Sunday, April 4, 2010

How Long Does It Take To Make A Cake?

Every time I do cake consultations, I have at least one person ask me how long it takes to make a cake. I know that the motivation is usually curiosity, but I'm reluctant to answer it because it's a loaded question.

Let's say that I made a cake that cost $500 once everything is added in. If I told you it took me three hours to decorate the cake, you'd mentally divide $500 by 3 and think that I was raking in the bucks. But that's wayyyyy off the mark.

First, you'd have to take out my expenses: The cost of the ingredients, boards, gas to drive to the store, and wear and tear on my car (if I didn't have to deliver the cake I wouldn't have hit all of those potholes). Also electricity to run the oven and refrigerator and the cost of the hot water I used to wash all of the pans. And insurance payments, health inspection fees, incorporation fees, etc.

Oh, and speaking of cleaning, I probably spend about an hour for every five hours of decorating and baking time doing the cleanup. (I rarely get sick, which is one benefit of that, because I have my hands in hot soapy water so much of the time.)

Then there's the baking time. A three or four-tiered wedding cake probably takes about three to four hours to measure out all the ingredients and bake, so you have to include that. And you also have to include the time it takes to do the prep work for the fillings and icing for the cakes, which is usually done in the days before it's baked. And you have to include any time that's spent making flowers, sugar bows, or other decorations in advance.

And then there's the shopping time, and the paperwork, and the time I spend answering emails and the phone. And I'm sure that I'm missing something, so if any other bakers have things to add, feel free!

So how long does a cake take? The simple answer would be "X number of hours," but the truth is that so much goes into the preparation and execution of each cake, you can't give it a definite number. I do cakes full-time, and I spend at least 40 hours a week doing everything needed, if not more. During the busy season I probably work closer to 60-70 hours a week.

After all expenses and time are taken into consideration, I probably make about $15-20 an hour. That's a far cry from dividing $500 by three. And that's also before I pay income tax and my physical therapy bill to fix the bad back I have from standing on my feet in the kitchen so much.

Now excuse me while I go raise my prices! ;)

Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC, custom wedding cakes in Richmond VA, and cake supplies online at and


Heather said...

This is a GREAT post. I have been thinking about blogging things like this for awhile and you have hit the nail right on the head. Going to do my own version soon but in the meantime I'm going to go raise my prices. :)

Anonymous said...

This is so good written. people who buy cakes and want them cheap as possible do not think about how much time it take to make a cake and actually how much work it is.....

Angela said...

So true, you covered it all! So many are not aware of the time including ALL the prep work as well as all the little stuff that goes into getting a cake made (that the TV shows don't show). Plus, the expense of buying all the tools, equipment, pots/pans, flavors, colors, brushes, cutters, foil, parchment paper, seran wrap, storage bins and space all adds up so fast. Congrats and thank you!!! I'm going to give myself a raise :)

Krissy flour & iced said...

I'm new to the business, although I've been decorating cakes for over ten years... but I've just decided to start a business of my own. I'm finding out the hard way that the prices that I thought were "fair" are hurting me too.... I think I'll take your lead and make some adjustments! :)

Suzy (CC Kitagrl) said...

Great post!!!! Decorating cakes is so much more expensive than "flour and eggs" and so much more time consuming than just decorating the actual cake sitting in front of you! I find my email/phone/consult hours really take alot of time.

Veronica said...

This is such an analytical question to something so completely opposite. When asked this by certain friends, watching them try to track the time versus cost versus profit versus results is mind boggling. You really did cover it all when you said it goes beyond the cake process. There is always a client first and that process takes how ever long it takes - it's beyond "just decorating" a cake.

Cake Queen said...

I love this post! You really captured the flavor of what it takes to create these beautiful works of edible art. I have been decorating cakes since the late 80's and have just gotten back into the business after a short hiatus to raise my kids, and people have not changed a bit since! They see these gorgeous creations all over tv and then see one of my cakes either in person at a party or from a friend or Facebook, etc. they call me up thinking that I can whip up a complicated topsy turvy cake that is 4 tiers with tons of handmade edible pieces all around the cake and then they say their budget is say, $500! Then they get shocked when I tell them the true price! They say, it's only cake. I can't pay that much. Then I say that if it's only a cake why are they callling me? Obviously it's important enough to design what you wanted and have a conversation with me after seeing my pictures. It comes down to wanting designer cakes at Costco prices. I now thank them very much for calling me!