Since I've written now about a couple of my favorite cakes I decided today to write about one bride who nearly drove me from enjoying the cake decorating business. She was exactly the type of bride WHO DID drive me from enjoying the hotel convention and banquet planning business.
Which as an aside, anyone who's ever been even remotely connected to the food industry, be sure to check out The Food Whore. Her experiences will make you laugh until you cry and then cry until you swear you're never going back to work or out in public again.
Here's the one cake photo that makes me grit my teeth every time I look at it. I almost couldn't find this photo to upload because I have it titled in my hard drive as "Cowboy wedding cake" but I always think of it as the "Ugly wedding cake". I looked under "U" instead of "C" so it took five minutes to find the pic.
There's a great line from the movie Peter's Friends, written by and starring Rita Rudner who plays a TV sitcom star. She says to her husband, played by Kenneth Branaugh, "You know what I hate about dealing with the public?"
He says "What?"
She says "The public."
The cake itself has some pretty features (click on the picture to enlarge it) if you strip away all the stupid crap she made me add onto it but the experience was so ugly that all I can think when I look back is that if I never run into that gal again for the rest of my life that will mean less chances for a sudden brain aneurysm for me.
Go get a cup of coffee, sit back and relax for a few minutes, and I'll tell you the whoooooooole sordid story....
One of my best friends from childhood, Janell of the grilled banana boats from the first WOBAT round up, called me up one day and told me that her mom, Naomi, who was also a cake decorator, had a couple of cakes she needed rerouted several months down the road because she'd just gotten the invitation to a family reunion with cousins and some brothers and sisters she hadn't seen in years, and because of their age and living all across the country, might not have much of a chance to see them again.
Life happens, you know?
One cake in particular was for a gal that Janell and I had gone to school with since elementary school (small town). I thought it sounded like fun because I had liked the gal during school, not that we'd been especially close, but I always thought she was nice. Hmmm....I could so comment right now but I'll let you be the judge as I finish my story. Of course I'd do the cake. My motivation was much less for that gal than for Naomi who had been like a second mom to me growing up. Janell and I practically lived at each other's houses.
The only provision I made was that I could not make the cake for the same price that Naomi had said she would. Naomi is a wonderful woman and a very good decorator but at the time she was doing it as more of a hobby so her prices reflected it. I was doing it as a business and my prices reflected that, not that I was expensive. Since I was working out of my home kitchen for friends who knew me and out of a friend's small restaurant kitchen for people who didn't, I didn't have a storefront so my prices didn't reflect paying storefront lease. I was still slightly cheaper than going to a grocery store bakery and much less expensive than a normal bakery.
I make a point of that for a reason.
Naomi called the gal, remember, giving her several months' notice, and told her she would be out of town and why, and that she had several cake decorators who could make the cake, everyone from me to the local grocery store bakery to some bakeries in a bigger town (where I live now). The bride had told Naomi many times how she just loved Naomi, had since were kids, and how her (second) wedding would not be the same without Naomi making the cake, and that besides, Naomi was the cheapest cake decorator she could find so she really wasn't happy that Naomi was choosing to go to her, pfft, family reunion instead of making her cake for the cost of the cake mixes and powdered sugar, a deal the gal thought she deserved since she'd gone to school with Janell. And no, they weren't particularly close friends either in school or after graduating; they just knew each other. So imagine that she wasn't upset that someone else would be decorating her cake nearly as upset as she was that she'd have to pay a real price for it.
Let me step aside for a moment and say that I do see both sides of the dilemma. As a patron I would be upset if my prices were suddenly changed on me, whether it was one day out or six months out. If I had a verbal agreement, I had a verbal agreement. But we're also not talking about a real bakery here. We're talking about a friend's mom who bakes cakes for fun out of her own kitchen after she's worked a 12-hour day at a commercial bakery. Even with a verbal agreement with a friend's mom, as a moral person, however, I have never and would never allow a friend of mine, or anyone for that matter, put in 20+ hours worth of work on their own dime just because I was allowed to get away with it by whining about what great friends I was with that person's daughter when we were 8 years old. I couldn't do that and then sleep at night. I have friends who've owned pubs and restaurants and catering businesses and not once have I asked for free services for myself based on our friendships. I've had friends who comped me at their restaurants even though I protested, and their servers got 100% or bigger tips. There's being a friend and then there's being a user.
Back to my story. The gal was informed that Naomi would be out of town and why and what her options were. She wasn't happy but she agreed to let me make it since I was still cheaper in price than going to a bakery. I, not being completely retarded, made her sign a contract with me and put money down. I say not completely because I really should have seen how "well" this function was going to go, but I wasn't thinking of the gal nearly as much as I wanted Naomi to get out from under the gig so she could go see her family. Sometimes being nice is about as stupid as stupid gets but Naomi did get to go to the reunion so that made it all worth it. And besides, I can hold it over Janell's head for the rest of her life. "I did that for your mother!" See? Win-win.
Every single time I talked to the gal she reminded me that she had to pay me an actual fee instead of only materials cost like she'd previously had as a deal. I reminded her that she'd agreed to my rates in writing but that if she'd like to go pay more at a bakery I'd be happy to let her out of the contract.
And then the real fun began. Some brides like to tell you sort of what they have in mind and what colors they've picked and let you create a design. This works best for me, and most brides, because it allows me to create something unique for that bride's special day. To me, that's the best way to do things if you trust your decorator.
This gal picked a cake out of a Wilton magazine.
Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with that. I did a lot of cakes from magazine photos people had picked out, but the best ones, the ones brides were always the most pleased by, were the ones where they knew their design was created just for them.
That concept is lost on some people.
But then, after the contract had been written my bridezilla added in multiple side cakes and Wilton STAIRWAYS. Wow. I was so excited. Not. Remember 30 years ago when it was the hot wedding cake fad to have satellite cakes with bridges from cake to cake and plastic bridesmaids and groomsmen standing on the bridges? That's what this gal wanted except no Barbie dolls. So when you look at the picture and see the roses and leaves? That was my add-in because I thought it looked (insert derogatory word here) to have naked stairways from cake to cake for no apparent reason. I will only embarrass myself decorating a cake with my name on it up to a certain degree. There is, at last, a point up to which I'll only debase myself for the cake check and then I have to take a stand. I have to save a little artistic pride, for God's sake. But then, obviously not a lot pride when it comes to someone writing a check.
And a note about those stairways? They were $30 dollars for the four of them. I had to purchase them especially for this cake because no one I'd ever baked for before wanted the damn things. And no one since, I might add. But being a wimp, I caved in and didn't charge her even a rental fee on them, I just bought them straight out and sucked up the cost just so I didn't have to listen to her whine and moan about how Naomi was going to do the whole thing for cost.
The positives: I did like the colors. The base was a pale cream with a darker cream for all of the borders and ruffles. I also liked the stand up hearts. They were made in advance out of royal icing, very dramatic in person.
So let me recap this for you: ruffles, hearts, naked bridges...and then we get to the really good stuff. She was a
goat roper cowgirl at heart so there are two different toppers on that cake, one at the top and one down center at the front, both renditions of little boy and girl toddlers, in bride and groom clothes, as goat ropers cowboy/cowgirl.
How bleeping precious.
I know I'm going to heaven because I've already spent my time in wedding cake hell, that special place reserved for cake decorators who are too stupid to know when to keep their big mouths shut, even for best friends.
And then.....(yeah, like you thought this story was over? Think again.) And then, I was informed that the wedding was in a small church in a small town fifty (50) FIFTY miles away and the bride was upset that I charge for delivery outside of our town. I mean, really, my God in Heaven, what kind of obnoxious, unreasonable rip-off artist am I, right? I'm sure you're all so disgusted by the fact that I expected a little gas money in return for hauling a blooming ugly cake out to the bowels of the middle of nowhere that you'll probably stop reading my blog.
The big day came and with Gene riding shotgun, I drove the bleeping bloomin' ugly cake out to the bowels of the middle of nowhere and I set the blasted thing up in a church basement lined with fake walnut paneled walls right out of the 60's. The bride never came downstairs to look at her cake. Her just barely pre-school daughter did, though, and this little girl was a vision of a female Damian. You know how some little kids you look at them and you know that they're either going to grow up to be an exact replica of their parents or a serial killer? Yep, that was her. Little snotty future diva or serial killer said to me "My mom doesn't like this cake. It's not right." You know....let's wax philosophic for a moment. I'm not proud to say that I have a long history of being raised as a southern good girl, what most people refer to as a doormat, but that little girl and her smart mouth was the final straw in my hillbilly hell with that cake. I got right down in her four-year-old face and said "Get your little butt back upstairs and you tell your mother if she has anything to say to me, she better come down here and say it to my face. Get out of here. NOW." Didn't see her again.
Saw the bride's father, though, when he came downstairs to watch me finish putting together the naked stairways and write me the final check. This is the good ending to the story. At one point he asked me "How many hours' work do you have in on the cake?"
I said "Over 20."
"Is your cost the same as Naomi's?"
"More. I had to buy the stairways."
He didn't say anything else but I could see him doing the math in his head and realizing that I wasn't getting rich off this cake scam the bride seemed to think I had going.
And then I will say that the father of bridezilla I have no problem with. He wrote the check, shook my hand, and thanked me nicely for both making it and for driving it out to the church.
The moral of the story is this. Everyone who's ever worked in food already knows this but you lucky folks who've never been to hell by way of a food service business, yet, remember this as if you read it from one of the four gospels because it's THAT true:
The one immutable, never-fail law in food service is that the bigger the dive you take in your pricing as a favor to a "friend" or out of pity, that amount of money you sacrifice is directly proportional to these three things:
1) The size of the pain that client becomes to your nether regions.
2) The higher the proof of alcohol you will or will long to consume after the function is over.
3) The number of curse words you will use in recounting the experience to your spouse.
By the way, just so you know, Gene has final edit on this so he can remove all the nasty words originally written in this story. He says I would have made as good of a sailor as I was a cake decorator.