Should I Offer A Partial Refund If They Don't Ask For One?

Business By SayItWithFrosting Updated 25 May 2014 , 5:23pm by howsweet

SayItWithFrosting Posted 19 May 2014 , 1:49pm
post #1 of 27

I need your help, Cake Central friends.  I have a dilemma regarding a wedding cake I delivered this past weekend.  It was a large cake that I spent several days making, including three days of piping royal icing snowflakes.  

 

When I talked to the wedding coordinator the day prior to delivery (the first time she had ever contacted me), I told her the cake table had to be set up and decorated when I got there, and that it had to be able to support the weight of the cakes, estimated at a couple hundred pounds- this was also in my wedding contract that the bride and groom signed.  When I got there, at exactly the time I said I would get there, the table was not ready.  First, she tried to give me a 2x2 pedestal cocktail table to set my cakes on, then she tried to say she would put two of those tables together for me.  I explained to her that this wouldn't work (which of course she argued with me about-said it would be fine, when she had no idea what the cakes even looked like).  We finally ended up taking the DJ's table, as this was the only table left that might work (which ended up making the DJ mad, which he later took out on me by blaring loud music and static while I was trying to put the delicate cake together- nice guy).

 

Anyway, about 45-60 minutes after my arrival, I finally had a table to work on.  The cake had to be assembled and decorated on site, due to the 3D royal icing snowflakes that extended beyond the top and bottom edges of the cake.  I had allowed myself 4 1/2 hours to do this, and now, because of the table issue, I was down to 3 1/2 hours.

 

When I started putting the tiers together, I could not center the cake on the table, because it was a folding table with a seam in the middle which made it not level.  So, I moved the bride's cake to one side.  As I started stacking the tiers, the cake seemed to be leaning a bit, and then I noticed that the table (which was plastic), as more weight was added, was pushing down and changing the level.  The higher and heavier the cake got, the more it leaned (the cakes were level when tested prior to delivery, and proper supports were in place). I made a judgement call not to put the top tier on at this point, because when I added it, the lean was very pronounced and I was afraid the cake would topple.  I told the 'wedding coordinator' what the problem was and that I decided not to put the top tier on because the table was not able to hold the weight of the cake.  She basically did not believe me, even though everyone there could see the cake was leaning with the top tier in place.  She demanded that I put it on, and when I told her I would if she were willing to sign a hold harmless, she told me she was not signing anything and told me she would put it on herself when she got back- then she stormed out.  She was very un-professional.

 

So, I commenced to adding the snowflakes to the cake, now even further behind schedule due to first having no table, then trying to level the table, then dealing with the wedding coordinator.  I was probably 2 hours behind at this point.  I started decorating the front of the cake, knowing that now I might run out of time.  I then ran into unforeseen trouble because the freezing air conditioner was making my fondant hard as a rock, and now I had to hand cut holes to place the snowflakes, instead of just being able to push them gently into place.  I was down to the wire with 15 minutes until guests started showing up, and I had to clean up before they arrived.  So, with only the front of the tiered cake decorated and the whole of the separate smaller cakes (it looked beautiful still- see picture below), I had to stop.  Had I not lost nearly 2 hours, I would have been able to finish, easily.

 

So, my question is this- even though there were unforeseen circumstances leading to the cake not being able to be completed in time, would you offer your bride a partial refund, even though she hasn't yet asked?  I don't even know if she is mad or not- I had sent her a couple emails before I left the venue, so that I could document what had happen with the table and the wedding coordinator, and obviously I couldn't call the bride during the ceremony- the wedding coordinator was supposed to be my contact for problems (she was a friend of the family, by the way).  When the bride did respond to my emails, it was just a quick note that she would contact me later, so  don't know whether she understands and is ok with everything, or if she is mad.  I spent many hours on this cake, and I don't want to give any refunds, but I'm just wondering if I should offer to take a couple hundred dollars off, as a show of good faith?

 

I'm sure other bakers have had similar things happen, so I appreciate any and all input.

 

Thanks!

Fondant wedding cake with hand piped 3D royal icing snowflakes- inspired by Beverly Way

26 replies
howsweet Posted 19 May 2014 , 2:13pm
post #2 of 27

AWhat is would the partial refund be for? That the cake wasn't stacked all the way? What if it was after you left?

I've never seen a cake quite like this, not sure what was supposed to happen... Were both of those smaller tiers supposed to go on and what was the size of all the tiers?

SayItWithFrosting Posted 19 May 2014 , 2:15pm
post #3 of 27

That the back of the cake was un-finished.  You can't see it in the picture, because the front is all decorated, but I ran out of time to put the snowflakes on the back.

howsweet Posted 19 May 2014 , 2:19pm
post #4 of 27

AThinking more about it... Were all those tiers just supposed to sit on top of each other, only secured because of balancing? That seems a bit precarious, but this style is not something I have experience with. Anyway, tier sizes?

howsweet Posted 19 May 2014 , 2:41pm
post #5 of 27

AI'm inclined to say no since they put you 2 hours behind. But here are my thoughts on this, fwiw:

I always try to have a cake in place at least 2 hours before the party. If you'd allowed 2 extra hours, you might have finished.

I also think you should have contacted the coordinator well before the day before about the timing of getting the table set up and then reminded her the day before. What if they couldn't even get the room in time for you to finish the cake?

So maybe with more forethought and experience (not sure what your experience is) you'd have averted the problem. Was the customer paying top dollar for this kind of expertise? If she was, then, I'd give her some money back along with profuse apologies. If you didn't really charge enough for the cake in the first place, then she gets what she paid for.

SayItWithFrosting Posted 19 May 2014 , 5:53pm
post #6 of 27

AI did actually schedule two extra hours- it just took that much longer than planned because of having to hand cut holes for the snowflakes due to the air conditioner hardening the fondant much harder than when I did my test cakes at home. At home, even after the fondant (satin ice) was dry, it was still soft underneath with a thin crusted layer. At the venue, with freezing air dehumidifying everything, when I started it was fairly workable, but kept getting harder the longer I was there, leading to the carving of the holes so my snowflakes wouldn't break.

As for the coordinator, everything that I needed was outlined in the wedding contract, which I told the bride to provide to her coordinator and/or the venue. This was the first wedding reception at this venue, so they were unaware of the needs for the cake table. They were very helpful with everything though, and I dok not blame them, as the coordinator used all of the tables that would have been appropriate. The wedding coordinator was told when I talked to her the day prior exactly what I needed, which I told her was what was in the contract. She was also told when I would arrive and that the table had to be ready when I got there - she obviously didn't listen to anything I said. She was not a 'real' wedding coordinator - just a friend of the family who is trying to get into the business.

As for the way the cake was stacked, my husband made custom heavy duty wood cake plates with an indent to hold the shape of the glass pieces, so they would not slide around. It was very sturdy, and each cake had supports under the glass to hold the weight of the cakes above. There was supposed to have been one more 8" cake on top of the top glass piece, but when I put it on, the table bowed too much under the weight and made everything lean. I was able to control the lean without the final cake on top by adjusting my cake supports, but nothing worked once the final tier was added- the higher you go the more pronounced any imbalances become. This isn't my first stacked cake- I have done tall cakes before, and this one was very sturdy when tested on my flat, wood table at home. You could see the bowing of the folding table at the venue, so I know that was the problem.

-K8memphis Posted 19 May 2014 , 7:29pm
post #7 of 27

wow what a bummer that cake was so original and would have looked even better if you could have completed it as you designed it--yeah cake tables need to be muy muy sturdy--the lady you were working with was overwhelmed by the work she was doing and she did not handle things well--but one thing  i've learned is to not make any hasty decisions--there's plenty of time to decide what to do -- you can say something like, "i'll get back with you by the end of the week", or "early next week" or whatever to give yourself enough time to calm down inside and make a good decision -- don't throw away your hard earned money-- only if you feel it really deserves refunding-- but give yourself a chance to catch up with all the details --

 

did you ask them to cut the air off? you can for next time anyhow --

SayItWithFrosting Posted 19 May 2014 , 7:50pm
post #8 of 27

I would love to take credit for the cake idea, but it was actually inspired by a Beverly Way cake and was made using her snowflake patterns.  My bride had seen it online and had called several decorators locally, none of who wanted to take on this cake.  I hesitated at first, and made sure I did a small test cake to make sure I could do it.  It was definitely a challenge, and I was happy with the look of the finished product.

 

It didn't occur to me until too late that it was the A/C that was drying the fondant- at the time I was just grateful for it keeping me cool as I worked :-)

 

Thanks for all your input!

howsweet Posted 19 May 2014 , 9:22pm
post #9 of 27

1) Satin Ice fondant just dries - you can't blame it on the a/c.

2) It sounds like the wedding venue was at fault for not having a sturdy table to set a wedding cake on. 

 

So, I would blame the venue for the unstacked cake and you for the fact that it was unfinished.  If the table was backed up to a wall and it wasn't noticeable from the front, it might not have been a big disaster (?).

 

It's pretty common for things to not be ready when you arrive. Irritating yes, but common. Just because something's in the contract doesn't mean anyone has even bothered to read it. You have to be more proactive. You have to be forceful with people sometimes, too. Customers pay us to muscle in and to do what's necessary to get the job done.

 

A seasoned veteran would not be on here blaming any of this on the a/c drying the fondant and the table not being ready because they know how fondant works and that tables are often not ready. So, I go back to what I said before - If you didn't really charge enough for the cake in the first place, then she gets what she paid for. However, you may want to refund all or part for the sake of your reputation.

 

If you charged top dollar, she's owed money back, no question.

daisybee Posted 19 May 2014 , 10:22pm
post #10 of 27

AI do not shaker this opinion, you said you gave yourself more than 4 hours to get your cake ready, I think that was way enough. now the fact that this lady made you waste your time is not your fault. I would maybe refund some money back if the bride would ask for it but i would not offer it on my own. and i would sure ask the bride to call that lady to get explanations and get her to admit her fault.

SayItWithFrosting Posted 19 May 2014 , 10:33pm
post #11 of 27

The central problem is that I wasted nearly 2 hours waiting for tables, trying to fix tables, etc..  Had I had those two hours, the cake would have been finished, drying fondant or not.  And, here in Florida, where it is hot and humid, I have never had my satin ice dry so quickly, especially seeing as how I was able to place a couple of test snowflakes in right before I left for the delivery, with no problem, and I was able to work with it for a short while at the venue before it started drying very quickly.  When I want something to dry quickly or crust when I am working on it, I usually turn the A/C very low to make that happen more quickly, as it does suck the humidity out of the air.  I know different areas have different experience with fondant, and I know how my fondant typically reacts here in our climate- this is far from my first cake.

 

Whether they read the contract or not, they initialed that section, and I went over it with them verbally as well.  I also went over it verbally with the 'wedding coordinator'.  The venue just provided the location, and the tables were selected by the 'wedding coordinator'.

 

My bride has not asked for a refund at this point, and the venue director said that she seemed happy with everything.  My dilemma was, as a customer service, should I offer the partial refund?  I really don't feel at fault for it, except for not allowing myself more than 2 EXTRA hours to be safe in setting everything up.  It wouldn't have mattered if I had given myself 5 extra hours, since I wouldn't have had a table anyway.  The plain fact is that the 'wedding coordinator' was told verbally the day before what was required, the contract stated what was required, and the bride and groom were verbally told and signed for what was required.  I am just considering being nice because I really like the bridal couple, if not their choice of 'wedding coordinator'.  I don't want bad reviews either, especially when it would have been done on time if not for the table problems, even with the fondant problems.  I could have finished probably in one more hour, so if I hadn't wasted the time on the tables (which was not my fault) it would have been completely finished.

SayItWithFrosting Posted 19 May 2014 , 10:35pm
post #12 of 27

Thanks Daisybee!  I appreciate your input.

daisybee Posted 19 May 2014 , 10:57pm
post #13 of 27

Ayou re welcome. to me you did absolutly everything that you could. If it make you feer better, sens her a couple of cookies if you do them with a card but to me you really dont need to refund

howsweet Posted 19 May 2014 , 10:58pm
post #14 of 27

Quote:

 I could have finished probably in one more hour, so if I hadn't wasted the time on the tables (which was not my fault) it would have been completely finished. 

And that's cutting it really close when you have so much to put on the cake.

 

Quote:

I know different areas have different experience with fondant, and I know how my fondant typically reacts here in our climate- this is far from my first cake. 

Sorry, but it really sounds like you don't. Don't all venues have a/c?

 

You're going to find that lots of cake deliveries will go smoothly and and lots won't. You have to operate as if all of them won't go well. The universe is not going to call you and give you a heads up that this is going to be a bad one.

 

You keep bringing up the contract: All that does is protect you in terms of liability, it does not make anything happen. If you care about what actually happens you have to be proactive and take control. I wasn't going to ask this, but why did it take so long to work out the table stuff? What did you do to speed them up? Did you look all over for something to brace the table?

 

And I'll say for a third time, talking to wedding coordinator the day before was not enough time. For all you know she's mad at you because you didn't let her know this was a heavy cake earlier on and she would have seen to it there was a better table. (Don't worry, I'm not forgetting it was in the contract). How long in advance did you know she wasn't a professional. Her not being a professional is a big hint you're going to have to do some of her job.

 

To me, this all just sounds like rookie mistakes. It's pretty clear you don't agree and I'm sure there will be plenty of people posting to say you did all you could. I've harped too much, so I'll let that be it. I'll say this, it also sounds like you're way ahead of the average rookie and will do quite well. Best of luck to you, and i mean that :smile:

bakernoob Posted 19 May 2014 , 11:43pm
post #15 of 27

Wait until you talk to the bride. There is absolutely no need to refund any part of it if she's happy with it. If she does state that she was unhappy I would just explain what happened and if she still doesn't understand then I'd offer a small refund. 

reginaherrin Posted 20 May 2014 , 3:16pm
post #16 of 27

I have to agree with howsweet.  I do quite a bit of wedding cakes and half the time I deliver the cake table is set up and ready for me and half the time I have to hunt someone down to get it ready.  It is also in my wedding contracts about the cake table needing to be ready when I get there and having a bigger solid and steady table in order to hold the cake and each of my sections have to be initialed.  However the does not mean they will comply so I have to take charge and make sure it does get done.  I too don't understand why it would take 2 hours to find a table and get it set up.  You are the person in charge of the cake and if you have to be forceful to get something done then so be it.  I am also curious about the sizes of each tier, they all look about the same size and the two on the sides look like 6" but I know pictures can be deceiving.  Regardless, I don't think you should refund any amount unless they ask.  From the pictures I can only see one small part that is undecorated and they may not have noticed at all.  Just wait until you hear from the bride and see what she says.  Explain the situation with the wedding coordinator and table troubles.  If she is really upset about it I would refund her a small amount since she did get the cake and was able to eat it and her coordinator was the reason it was unfinished. 

FrostedMoon Posted 20 May 2014 , 5:25pm
post #17 of 27

A[U][/U]Going off of the fact that you are asking whether to give a fund without even knowing how the bride felt, this says more about how YOU felt about the product delivered being incomplete. Many of us hold ourselves to a particular standard and if we don't meet our own standard we are disappointed, even if the customer is completely satisfied with the final product. I say don't offer a refund. You put the time, supplies, and energy in to it and the cake servings were there. However, if it helps you feel better, how about offering a discount on a cake for their first anniversary, or an any occasion cake if you prefer. If they take you up on it you have a chance to redeem yourself, if they don't, so be it.

cfao Posted 21 May 2014 , 4:58pm
post #18 of 27
Quote:
 ​I don't even know if she is mad or not- I had sent her a couple emails before I left the venue, so that I could document what had happen with the table and the wedding coordinator, and obviously I couldn't call the bride during the ceremony- the wedding coordinator was supposed to be my contact for problems (she was a friend of the family, by the way).  When the bride did respond to my emails, it was just a quick note that she would contact me later, so  don't know whether she understands and is ok with everything, or if she is mad.
 
I've been doing cakes for 32 years and I would never contact a bride on her wedding day for any reason, certainly not to document something to cover my own butt. If anything, your emails to her during her ceremony would be the reason she would be upset. Brides hire professionals to make their visions come to life, not to be contacted on their wedding day by one of those vendors complaining about a family friend who has stepped in to help her out. I'm surprised you received a response from her at all, after all it was her wedding day and then they would have been leaving for their honeymoon....
All you can do is take pics of the cake and make notes to yourself on what happened just in case the bride had contacted you. You ran out of time, you can't go back & re do the day, you can only take what you have learned from this for the next time you do a cake delivery.
MimiFix Posted 21 May 2014 , 5:39pm
post #19 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by cfao 
 
... never contact a bride on her wedding day for any reason, certainly not to document something to cover my own butt. If anything, your emails to her during her ceremony would be the reason she would be upset. Brides hire professionals to make their visions come to life, not to be contacted on their wedding day by one of those vendors complaining about a family friend who has stepped in to help her out.  

 

The cake was beautiful. But overall, there's a degree of business professionalism that's missing. Hopefully the OP's business skills will develop to a higher level. 

AZCouture Posted 21 May 2014 , 6:27pm
post #20 of 27

I agree. 

SayItWithFrosting Posted 21 May 2014 , 7:00pm
post #21 of 27

I emailed her specifically BECAUSE I did not want to upset her by calling or texting her during her ceremony.  I knew she would not be checking email that day at all, as she was already at the church when all of this happened.  And, I don't know about you, but in my experience, documentation is key.  

 

As it turns out, I had nothing to worry about- my bride and groom were thrilled with the cake, and everyone at the reception loved it as well.  It's because of my professionalism and sense of pride in my work that I was worried to begin with.  I have not had an unhappy bride yet, and I didn't want this to be my first, especially since I was very fond of the couple.  

 

Had my bride actually hired a PROFESSIONAL wedding coordinator, there would not have been a problem.  Because she hired an UNPROFESSIONAL friend of the family who had no idea what she was doing, that is the reason there were problems to begin with.  I did everything that I was supposed to do, and it has worked for me this way for every other cake I have ever done.  I had a contract, I verbally told the couple and the 'wedding coordinator' what was needed, and they did not follow through.  I did the best that I could with what I was given to work with, and I think that's all that I could have done, next to going out back, cutting down a tree and building a table from scratch.

SayItWithFrosting Posted 21 May 2014 , 7:02pm
post #22 of 27

Frosted Moon,

 

That is pretty much exactly how I felt- it was me being worried because I have never had a disappointed bride and I didn't want that to happen- I do hold myself to a higher standard, and I was worrying over nothing.  Thanks for your input...

ugcjill Posted 21 May 2014 , 7:29pm
post #23 of 27

If you were vague enough in your discription of the finished product to cover incidental design variations, you're fine. If you parse out the details so you are billing for each distinct feature, you may be right to refund for the changes. You may have already opened the door with the communications to the bride and wedding planner highlighting issues that came up.

 

The cake is beautiful.

 

This is a good opportunity for some "lessons learned" notes and forward planning. You can't predict what will go wrong. You can only assume that something will go wrong, and if you are prepared, it never went wrong at all.

 

The biggest takeaway at times like this is to keep your customer in mind at all times. Service them in the most professional way possible... often that means keeping them away from anything negitive. If an issue arises that can be managed, fix it and never let them know it happened.

 

Edit - I see it is resolved. This is excellent. I'm happy everything worked out.

SayItWithFrosting Posted 21 May 2014 , 7:41pm
post #24 of 27

I wanted to thank everyone who has responded and let you know that I value your input- even those that I may not agree with :-)  It is hard to take constructive criticism, especially if you are your own worst critic and have already been beating yourself up over it.

 

I think, more than anything, I just needed someone to say, "Hey, I've been there.  It happens, and we learn from it."  And I appreciate that you all took the time to respond, in any way.  

 

I have learned a few lessons from this one- especially that just since I have been lucky enough never to have worked with a bad wedding coordinator before does not mean it will never happen again.  Now I know, and now I will take more precautions in the future so that hopefully this situation will never be repeated.

 

Again, thank you all- I appreciate you!

CoutureCake Posted 25 May 2014 , 4:31pm
post #25 of 27

Good to know on the follow-up...  Had I been earlier to the discussion, my answer is NO!  There's no need for a partial refund when it's spelled out in your contract what you need, and they didn't provide it.

 

I agree with the others that the fondant problem is not on the temperature but the fondant you're using.  The half-finished cake is something you can point back to the contract on. 

 

Next issue: Your confidence - I mean this in the sweetest most sensitive way possible, and there really isn't a better phrase to get the point across, but "grow a pair" when you're at a venue setting up and the basic essential conditions of the contract are not met.  A chef coat is the universal sign for "don't mess with me!", it will cut your challenge time in to minutes instead of hours.  You are there as a professional and you are on a time schedule too.  From having been in the hall business, the venue HAS to be ice cold before the guests arrive otherwise it's going to be a sauna in there by the time your cake is cut if it doesn't melt first from being too hot.  As for the table, there's a room at every venue that contains tables/chairs, find it and get your own table if they don't have a proper one out, do not deal with the coordinator, deal with the venue to get the problem corrected.  9:10 the "Coordinator" is a friend and not a professional that knows their butt from a hole in the ground, take control, be in charge of your cake while not stepping on other vendors toes!  Other vendors and your relationships with them give you more business in the long haul.   NEVER EVER EVER put doubt into a customer's mind!!!  You contacting them for anything short of a full-on catastrophe is going to do so.  All that matters is THEIR perception, not yours, never give them a reason to have doubt.  As for guests arriving and you still working on the cake - that's far better to work on the cake with an audiece than an unfinished cake if you've just got stuff to pluck into the back, next time keep working!  (if you're asked by guests, you smile and say "I just like to ensure the freshest cake possible is delivered to my clients!" and keep working fast as you can!

-K8memphis Posted 25 May 2014 , 4:44pm
post #26 of 27

i like what couturecake said -- dittos all around --

 

extreme ditto on the chef coat thing--huge--and another ditto on the 'grow a pair' idea-- just even be a little pissy yourself kwim--and it's not really hard when you're in the crucial stage of a cake like that--it's hard to not be pissy -- yes show it to a controlled degree-- guests arriving is normal--some of them are there hours in advance

howsweet Posted 25 May 2014 , 5:23pm
post #27 of 27

Quote:

Originally Posted by CoutureCake 
 

Good to know on the follow-up...  Had I been earlier to the discussion, my answer is NO!  There's no need for a partial refund when it's spelled out in your contract what you need, and they didn't provide it.

 

I agree with the others that the fondant problem is not on the temperature but the fondant you're using.  The half-finished cake is something you can point back to the contract on. 

 

Next issue: Your confidence - I mean this in the sweetest most sensitive way possible, and there really isn't a better phrase to get the point across, but "grow a pair" when you're at a venue setting up and the basic essential conditions of the contract are not met.  A chef coat is the universal sign for "don't mess with me!", it will cut your challenge time in to minutes instead of hours.  You are there as a professional and you are on a time schedule too.  From having been in the hall business, the venue HAS to be ice cold before the guests arrive otherwise it's going to be a sauna in there by the time your cake is cut if it doesn't melt first from being too hot.  As for the table, there's a room at every venue that contains tables/chairs, find it and get your own table if they don't have a proper one out, do not deal with the coordinator, deal with the venue to get the problem corrected.  9:10 the "Coordinator" is a friend and not a professional that knows their butt from a hole in the ground, take control, be in charge of your cake while not stepping on other vendors toes!  Other vendors and your relationships with them give you more business in the long haul.   NEVER EVER EVER put doubt into a customer's mind!!!  You contacting them for anything short of a full-on catastrophe is going to do so.  All that matters is THEIR perception, not yours, never give them a reason to have doubt.  As for guests arriving and you still working on the cake - that's far better to work on the cake with an audiece than an unfinished cake if you've just got stuff to pluck into the back, next time keep working!  (if you're asked by guests, you smile and say "I just like to ensure the freshest cake possible is delivered to my clients!" and keep working fast as you can!


Now there's some good advice.

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