Every Wedding Cake Question You've Ever Had, Answered

Take the stress out of wedding cake shopping with these expert-answered questions.

A bride in a white dress and groom in a blue formal suit cutting their floral cake at their wedding.

Photo by Phillip Van Nostrand

Ah, the wedding cake. The confectionary pièce de résistance of the big day. A detail so significant, it has its very own moment at the reception. Anyone who has been dreaming about their wedding day since they can remember has probably considered what this special wedding element will look like. And while everyone loves wedding cake, choosing what to serve for this momentous occasion is no cakewalk.

You've got your fillings and frostings, aplenty. More styles and visual adornments than we can ever even imagine. And then there are toppers and dessert tables ideas, and...oh my. If you're starting to get a little overwhelmed and getting ready to wave the white flag, don't worry. We're here to lend a hand and guide you through this tasty process.

From picking flavors and designs to alternative dessert ideas and when to serve them, we’ve rounded up some of the top wedding cake questions on etiquette to help you choose the perfect sweet ending for your wedding day.

Meet the Expert

Heather Anne Leavitt is the owner of Sweet Heather Anne, a wedding bakery in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She has 13 years of experience in the wedding industry.

Four-tiered mint green wedding cake with fresh flower adornments and buttercream decorations


When do we decide on the wedding cake flavors and design?

"We recommend coming in for a tasting about six months before your wedding," explains Heather Anne Leavitt, the owner of Sweet Heather Anne bakery. "It's best to have a general idea of the look and feel of your wedding so that we can design a cake that compliments your wedding style. At our tastings, we design the cake on the spot so that couples have the chance to be a part of the process. 

On that note, it's important to make other key decisions before picking out the cake design. Once you’ve decided on the color schemes for details, such as your wedding gown, flower arrangements, and the venue itself, then you can select a cake design to match. But don't just select your cake based on visual aesthetics alone. Be sure to schedule a consultation and wedding cake tasting to ensure you're able to sample the full range of cake flavors, designs, and options available to you.

Who pays for the cake at a wedding?

Traditionally, the bride’s family will pay for the wedding cake. Of course, as with most other wedding costs, there’s nothing to say that the groom’s family or the couple themselves can't pick up the tab for the wedding cake.

a white wedding cake with accents of fresh pink, white and yellow roses with dark accents

Photo by Kelly Anne Berry

Do we have to pick just one flavor?

Why limit yourself to one cake flavor when you can have two—or more? Bakers today are frequently crafting tiers that feature different cake and filling combinations to satisfy both halves of the couple, as well as their guests. So if you’d rather have a dark chocolate cake with peanut butter filling, while your partner is all about that salted caramel or seasonal peach preserves, have both. Talk to your baker about strategizing which tiers feature each flavor to get a more even divide, and consider a slightly larger cake—your guests will want to try both offerings.

When should we cut our cake?

While it might seem arbitrary, the timing of your cake cutting actually plays a big role in your reception. In the past, the cake cutting was the very last moment in the reception—signaling to guests that they were welcome to head home. Though it usually happens much earlier today, cutting your cake still serves that same purpose (especially for older guests). These days, the cake is usually cut toward the end of dinner, just before dancing begins, and is the last "official" event of the evening. Slicing on the earlier side will let your grandmother or great uncle know they’re welcome to depart whenever they’re ready and will signal that they won’t miss any of the formalities if they choose to head home.

There are a few other bonuses to cutting the cake early (even before you take your seats for dinner). First, it ensures your photographer gets those pictures. If you’ve scheduled your photographer to leave around 9 p.m., cutting the cake at 7 p.m. means they won’t miss it. It also makes slicing and serving easier for your catering staff. If you cut the cake before dinner, they can work on slicing it once entrées have been served, and can pass out pieces as a plated dessert course before dancing gets underway.

Bride and groom pose with wedding cake with fresh flowers under twinkling lights


What should we say when cutting a wedding cake?

Prior to cutting your cake, an announcement should be made by someone from your wedding party that you’ll be cutting your wedding cake. As the crowd gathers around you and the cake, you may have your DJ play a song—one you’ve selected ahead of time that might be food-related or just a tune that everyone will know. While you and your spouse may have some fun banter or a traditional 'cake smash' before and during the cake cutting, you don't really need to say a whole lot. Most of your guests will be focused on the two of you cutting the cake and serving it to one another. And that's how it should be!

What’s the best way to cut a wedding cake as a couple?

Have you and your partner practiced cutting a cake together before? Probably not, and we don’t blame you. Having two sets of hands on that cake knife can definitely be tricky.

The neatest methods are either the box or wedge options. With one partner closest to the cake and the other partner behind, place both of your hands on the knife. Cut an inch into the cake and slice it down cleanly. Then, make a connecting cut for a wedge, using the cake knife to lift the wedge out and onto the plate. Skip the serving spatula, which is much larger than the slice should be and will just make a mess.

In terms of cutting the remainder of the cake, Leavitt explains that cake designers put a lot of trust in the caterers to handle the distribution. "If you do find yourself needing to cut the cake yourself, ask for a cutting guide from your baker so that you know how many servings to expect from each tier," she recommends.

For an even neater option, go with the box method. "My favorite way to cut a cake is in straight lines that go across the entire cake," explains Leavitt. "Each row of cake can be portioned into neat slices."

A bride in a white wedding dress and groom in a black tux cutting their four-tier wedding cake surrounded by fresh flowers.


How do we serve the cake?

Carefully remove each slice using your cake knife and a fork, placing the widest part of the cake on the plate. Be sure to clean your knife regularly so you can continue to cut smooth slices for each wedding guest.

Who feeds the wedding cake first?

As per tradition, the bride and groom get the first bite of the wedding cake. Whether you serve the cake to each other with a fork or delightfully smash the cake into your faces is your decision. Either way, it's a sweet and sentimental moment that your guests look forward to.

What should a groom’s cake look like and when is it served?

Traditionally, the groom’s cake was the wedding favor, not another dessert. The cake was sliced, boxed, and given to guests to take home. Single women would then sleep with the cake under their pillow, hoping to dream of their future groom—hence the cake’s name. These days, a groom’s cake is a chance to add something special for the groom to a celebration that can often feel like it’s all about the bride. Displayed alongside the wedding cake, a groom’s cake can take any form and be any flavor, whether a traditionally shaped cake in rich chocolate with a liqueur filling or the funfetti of his childhood, carved into the shape of his prized grill or emblazoned with his favorite team’s logo.

Since the cake used to be a favor instead of dessert, there aren’t any hard-and-fast rules about slicing and serving. Most couples opt to slice the groom’s cake immediately after cutting the wedding cake, and serving slices alongside pieces of the wedding cake so guests have a choice of flavors. If the cakes are both large enough, you could plate a duet of slices for each guest, or simply put one flavor on each plate and let your family and friends choose what they’d prefer.

A nearly-naked wedding cake with red berry glaze and a pile of fresh fruit including pomegranate, berries, and figs.

Photo by Emily Kirke Photography

Do we need to offer additional desserts?

It’s sweet and served after dinner, so wedding cake sounds like dessert to us. As a wedding tradition (and a favorite celebratory dessert year-round), a slice of cake is a perfect way to end the meal.

Of course, there’s nothing stopping you from adding a little variety. For some extra sweetness, have your caterers set trays of truffles and chocolate-covered strawberries on each table as a sweet bite that’s not quite as filling as a big slice of cake. Or opt for a composed cake plate, with a scoop of ice cream or a drizzle of sauce to enhance that slice. You could also use additional desserts as a late-night snack, setting out milk and cookies, or arranging for an ice cream sundae bar to give guests extra energy for that late-night dance party.

Should we have wedding cake boxes and bags?

Who doesn't love taking home leftover cake slices? With so much excitement surrounding the evening—from congratulating the happy couple to eating and dancing at the reception—there's a good chance that some wedding guests may not get a chance to dig into their cake. But that's where wedding cake favor boxes and bags come in handy. We suggest making them available for guests who want to take a slice of cake home. It’s understandable, particularly if you have multiple cakes or a groom’s cake in addition to your primary wedding cake.

A two-tier white frosted wedding cake with an orange rose and fresh greenery.

Photo by Amber Vickery

Can we save the leftover tiers of our cake?

It’s a long-standing tradition for the bride and groom to save the top tier of their wedding cake to share on their first anniversary. Just make sure you tell your baker and caterer in advance. This way your baker can provide a box to fit the top tier, and your caterer won’t accidentally serve it.

"If you have a lot of leftovers, we recommend serving it at brunch or an informal gathering while friends and family are still in town," suggests Leavitt. "If you want to freeze the top tier or a portion of the cake, make sure to put it in a container with a tight seal to ensure the freshness of the cake. Once you'd like to eat it, remove it from the freezer and put it in the refrigerator for about 24 hours. Next, remove it from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature, which could take two to five hours, depending on the size of the cake. 

Do we have to have a wedding cake?

Ultimately, this is your day, so we say do whatever sounds good to you! If you and your partner prefer fruit pies, doughnuts, or cookies instead of cake, those all make great wedding dessert options. Arrange them on cake stands or pretty trays, and don’t forget to share one with your new spouse as the first sweet bite of your marriage.

Not into sweets? Don’t skip dessert entirely, as your guests will be expecting it as a conclusion to the meal. Instead, talk to your caterer about a plated option that can be served after the entrées, or arrange a dessert bar where guests can choose whatever tempts their sweet tooth and skip that cake-cutting photo altogether. If coffee or a nightcap is more your speed, pair the sweets with your favorite way to end the night for a personalized touch.

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