Whether it’s multiple tiers painted in gold foil or a semi-naked design featuring a cascade of flowers, the wedding cake is the cherry on top at any reception. From the flavor to the decorations, the confection that you serve is an opportunity to capture your relationship, impress your guests, and of course, give you a sugar fix. “Wedding cakes are now a means of showcasing the couple’s personalities, uniqueness, and even their story,” cake artist Grace "Grey" Pak says. “More than ever, couples now crave a design unique to them—sort of like a symbolic centerpiece of themselves and their relationship—through a delicious and breathtaking medium."
To make a splash at your reception, you might be tempted to select a show-stopping dessert covered in intricate sugar flowers or featuring a detailed watercolor illustration, but these designs can quickly rack up the bill. Although the price varies depending on the location you’re throwing down and the size of your wedding, the average wedding cake for an event of 100 to 150 guests costs anywhere from $300 to $800, according to Fash. On the lower end, couples might spend $125, but on the higher end, they could spend upward of $1,000 on their dessert.
Since most cakes are priced by the slice, the average piece costs anywhere from $3 to $8—with some getting closer to $12. According to Pak, factors that affect this grand total include the size of the cake, the intricacy of the design, the technique required, the ingredients used, the flavor of the cake, the type of frosting, the time it takes to make, the number of customizations, and any delivery fees.
Luckily, you have some control over the cost of your cake. We asked cake bakers and designers to share their best-kept secrets to help you serve a budget-friendly cake that doesn’t skimp on the wow factor. Ahead are some of the best ways to save money on your wedding cake.
Meet the Expert
- Grace "Grey" Pak is a cake artist with 10 years of experience and the owner of Duchess of Cameron based in New York City and Aspen, Colorado.
- Alexis Nicole is the owner of Alexis Nicole Cakes, which is located in Ellicott City, Maryland. She has been designing and decorating cakes for 14 years.
- Esther James is the lead cake designer of Barbados-based With Love by Esther James. She's been working in the wedding cake space since 2011.
- Heidi Allison is the owner and CEO of Sugar Bee Sweets Bakery in Arlington, Texas. She has 16 years of experience in the wedding cake industry.
Include Faux Tiers
If a sky-high cake complete with piping and ornate accents is a must for you, adding faux tiers will make a statement while majorly cutting costs. “Faux tiers are styrofoam inside but real decorations on the outside, so guests have no way of knowing if it’s cake or not,” Pak explains. Since you’ll just cut into the bottom tier during the ceremonial cake cutting, the lower layer is really the only part that needs to feature real cake. After you and your partner serve yourselves a slice, the confection will be taken back into the kitchen to prepare for the rest of your guests. There, the kitchen staff will set aside the display cake and slice into another more affordable one. “Opting for faux tiers lowers costs because cake artists can spread out the decorating work over time for the faux tiers, and it requires less structural reinforcement, factoring in materials, time, and effort,” Pak notes.
Opt for a Smaller Size
Since many of your guests will be too busy on the dance floor to grab a piece of cake, you probably won’t need to save a slice for everyone. “In my experience, only 75 percent of wedding guests eat cake,” Alexis Nicole of Alexis Nicole Cakes shares. “If you have 150 guests and get a cake that has 150 servings, you will have leftovers.” Rather than selecting multiple tiers for all of your friends and family, save money by downsizing your dessert. If you want to play it safe, you can always choose a smaller display cake and then arrange a dessert bar with more cost-effective options.
To maximize the amount of cake that you do have, Pak suggests displaying the slices on a separate table instead of serving everyone at their seat. “The kitchen will keep refilling the table with more slices until the cake is completely served,” she says. That way, only the guests who want to nosh on the treat will grab one, which will eliminate unnecessary waste. You can also slash portion sizes by serving smaller slices to get the most bang for your buck.
Supplement With a Sheet Cake
Selecting a one-tier or two-tier display cake for cutting and then serving a sheet cake to feed your guests will keep costs down, according to Alexis. Since sheet cakes are large rectangular cakes without all of the bells and whistles, you’ll save up to 50 percent, and you’ll still get to make an impression with a design-focused display cake. “Once the tiered cake gets taken into the back to cut, the sheet cake slices get added into the mix and then brought back out to serve,” she explains. “Your guests will never know the difference.”
Skip the Fondant
Although fondant provides a smooth finish and lends well to intricate designs, it’s the most expensive frosting out there. Instead, Alexis recommends asking your cake baker about the possibility of using buttercream, which is typically less expensive and doesn’t require as many steps and materials as fondant. Not to mention, buttercream provides a classic look that is versatile enough for any aesthetic. Since some designs actually require fondant, double-check with your baker, so you don’t get charged any extra fees.
To stash even more savings, opt for a naked or semi-naked confection. Since these cakes use less frosting, you'll diminish the cost of materials and labor. "Naked cakes can be made using two methods," Esther James of With Love by Esther James states. "The cake designer or baker can either take layers of cake and simply fill each layer with a delicious filling, leaving the outside completely bare, or they can smear a very thin amount of buttercream over each tier of the cake for a semi-naked design. Both methods are far less time-consuming for the designer and also involve fewer ingredients to account for." A cake that pares down the frosting is especially fitting for a rustic or industrial venue.
Stick With a Simple Design
Yes, latticework texture and gold piping will bring a beautiful touch to any cake, but they will also significantly increase the bill. Since the amount of labor it takes for cake bakers to design their work affects the cost, the more detail your cake has, the more money you’ll spend. “What we have to take into account when coming up with the price is the time a cake takes from beginning to end in addition to the cost of supplies of the cake,” Heidi Allison of Sugar Bee Sweets Bakery notes. To reduce the overall cost, choose less labor-intensive designs. According to Pak, printed images are more budget-friendly than hand-painted details, and fresh flowers are a more affordable alternative to sugar flowers because they take less time to make.
For an even larger price reduction, James poses embracing an all-white cake, which requires fewer design hours and thus less cash. "The designer doesn’t have to spend hours trying to match color swatches to the fondant or pray that the airbrush machine does its job," she explains. If you're worried a white cake is too simplistic or boring, think again. The monochromatic hue is a timeless look that coordinates with any aesthetic, especially if you're hosting a classic wedding.
Adorn the Front Only
Chances are, your cake table will be set up against a wall, not in the middle of the room. If that’s the case, you don’t need to worry about covering every inch of your confection with an eye-catching design. Pak encourages couples to consider choosing a front-only design instead of a 360-degree one because your cake baker will spend less time creating the masterpiece, which will naturally reduce the bill. Hosting a garden fête? Adorn a white cake with a cluster of blooms on the top tier. If you’re trading vows by the beach, have palm leaves affixed in the center.
Buy Your Own Decorations
Whether it’s a cake topper or a faux flower, buying some of the finishing touches is a lot more affordable than asking your cake baker to make them by hand. Alexis says she has no problem placing these items on the cake after it’s delivered for her clients, so ask your cake designer whether this is a possible route to explore. However, Alexis warns that your vendor should handle some of the more complex decorations. “Things like sugar flowers, fondant detailing, piping, sculpted designs, or anything custom are all components that should be done by your cake designer,” she says.
Fash. "How Much Does a Wedding Cake Cost?" January 26, 2022.