It's true that if I charged $500 for a cake, and it took me 3 hours to put it together, that would seem like a HUGE per-hour wage. But noooooo, it doesn't work like that. Since we're in tax season and everyone is probably thinking about this subject, I decided to do a little experiment.
I don't usually keep track of how much time I spend working because it's all...the...time. Yesterday I started at 7am and didn't finish up until 11, with about three hours scattered in there when I wasn't doing something business-related.
But every now and then I decide to see how long it really takes to make a cake, hands-on working time only. That doesn't include the time for tasting appointments, bookkeeping, etc, just making the decorations and the cake itself. Just for curiosity's sake, I'll do that with one of my wedding cakes for this week.
For this week I have one cake that needs gumpaste flowers, so I decided to track that one. I'll say that I'm pretty fast at putting flowers together, so the time shouldn't be too much, right? Yeah, right, I also know that I always underestimate how long things do take.
First were 10 smallish roses, which took an hour:
Plus an hour shopping and travel time this morning to get the ingredients for the cake.
Next, gumpaste callas and filler flowers, which took an hour to put together and to make the centers.
Coloring the flowers took about 45 minutes.
An hour and fifteen minutes to make the pearls for the borders.
Then the baking, which took me 1 hour hands-on time including the washing of the dishes.
Making icing, fillings and icing the cake, two hours.
Piping decorations on the cake, covering the board and putting the pearls on, one hour.
Loading the cake and delivering it with final setup at the reception site, another hour.
For a total of about ten hours of hands-on time.
I know how much of a percentage of my gross revenue I usually keep after taxes, so based on my estimated net for this cake I probably made about $25 to 28 an hour if I don't take anything else into account. However, there was still time involved doing tasting appointments, answering emails, calling the venue to arrange delivery, doing routine paperwork and marketing tasks, etc etc, so I can easily add an extra 3 hours of time per cake onto the total hands-on time. That reduces the per-hour rate to about $22 an hour.
Well, nuts. I usually aim for about $30 an hour for cakes based on the fact that I've been doing this for almost 20 years. So this particular cake fell a little short. Now I know that $22 an hour seems pretty darn good to some people, but if I started a housecleaning business I could get $100 for two hours of basic housecleaning and not have as much stress. And when I have to go to the physical therapist because of my bad back that I got from doing this, I'm going to be out $150, which decreases the profit by, uh, a lot.
If I had a cake that didn't take as much time my hourly rate would have been higher, and what I generally do is try to even it out so that it's around $30 an hour overall. That's not as hard to do as you'd think... But it's good to look at the individual components of what your total income is every now and then to see where you need to make adjustments.
My answer to the question "how long does a cake take to make" will continue to be "It's a full-time job." And I'll do this exercise a few more times to see whether I should either cut my costs or if it's time to raise my prices. Or go start a housecleaning business.