Thursday, June 12, 2014

Yep, I'm Charging For Appointments Now, And Here's Why.

I've taken the plunge and now charge for tasting appointments...I've written about this before because whether or not to charge for appointments is a touchy subject. I didn't charge for appointments until recently, and even then I had an open house option where people could still come for no charge, but they'd be there with other people.

For years it was just considered standard to not charge, and it was just another check in the column of the cost of doing business. However, the business climate has changed a lot in the past few years, and if you don't adapt to that you're making a mistake.

My thought process in deciding to charge was pretty thorough. If you're a bride, read on to see how we decorators have to balance things, and if you're a decorator read on to see if any of this resonates with your process.

First of all, the customary no-fee appointment in my area isn't as customary any more. There are plenty of bakers who have started charging for samples, so I'm not the only one. That takes some of the burden of justifying why you're charging off, since it's not uncommon anymore.

I also didn't like the no-charge open house concept too much, because I didn't really feel like I was able to talk to people as thoroughly as I would have liked to. Too much going on at once. The samples were free, but I didn't feel like the experience was as good as a one-on-one meeting.

Next, the people who still do free samples are mainly larger operations that either have samples available all the time, or they freeze samples to use. I don't fit in either category, I bake fresh for each appointment, and that takes time. I can't run to the freezer and grab samples for a spur-of-the-moment meeting, but by the same token, I'm not doing spur-of-the-moment cakes, either. If I had a storefront where I had a lot of volume and I was baking every day it wouldn't be such an issue. I'd have cake available all the time, and I could do meetings during the week. Not the case here.

Which leads me to the next reason: Time constraints. If I'm doing cakes all day Saturday I have to schedule appointments on Sunday, so I get to get up at 7 to have time to get up, prep, and be at the office for 9:30. Or I could start later and use up most of the afternoon, but neither is a happy option. If I schedule meetings on Saturdays I essentially have to make sure that everything is ready on Friday night for Saturday deliveries, because I'll be losing the morning that I'd have for last-minute work.

And that is the main reason I've decided to charge...Charging for appointments frees up a lot of time because when you charge for appointments you eliminate a lot of time-wasters.

Over 15 years of doing cakes in Richmond I've discovered some annoying truths about cake tastings. First, no matter how well you screen people, there are some people who just like to get free stuff. They have no intention of hiring you, but they want to try out ten different places just for fun to get the whole "experience" of planning a wedding. And then there are the wedding groupies who come to wedding shows year after year...They just like to play dress up, so to speak. As soon as you start charging them for a meeting, they decide that they'd like to go take advantage of someone else, so that saves me a lot of wasted time. Interestingly enough, when I started charging for tastings my appointment inquiries dropped, but I had a higher booking rate per appointment than I had when I didn't charge. Hmmmm...

And it isn't only the wedding groupies, oh no. I heard from a few vendors that they've had the lovely experience of having wedding planners send clients to them for meetings, but the reason that they did was to make it look like they were giving them options when they actually intended to push a specific vendor that they've made deals with for kickbacks. I don't know if anyone has ever used me this way, but I'm sure it's happened. If charging for an appointment will minimize this waste of my time then I'm happy to oblige.

Related to that is that with a charge for a meeting comes the assurance that people will actually show up. It's interesting that since I started charging I haven't had ONE no-show. There used to be days when I would schedule 8 appointments and only three people would arrive. So that's essentially 4 or 5 hours of my day, plus the time it took to bake and prep for the meetings, wasted cake, and time slots that I could have given to other people. I sometimes suspected that other bakers in town were calling to schedule fake appointments to block off my time, and I wouldn't put it past a few of them. If I'm paid for the time, though, feel free not to show up, you still paid me to sit there waiting for you.

What I've found is that the people who have been making appointments with me since I've started charging are more educated about what I offer, and they've been on my website to see what I do. They're not just throwing a dart at a wedding guide and making appointments at ten places without doing any research first. I obviously prefer that to someone who hasn't taken the time to see if I'm a good fit for what they want.

So for me it's mostly because of time. By charging for appointments I reduce the number of looky-lous, wedding groupies, and people who are sent to me under false pretences. That then reduces the amount of time that I have to take baking, prepping, meeting with people and sitting around waiting for no-shows. It makes the entire process more efficient.

What are your thoughts on charging or not charging? Leave a comment!

Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC,  online cake supplies at and


Jenniffer said...

I've seriously considered it. Right now I take a credit card number and tell them they'll be charged if they don't show up. That has all but cut out the no-shows. I have a pretty high booking rate, but I never thought about the competition cake-blocking me! If the clients book, do you credit them the tasting fee or is truly just paying you for your time (which is very reasonable!)?

Kara Buntin said...

I don't credit it, it's genuinely for time and samples. Ihad said this on my facebookpag discussion of this post, but if I worked for someone else and they told me that they would pay me for the time I spent "recruiting" clients, but that if that client booked I wouldn't be paid for my time, I don't think I would go for that! Plus, most people build the cost of tastings or "free" anniversary tiers into the price of their cakes overall, so they're not really giving anything away, someone is paying for it somewhere in the process.

jetscoffeebistro said...

We are just starting to move into wedding cakes and have gone through tastings without booking the event...very disappointing and loss of income.
Have been wondering if this is a common things. I know a lot of decorators in my area are retiring and maybe this is a good thing to start with next upcoming generation.
How do you charge? A flat fee or per sample?

jetscoffeebistro said...
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Kara Buntin said...

I just charge a $20 fee and do a basic sampler of four basic flavors so that people can get an idea of what my cake is like. If they want to request flavors they can do that but it's an extra charge. I do enough small samples for four people and send them home with the customer if they don't bring that many people with them. I know other people who charge more than that but do more samples, or who do a tiered system with the customer being allowed to choose flavors for a higher fee. It depends on what works for you, but the basic idea is to make the payment work for you in terms of eliminating a lot of the people who aren't really seriously considering hiring you to begin with, and compensating you for your time/product if they don't book.

k parker said...

Thanks for your insight and your time.

Jeanette Jackson said...

I have three options for tasting. 1) The free tasting is whatsoever flame we baked that week. They can arrange to meet and pickup sample box. 2) Tasting and consultation (45-55 minutes) for $25 offers four of our most popular flavor cakes or a special flavor they desire. This amo I not I deduct if I am given the bisiness. 3) Order a small tasting cake (about a 6-inch cake filled and covered with buttercream) for $15 of any flavor they desire. I have ad a client ordered 9 of these. However, this cost is not deducted when I get the order. I have a licensed home business and I tell my clients I limit the number of orders I take because I specialize in custom cakes and I do spend time on the details. Therefore I don't have cake baked freezing or on a shelf waiting to be ordered. All my cakes are bake from scratch and to order for the freshest and tastiest cakes. This has been working for me.

Kara Buntin said...

Jeanette, that's the type of system a few people I know use too.