What Specific Skills Are Needed For Grocery Store Bakery?

Decorating By -TenderHeart Updated 2 Mar 2005 , 8:15pm by -TenderHeart

-TenderHeart Posted 28 Feb 2005 , 2:13pm
post #1 of 23

Hi, Everyone--

This isn't intended to become a debate between private bakers and grocery store bakers, first off, icon_smile.gif just a question that I'd appreciate some specific responses to: What baking and decorating skills are needed, wanted, ideal, etc. for grocery store bakery-type work? I assume many sheet cakes, roses, borders (shell? and...?), and writing would be done. What else?

I'm not ready yet but am thinking of applying for work in local stores' bakery departments, and while I would bring in a portfolio of cake/cookie photos at that time, I would also appreciate knowing *now* what specific skills are looked for on the application line that asks what I can do.

Thank you for your help. icon_smile.gif

22 replies
letseatcake Posted 28 Feb 2005 , 3:02pm
post #2 of 23

Here's my experience. I went to Sam's club and applied. When I got there they asked me to ice a cake and make a rose. I don't know if you've taken the Wilton classes or not, but if you have forget that rose. They make there mound with the 104 and they don't use stiff icing, they use medium for everything. Don't bother taking your pictures, I did that. You can't be too creative. They have standards to go by and only a few different variations. Most the time 2 or 3 decorators just ice and plainly decorate cakes for the showcase. I use to do at least 40 1/2 sheets in 8 hours. If was very hard work for me because I was use to taking my time icing and decorating so my cakes can be perfect. They didn't want qualtity just quantity. Also there is always a head decorator that does all the customs order. That's just my experience.

At the Sams club I worked at the cakes came in frozen. I'm not sure what the grocery stores do.

SquirrellyCakes Posted 28 Feb 2005 , 6:39pm
post #3 of 23

Interesting post, my daughter worked for a in-store bakery. She got hired because they wanted someone with some basic knowledge in a hurry. But as you were told, bakeries make the rose with the one tip alone and they have their own way of decorating. So most of the time, they like to hire someone with limited knowledge and show them their way. She had a 2 minute time limit, which covered flat icing and decorating cakes, so speed is something they expect and they expect it in a very short time. Basic shell, leaf and rose work is mainly what they are looking at. Your icing is usually already coloured an prepared, some places you have to colour and that is very specific. Some places do more varied cakes than others, but it is pretty well a set amount and type of decorations that you will be doing. Eventually they let her take more custom orders and do some decorations her way instead of the store way, but apparently that is rare.
And amazingly enough, she got so that she could do a really good job within the time limit!
Now a private bakery shop, that would allow you to be more creative and your portfolio would come more into play at those types of places.
Hugs Squirrelly Cakes

-TenderHeart Posted 28 Feb 2005 , 6:50pm
post #4 of 23

Thank you both so much--I forgot all about leaves. icon_biggrin.gif It's interesting hearing about various experiences with the same type of job. I posted this question on the Wilton foum too; I look forward to more reading. Thanks again. icon_smile.gif

GHOST_USER_NAME Posted 28 Feb 2005 , 7:53pm
post #5 of 23

I worked in a Grocery Store baker for 3 weeks. Talk about squelching creativity. I did get very fast at making a cake very smooth in minutes. I am very thankful to them for that. But other than that, they wanted speed, not quality.

The sad thing is.. the customers think those cakes look great. I would turn out what I thought was a piece of crap (on a custom-order cake) due to speed and the customer would go all goo-goo over it. I'm thinking... If I could have had even 15 minutes on this cake it would truly be wonderful, this is crap!

GHOST_USER_NAME Posted 28 Feb 2005 , 7:57pm
post #6 of 23

Oh yeah.. coming in to work on a Saturday morning with 15 customized cake orders waiting for to do all to be picked up in the morning was considered a slow day. Many times I would get here at 5:30 a.m. and have 6 orders to go out by 9 a.m. This is custom work.

I could handle it, and they looked OK... but not up to MY standards. I was very unhappy working there and gave notice.

-TenderHeart Posted 28 Feb 2005 , 8:28pm
post #7 of 23

Cali4Dawn, thank you--I had read your similar comments on a few Wilton threads on the same subject. I appreciate the response but am more curious about what actual skills--writing, types of flowers, types of borders, etc.--one needs to know at such a job than about the speed/assembly line-type issues. Do you remember what types of actual flowers, borders, etc. you used at that job, or are you trying to block those three weeks out? icon_biggrin.gif

It seems like every time this subect comes up, everyone rushes to comment on the lack of creativity and the lack of time to really go all out with a design, etc--which is good to know, for sure icon_smile.gif --, but they never spell out what they actually needed to know how to do decorating-wise. More info would be great. Thanks so much, again. icon_smile.gif

SquirrellyCakes Posted 28 Feb 2005 , 8:33pm
post #8 of 23

Sounds like Dawn had a similar experience to my daughter's. Trouble was, when she wasn't working, other people would take orders like Dawn said, for 15 cakes due early Saturday morning. Of course, they didn't tell her and she would show up for her regular time and have to go nuts just filling the orders. And she didn't always have control over the supplies so if another decorator depleted them and didn't order, well it was a nightmare. Plus the store owner would tell a friend that sure she could do whatever kind of cake he wanted and then not bother to leave the info or tell her ahead of time. Then she was still expected to do the cakes within the time limit and not be paid any overtime if she had to come in early or stay late because there were too many orders and the people had specified that they wanted her to do the decorating.
But boy, for a simple typical store birthday cake with three roses and leaves and writing, she can do a perfect job in two minutes, it just amazes me! Wish she would come and do roses for me, I am way slower than that!
What bothered her the most was that they were not allowed to vary the colours and the store used mainly the primary colours and everything was overly bright.
But you do learn speed!
Hugs Squirrelly Cakes

SquirrellyCakes Posted 28 Feb 2005 , 8:43pm
post #9 of 23

Tenderheart, most of these places would prefer to train someone with little or no knowledge because they do have a specific way of doing things. So pretty well they expect either no knowledge or strictly the ability to do shell borders, roses, leaves and writing. They show you the rest including any animal piping which they do at Easter time. Then they show you how to decorate their specialty cakes like Black Forest, Carrot Cakes, Oreo Cookie Cakes. They train you on the eligible imaging and airbrush if they use them. As was described, they don't want you doing the Wilton rose method but use only one tip to create the rose. Most of them use frozen cakes, some are even flat-iced and frozen when they come in. The icing comes in tubs, usually already coloured. A lot of them only use piping gel to write with.
I have several friends who have worked in these in-store bakeries and it is pretty much the same all over. They were paid the same whether or not they had experience or knowledge and in some instances it was preferrable not to have any knowledge.
Some places only do gel tranfer type pictures.
Hugs Squirrelly Cakes

GHOST_USER_NAME Posted 28 Feb 2005 , 8:47pm
post #10 of 23

OK , skills needed.... little or none. You can get hired at most bakeries with course one under your belt. All you really need to know walking in is how to smooth a cake fast. You will not make that many roses. So few you can almost bluff your way through. Most people will be ordering those stupid, stupid, stupid, character cakes for kids that require (by law) we use plastic pieces. And absolutely no free rein there. It must look exactly like the picture in the book they have sitting on the bakery counter. If you can do a sloppy shell border and slap a plastic Mickey Mouse or Barbie on the cake, you're qualified.

On the custom orders- you will need to make a fast rose - but not too many- think profits. You will only be allowed to do a simple shell border- NO reverse borders or figure eight's (my signature border). We're losing profit making those! Takes too much icing!! We can't have that!! No way!!!

On the ready-made party cakes that you will be required to make 40-50 per day, it's not even a shell border. It's a large loop then a long line. 3 loops per long side (1/4 sheet) , 2 on the short side. No shells!!! Keep it fast and loose. Maybe some squiggly lines or confetti over that in various colors for variety.

We don't mention the skills needed because there really aren't many. Basic shell, simple rose (I had already learned how to make the rose with only a #104 in my level 1 non-Wilton class, so I was good to go there- and it is much faster and looks just as good) smooth your cake. Wa-la! You're qualified.

GHOST_USER_NAME Posted 28 Feb 2005 , 8:54pm
post #11 of 23

Oh yeah- learn how to do everything in medium consistency icing- no stiff icing for roses... and no flower lifters.

That in itself is a talent... I have to admit that. I would sneak mine into the freezer while I decorated another cake. Then I would place them on the cake after they were frozen and finish decorating. Shhh......... i was the only custom decorator, so I could get away with that as long as I made the deadlines, which I always did.

I tell people, if you want to learn speed- get a job in a store bakery.

SquirrellyCakes Posted 28 Feb 2005 , 9:06pm
post #12 of 23

So it may vary somewhat from the U.S. and Canada too. The plastic thingies aren't used absolutely everywhere yet, some places still do character cakes and some do a lot of the gel transfers. I think the copyright laws are different here, which may well be part of the difference. For example we can rent the character pans and there are no stipulations about only using them for family etc.
So I would think it would also vary somewhat from store to store with some places doing the gel pictures exclusively and others having more of a variety in what they offer.
Anyway, I think that if you are to enquire, it might be a good thing to find out how much deviation from design is allowed.
Haha, I am thinking we should all work three weeks at one of these places, just to speed up our flat icing time!
My daughter lasted about 1 1/2 years total doing this and refuses to ever do it again. But it was mainly a question of the in-store bakery being poorly managed. She got so she did a very good job in a short period of time and was allowed to do some unique designs and such, which I think made it easier because she could be creative. They also allowed her to do her own roses after awhile, as long as she trained newcomers on their standard roses.
Hugs Squirrelly Cakes

-TenderHeart Posted 28 Feb 2005 , 9:33pm
post #13 of 23

"We don't mention the skills needed because there really aren't many."

Wow. Okay, now I get it. icon_sad.gif Well, as you guys have all pointed out, there are advantages to this kind of job too, and I thank you for all your advice and for answering the question I've been wondering about for awhile. Now I know why no one has ever mentioned in their posts all the many exciting decorating techniques used in this job. icon_rolleyes.gif

Thanks so much for clarifying, I appreciate it. icon_smile.gif

SquirrellyCakes Posted 28 Feb 2005 , 11:08pm
post #14 of 23

Just want to clarify, this is not true of small bakeries that only specialize in baked goods and are separate and apart. These places are more adventurous and generally are interested in skill. Some grocery type bakeries also do wedding cakes and expect a different level of skill. It is a shame really, because many of the supermarket store type of bakeries used to make some of the nicest cakes you could find anywhere.
I think that if you are seriously considering a postion, you may want to look into smaller bakeries where they will be interested in what you know and some will even teach you more.
Hugs Squirrelly Cakes

-TenderHeart Posted 28 Feb 2005 , 11:18pm
post #15 of 23

Squirelly, I know what you mean--That's why I didn't want this discussion to turn into "grocery store bakery bashing," the way other threads have in the past. I know some do great and creative work, I totally agree there.

And I think that for someone of my limited cake decorating experience and with my level of ability--not very high yet--AND for someone who needs a job, the idea of doing "just" roses, writing, and a shell border is just fine. Whether or not one would stick with this kind of job would depend a lot on skill level to begin with and how much the job is needed--in short, what one's expectations for the job (and of him/herself!) would be. icon_smile.gif So, for me right now, a grocery store bakery job would be fine. For more experienced decorators and for those who would want more freedom with design, creativity, etc., it wouldn't work as well. But for awhile at least, I think I'd be quite pleased to get a job like this.

Thank you again. icon_smile.gif

GHOST_USER_NAME Posted 28 Feb 2005 , 11:32pm
post #16 of 23

Like I said, you will learn speed and how to work with medium consistency icing no matter what you're doing (even if you need it thin- you get medium), and that does take talent. So it's a great jumping off place for those skills. You will never learn speed at home. At least not the average person. You will only learn speed when you're in a situation like this. For these "gifts" I am very grateful to my experience.

I remembered one other reason I left... make sure you ask about unions. I wasn't told until after I was hired that it was required I join the union. They kept talking about how great the union was and great benefits. I asked much it would be and it was $136/mo!!!!! I didn't want to join the union and I didn't need their benefits. AAAAND this didn't even include the insurance! I already have fantastic benefits through my spouse for $32/mo- total- medical, dental, optical, prescriptions- whole nine yards. Theirs was more on top of the $136. They didn't bother to tell me this until I had been there 1 week.

So I left for those two reasons. I honestly don't know if I would have stayed without the union issue (probably not)... In this state if you work for a grocery store you have to join the union. So check that out before "joining the team." It may be cost prohibitive for you to work there.

SquirrellyCakes Posted 28 Feb 2005 , 11:49pm
post #17 of 23

Yes, that is the difference, you are correct! Let us face it when you need a job, you need a job and everyone's needs are different. I think Dawn wants to make sure that you don't sell yourself short and I agree. It must be frustrating for people to have to meet time requirements when they could have done so much more with a little more time.
One thing I would like to say, please, please do not feel bad if you get hired on, on probation, and cannot meet the speed requirements. This is a very common problem and lots of folks just cannot work at the speed required for various reasons, sometimes hand issues etc. Everyone works at a different speed and it is nothing to feel bad about. I remember well when my daughter did a two week placement and they were not happy that in those two weeks she didn't meet their requirements. However, when she actually worked in the field, she was able to. But I do remember her seeing folks get let go because they were unable to work at this speed and these people would feel so bad about it. It doesn't mean you aren't good enough, it just means that for their purposes, you aren't fast enough. It has nothing to do with being a skilled decorator or not.
And it truly will make you faster at some things when you do your own cakes. One thing I would do, once you get hired, is tell them that though you have no intentions of using the job as a means of getting your own customers, make sure that they realize that you also do cakes outside of the job. That way, you won't have any conflicts of interest. The store where my daughter worked actually re-directed cake jobs to her and also to me, when they could not handle a request. Actually it was a good practice for them as they were able to keep the customers happy even when they couldn't fufill orders.
I hear that Dairy Queen is a good place to work and they seem to produce some wonderful decorators judging from the work of a few people I know!
I am sure Dawn joins me in wishing you all the best of luck in your job search. It is always a good thing to have a job even if while you have it, you are looking at other possibilities.
Hugs Squirrelly Cakes

GHOST_USER_NAME Posted 28 Feb 2005 , 11:57pm
post #18 of 23

I am sure Dawn joins me in wishing you all the best of luck in your job search.

Absolutely!!!! I hope you get it!!!! Like I said you will learn some useful skills. That is how I was able to take a cake order 2 weekends ago for the same day (actually for 4 hours later)- and that included baking and cooling!! I could not have done that if I hadn't had the experience from that bakery job!!

I only want you to be fully aware of all involved- ups and downs!!

Don't go into it blind like I did.. use the benefits of those of us who have been there to ask the best questions.

SquirrellyCakes Posted 28 Feb 2005 , 11:58pm
post #19 of 23

Good point Dawn, about the union fees. Interesting thing in Canada, don't know if it is the same there, but you have to pay the dues even when you are probationary, even if you are part-time. Then the probationary members actually have no rights associated with the dues they are paying and also, in my daughter's case, no union representative to deal with when there are issues. Do I dare mention that sometimes proper safety proceedures for workmen's compensation, are not followed? Like for example, using frozen icing buckets stacked as a step stool because no ladder or proper stepstool was made available. Not a good thing in a freezer room believe me. Generally all food workers unions have fairly stiff union dues regardless of the wages being paid. Something to think about.
Hugs Squirrelly Cakes

-TenderHeart Posted 1 Mar 2005 , 1:07am
post #20 of 23

Thank you, Dawn and Squirrelly, for the good wishes and union tips. icon_smile.gif Union issues hadn't even occured to me.

To clarify, no job has been advertised, I just know I want to apply at some point regardless. I graduate from school this summer (in another field, not cake-related) and would love to eventually do cake decorating on the side/in addition to my other work. Most grads don't find jobs in their field right away anyway, so I thought the cake decorating skills might come in handy while I'm doing the job search thing after graduation. Who knows? In any case, I'm having fun with it in the meantime and it provides great breaks from school work. icon_smile.gif

Thanks again! icon_smile.gif

SquirrellyCakes Posted 1 Mar 2005 , 3:39am
post #21 of 23

Well congratulations on graduating in the coming summer! Good for you and yes, you can never learn too many things to always have something to fall back on or even just have as a hobby. The more interests and skills the better, you are wise to realize this! All the best of luck to you!
Hugs Squirrelly Cakes

flayvurdfun Posted 1 Mar 2005 , 10:51am
post #22 of 23

[quote="letseatcake"] I don't know if you've taken the Wilton classes or not, but if you have forget that rose. They make their mound with the 104 and they don't use stiff icing, they use medium for everything. Don't bother taking your pictures, I did that. You can't be too creative. They have standards to go by and only a few different variations.

I didnt know what to qoute so I did most. I too worked for Sams on the East Coast. None of what was stated above was true at any of the 6 Sam's Clubs I went to ( I was an auditor, claim rep, baker, reciever, verifer etc) did that. Yes they froze if had to, but for the most if they were decorated they were not they were freshly made for the customer.But I also know that there are more Sams clubs then those I went to! thumbs_up.gif
THe ones I went to (all 6) wanted decorators experienced or unexperienced. If you were exp'd you were paid more and got a higher position, if you werent they trained you for a month and then you were fine.
Anyway just go to the grocery store, and apply and ask what experience the grocery store wants! Every company is different.
Have a wonderful day!

-TenderHeart Posted 2 Mar 2005 , 8:15pm
post #23 of 23

Thank you, flayvurdfun. icon_smile.gif

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