I just got a call from my mom today that things aren't doing to well for my grandma. Their thinking she only has perhaps a few days to live. I live in Cali now but I'm from the east coast, meaning I would have to fly back home for the funeral. I'm just not sure what to do about my customers. Do I mention to them now that I might not be able to make there orders. Do I find another baker now just in case? Do I just offer them a refund and they have to find somebody else?
That's a tough one because you really don't know when the funeral will be. Some don't have the funeral for weeks after the passing, so it's hard to schedule. I would clear my calendar for the first two weeks of October and definitely have some conversations with your clients coming up in the next couple of weeks and discuss last minute options such as will they accept a frozen cake in advance just in case or do you know another skilled baker who could pinch hit for you. Good luck and sorry about grandma.
Let your customers know and give them the options that you have listed above. If I were your client I would appreciate the honesty and the chance to find someone else.
Just thinking aloud here but I wonder if you could also give the option of preparing the cakes and having the customers freeze and then defrost as per directions that you could give them? Of course it would depend on the design/occasion as to whether that would be feasable for you and them.
P.S I just read Pastry Bag Lady's reply and see that she also suggested freezing the cakes so maybe it is a viable option for you to offer.
I am sorry to hear about your grandmother. Maybe if you bake cakes in advance and have a trusted person on standby so they can come and fill and decorate them for you? I can't remember how many hours it takes to fly across the USA. When we came we had a stop in Chicago... What is the custom with funerals in the USA? Are they a small event or do they extend into a 3-day celebration of a person's life and achievements? Will you be expected to spend time with the family or can you just fly in and out? How will your psychology be? If you are going to be hit hard, it will be very difficult for you to create a wedding cake so you need to think of this, too. It is awful having to plan for these things, but when you have a business and people pre-order months in advance, you need to make sure they are catered for, which is why I think you ought to secure help. And no, I would not mention a family emergency to clients as you don't want to spoil their happiness. I think as long as they get what they have ordered, there will be no harm if you trust someone else to put on the finishing touches.
First thing, do NOT just cancel on them and refund the money. If I was a bride, I would be furious if someone did that without at least trying to make the effort to find someone else. I had a bride come to me after her baker cancelled a month before the wedding (she was going on Holiday!) and she slammed them on facebook and told all her friends what happened. For once, I didn't blame her either. Most people are understanding with funerals but when this is the most important day of your life, just a 'sorry, can't help you now' can be very hard to swallow.
First up, while i know it is difficult, I would ask your Mom what her plans for the funeral will be. The more info you have, the better you can prepare. I know it's cold and very difficult to ask but your business is your livelihood and you need that after your Gran has passed. Cancelling a fortnight before a wedding can do serious damage to your reputation if not handled carefully but if you know her plans, you can do damage limitation on your end and make arrangements. I hope that your Mum would understand that.
I would personally speak to another local baker of comparable quality and find out their availability. Get the cost (and be prepared to pay the difference if there is one yourself). Ideally, get 2+ options for each customer. You can offer the baker any flowers or decorations you have already made to go on the cake if they are pressed for time. You can then go to the customer, explain that there is a problem but offer solutions. Above everything else from a cake point of view, you need to keep your customer happy. I would respectfully disagree with Shockolata and make it clear that someone else would be making the cake. If there were any problems, I'd want the customer to know it wasn't me that did a bad job!
My only other advice would be to prep all decorations early so at least you have more options. We lost my fiances Gran in January (who was closer to my than my own grandparents) and it was a terrible time because we thought she was going to pass on several times so made the trip home each time. I found my decorating to be a great distraction. Luckily I had no massive orders when she actually left us but I did decorate her cake and doing so was incredibly comforting.
My thoughts are with you and your family x
@Snowflakebunny23 I did not suggest she does not tell the client she is having someone else complete the cake. I said don't talk to them about a death in the family. And anyway, what is the difference between making a cake yourself or having an apprentice of co-worker finish it up? It will be your name on the invoice and your responsibility. You can't tell the client, I left it to XY and she messed up so don't blame me. :)
I agree with first lining up another baker or two who could help if needed, then alerting your customers. Some of them might want to change right away, but some might be willing to take a chance and wait until closer to the date. The important thing is to offer alternatives when you talk to them so that they don't panic thinking that they don't have options at all.