But then again, the materials were paid for by the client in the cost of the cake, and I wouldn't have a call for that kind of cake again any time soon if I knew what was good for me. So even if I did ask for the structure back I would just end up storing it and probably never using it again.
The same kind of question about returning equipment comes up a lot, though, I always plan for everything that I use (boards, plates, pillars etc) to be thrown out at the end of the event. The cost of two sets of pillars and plates is less than the time required to collect them and the gas to deliver them back to me is worth, so I tell people to throw everything out and not worry about it.
There are some more expensive types of equipment that some people use, though, that you'd have to have returned to you. There are systems of locking plates and feet that supposedly make it impossible for the cake to fall, but those systems are expensive. They're not the kind of thing you tell people to throw out.
Then there are cake stands, fountains (if you dare to use them) and other accessories that you might have to lend or rent to the client, but you do need to get them back.
If you do have things like that, you should charge a deposit for them. That could be equal to the replacement cost of the item, or just a fee that's high enough to make people want to bring the item back. A low deposit won't do you any good, nobody's going to drive across town to get their $10 deposit back.
The things that I throw out are plastic pillars and plates, boards that the cakes are on, and the dowels that I use to stack the cakes. I've had people tell me that some people want everything including the wooden dowels back, which is pretty weird.
What items do you commonly ask to be returned, and what do you not care about? And if you want the wooden dowels back, do you mind telling me why? I'm curious about that one.
Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC, custom wedding cakes in Richmond VA