairly common amongst bakers who run small businesses. If you receive a request for a cake that makes you feel completely underwhelmed or even downright scared due to the amount of work, don’t be afraid to turn down the order. No one wants to work on a cake late into the night, but it can be even worse if the design is intricate and tricky while being the complete opposite of your usual artistic style. If a cake just isn’t you then don’t feel afraid to down your prospective customer on artistic grounds.
- What to do? : The first point of call is to decide for certain whether or not you want to take on the order. If not, explain to the customer that you don’t feel you have the correct skills/equipment to fulfill their order then, If you have any friends or acquaintances, you can refer your customer to someone else you feel may be able to help.
Unusual order requests can sometimes put you in a difficult situation; customers can request cakes that feature anything from horses heads, toilet seats and body parts. While this sounds strange, believe it or not, such requests aren’t an unusual occurrence these days. If an order like this comes your way and you don’t feel like you can fulfill the request, then do not take it on.
- What to do? : If you feel uncomfortable with the idea of creating any cake, then the best thing is to turn down the order in a way that doesn’t offend the customer. We have known bakers who refuse rude cake requests or other requests that involve carving/figure modelling. The best approach is to be clear as to what your boundaries are and explain to your customer that you don’t feel comfortable or skilled enough in creating their request.
Usually, a repeat customer is a good thing; they’re often a sign that your skills as a cake baker and decorator are above average. Sometimes, though, repeat customers can leave you wanting to throw in the rolling pin at the mere thought of making another cake for them. This is especially true if your customer was a nightmare once before. If your repeat customer changed their request, had issues with the payment or simply just annoyed you immensely (this isn’t uncommon when it comes to difficult customers!) then it’s probably best to steer clear.
- What to do? : It’s always difficult if you don’t want to take on an order; especially if the reason is that you found the customer difficult. Approach this situation by explaining what you expect of the customer. For instance, you may want to explain that they can’t keep changing their request and their deposit must be paid in time. If this fails, politely explain that you cannot take on any more orders due to time or being fully booked; thank them for their custom and wish them the best of luck.
Allergy and Dietary Requirements
This may seem slightly mean spirited to be one of the top reasons to turn down a cake order but in reality, allergy requirements can require a lot more time, effort, skill and money to create. In addition to this, it is always crucial that you get allergy needs just right as you certainly. Be wary when it comes to making an allergy/dietary specific cake and ensure that you have checked what is in of your ingredients before committing to a cake order. A lot of allergy requirements mean that cakes have to be made using separate equipment to what you normally use. Allergy requests can be especially tricky, for example, a customer may ask for gluten free. Some allergies are that sensitive that if you use your regular mixing bowl that usually has regular flour in; the smallest amount can bring on a reaction. For the safety of yourself and business, it is best to avoid these requests. Allergy orders are best left to those bakers who specialise.
- What to do? : To start with, you will need to ascertain the customer’s request and then decide if you can meet these requirements while making money and most importantly, producing an excellent cake. If you feel unable to produce something like a gluten free cake, explain to the customer you do not have the skills or time to adjust your recipe and provide a cake that is going to be 100% suitable to their request. If your customer has specifically requested a vegan cake, you can also explain that there may be an addition cost because you will need to use different ingredients and spend more time perfecting the recipe. Overall, be sure to explain that you would love to be able to provide a cake that fits in with special allergy/dietary requirements, but due to lack of time, the costs involved and the availability of ingredients, you can physically produce such a cake. Plus for their health you feel it best they seek out someone who specialises.
These are some of the of reasons you should consider when accepting cake orders. Next time you take on a new cake order, ensure that you’re comfortable with your customers request. Don’t feel guilty or unprofessional if you need to turn a prospective customer away, if you have to. Always be polite and remember you have a cake business to run!
Comment below to share your thoughts, stories and suggestions for accepting and top reasons to turn down a cake order! We would love to hear them.