So I'm really bummed about this customer complaint I recently got. I started my business about 4 years ago and have never had a complaint about the cakes and desserts I've made, so this phone call I got from my customer has really hit me hard. I know, as cake decorators, we all have bad days, but at the same time, I don't know if what she complained about is really my fault. I made a three tier, 6", 8", 10" tiered cake, all covered in fondant with fondant decorations. I delivered the cake and set it up at the location; it was about a 40 minute drive. It made it there completely fine, no problems whatsoever. The party was outside, and the day was pretty warm, but it was in the shade. Anyway, my customer called me a few days later and said she was really disappointed in the cake, but that it did taste good (at least I get points for that, haha). She said that it wasn't what she expected, the fondant apparently had a lot of dents in it -- which I don't believe to be true, I took pictures of the cake before delivering it. But ok. And she said the cake was leaning heavily towards one side. I asked her if it fell over, and she said it didn't. She said she had pictures and could send them to me, but she didn't want to "rub it in my face." I told her that I appreciate honest feedback, and I'm very sorry that it wasn't what she expected. I also said that I've never had a complaint before and this was pretty shocking and surprising for me to hear, especially since when I dropped it off, it was completely fine...no leaning at all. I asked her if she wanted a portion of the cake to be refunded, and she said that wasn't necessary. She was very pleasant and nice, but she did cancel another order that she had placed for a future event. Was it the heat that could've caused the cake to apparently lean? And if so, is that my fault or theirs? I use those strong hollow plastic dowels in all my cakes, plus a center dowel for extra support (just in case), and the cardboard cake circles for each tier. And while she didn't want a refund, I still feel so upset about it. But, since this has come up, I am curious as to where the fault lies in a situation like this. I know I should just take the feedback and move on, but I worked very hard on that cake (as I do with all of my orders), and I almost feel a little angry that she would say that the cake wasn't up to her expectations. I am not a beginner...been doing this for awhile. I don't know, maybe I don't know how to handle negative feedback. I had met her mother for a tasting, and I didn't like her at all--very stuck up and snobby, rude, and just not someone I care to do business with, but I remained pleasant and civil with her, so I wonder if this feedback was really coming from the mother and she didn't want to call me and tell me herself? Any input would be appreciated. Thank you!
define 'pretty warm' --
and how long do you think it sat out before it was served -- (you should ask her that)
i'd kindly insist on seeing the pictures --
without the pictures i'd assume it's their fault due to the weather -- i guarantee my cakes to the cake table -- it's their responsibility after that especially for an outdoor wedding -- maybe they moved it -- who knows --
but you don't have a picture of it on site? going forward always get a picture of the cake on site so you can determine if it was moved --
It was about 85 degrees outside (Southern California weather, ugh). I don't have a picture of it on site, but I do remember where it was put. She actually just texted me a picture of it, saying she "just doesn't know what to say about it", as if it was such a huge catastrophe. It looks to be in the same spot, but I can't guarantee that. But now, she's asking for a refund after our previous conversation when I offered a portion of the cake to be refunded, and she said that wasn't necessary...so now I don't know why she's coming back saying that she does want a refund. I see in the picture that there is a little leaning, but not excessively, and when I left it, it wasn't leaning at all. I have a picture that I took (for my own records) before it was delivered, and it was as straight and level as can be, and I inspected it when I took it out of the car and when I put it on the table, and still totally fine. I know the construction of the cake is solid, so the only thing I can figure is the warm weather. But I guess she feels it's my fault that it was a warm day. I don't know how long it was out before they served it.
Always take a picture of any cake delivered. That way you have proof all was fine when you left it. Also in case the cake is moved after you leave. You never know. This way if any complaint is made you still have to deal with it, but at least you have a picture of the cake when you left the venue
was the cake room temp or cold when you delivered it?
and your dowel -- they were all exactly identical in length yes? not placed into the cake and then snipped off --
she sounds like she's being coached -- consider 5-10% refund but ask her when that picture was taken
1. What does your contract say? If you do not have a clause that states that your responsibility ends after delivery, insert that clause NOW.
2. Always, always, always take a picture of the cake at the venue. Always get a close up to show the cake is undamaged, and get another one in a wide angle shot to determine its placement in the room/venue and whether or not it was moved. You simply must do this. Even if you forget, they turn your car around and go back. It's that important.
3 The dents were likely from fingers poking at it. "Is that real?"
4. She is definitely being coached by the mother.
5. Look into SPS for your support system. I left bc cakes in 105 degree/ 80% humidity for HOURS and nothing happened to them. I also use a heat stable icing.
Regarding a partial refund, do what your contract says. If your contract is silent, then follow your conscience. But also know, that if you give a refund she will tell all her friends and they will also try this tactic on you. People suck these days.
It sounds like I use a similar support system as you. Instead of the plastic columns I use bubble tea straws and two center dowels. I deliver cakes in hot weather and high humidity all the time without a problem.
Was the buttercream heat resistant? I use Sharon Sugarshack's recipe and it works great in hot weather.
From the sound of it I would guess it was nothing you did. But, your pictures of proof should be once delivered. A lot can happen in the car ride.
The cake was delivered chilled; I always take cakes straight from the fridge to the car, which is already cold since I have the AC running on full blast. The dowels were all cut to the same length. I've done so many fondant and buttercream cakes before, that sat outside with no cover and on warm days, and I've never had a problem. I use Swiss Meringue Buttercream. Since I've never had this issue before, I really don't trust that they didn't do something, whether on accident or not, I know it couldn't be from something I did. I know you all will kill me for this, haha, but I don't use contracts for cake orders. I've always tried to believe in the good in people and that they won't stiff me or come back to me with crap like this… and so far, it hasn't failed me. But it only takes that one person to ruin it for everyone else. I guess I'll have to come up with contracts from now on. People really do suck. And I agree…she has got to have been coached by her mom. When I spoke to her on the phone, she was almost reluctant to say anything because I think she knows her reasons for being "disappointed" were had no legitimacy to them at all. And she didn't ask for a refund until about an hour after we hung up, when she texted me saying that she'd actually like one if not too late. I bet she got on the phone with her mom and her mom said to ask for a refund. Ugh, so annoying. I hope this never happens again, but being realistic, I know you can't win them all.
i use order blanks that we both signed -- a contract or an order blank is just a piece of paper it doesn't change the fact that her mom was insecure and unpleasant --
i strongly dislike these extensive multi page contracts where every little thing that ever went wrong in the caker's history is listed and adjudicated going forward where it all has to be initialed like you're buying a house --
on the order blank i had the payment dates listed and beside each one it said not refundable and the last payment date it said "no changes after ... -- i had a spot to the side where i said something about the size of the servings and that additional could be ordered in increments of 24 servings blablabla then it had all the particulars of the event and people and the cake of course --
the non-refundable parts -- i explained all that during the consult -- and i said that the wedding taking place is not a prerequisite on the cake order that this is a separate entity entirely and they need to be prepared to house/freeze the cake somewhere or have a big party if there is a delay for any reason.
of the thousands and thousands of cakes i've done there have been very very few complaints/mishaps -- not even 1% -- so sure you need to be ready to handle complaints they do happen but building a moat around palace walls isn't necessary
I agree. I don't want to have extensive contracts, but I know that having something a bit more detailed than I have now is probably necessary. It just bothers me that the complaint really had no legitimacy.
that would be frustrating -- and i'm sorry that happened --
best to you
Having them sign a contract is very important. It covers you in case something like this happens. Also it's a good idea to have a sign off sheet that someone in charge at the venue has to sign, saying that the cake is in good shape etc. It sounds from what you described that the mom is definitely coaching her daughter for a refund. The only other thing I can think of is, even tho the dowels were all cut the same length, maybe the cake tier itself wasn't completely level? Or, if you only used one cake cardboard which was already under the cake, that could be a factor too because they tend to get a little soggy and could have caused a slight lean in the cake. I always put an extra one in there just in case. Just grasping at straws here. Speaking of straws, I use bubble tea straws all the time and they work great and always deliver the cakes separately and assemble at the venue. Sounds like mom has "buyer's remorse" and is trying to get her money back.
Cakemaker61 and the others had excellent advice!! I especially love the idea of having a sign off sheet that someone in charge at the venue has to sign!! Hang in there.
I am so sorry that you have to go through this. The bad days really do suck. Keep your head up and remember the good ones. I have a few recommendations.
Get a Contract! - make sure that it states that you are not responsible after delivery and set up, for being left in excessive heat, I recommend putting the idea temp range (and out of direct sunlight etc) and environment on it. etc etc there are threads out there for suggestions but get yourself protected. Make sure it states what they wanted (color of tiers, size, flavor, decorations) this needs to be signed and given with final payment. If any last minute changes it needs done again and signed.
Keep a level in your delivery box. Make sure the table is level. In high heat, the table being off a little could possibly wreck a lot of havoc!
Take tons of pictures. I photograph all sides of the cake and have different angles of the room, tent, etc in them etc to show where it was and how it looked. I may only use one for my portfolio but I have some for the file.
Have a cake delivery sheet. I have someone on sight that the bride and groom have authorized to sign saying the cake was delivered at this time and set up etc. You just can't be too safe! I had my toolbox knocked off while setting up one time as the wedding party was moving chairs. You never know when the person letting you into the hall may accidentally knock into it etc. Get covered.
I would offer a very small refund, if you feel that you should. She turned it down so the offer doesn't have to still be on the table. The fact of the matter is, they got a cake and ate it. You put a lot of work and time into it. You have pictures that are different than theirs. I honestly would ask what time the pic was taken and the cake was cut.
Anyways I hope that helps. Honestly it's probably a blessing in disguise they cancelled the other order.
I also use my delivery sheet for any instructions that need reiterated. Like "remove ribbon before serving" "remove flowers" it is helpful to add a reminder of when any plates and pillars are to be returned by to get their deposit for those returned etc. I make two copies and mine gets signed. I put theirs in a small box for the top tier to be placed in if they keep it.
Thank you all so much...these are all great suggestions. I really like the idea of a delivery sheet. I'm opening a storefront soon, so I know I need to protect myself and use contracts. I just need to figure out a way that protects me but also isn't too overwhelming for my customers. I've put this one behind me, but I agree with auntmandys...I think it is a blessing in disguise so I don't have to work with that terrible mother again. From the moment I met her, I knew I didn't like her at all. I wish I could show you all a picture of the final cake and the pictures that the customer sent me of what she wanted, just to make sure I'm not going crazy--that the cake was how she wanted it, since the gal told me over the phone that it wasn't what she expected and the topper was wrong, apparently--all of that in addition to the supposed leaning of the cake. I still don't get it, but whatever. Not much I can do about someone else's opinion.
I've learned to print out a sheet of paper with anything related to the cake on it with a blank line below for the person to sign. Under the line is dated, with the following sentence "I understand that delivery of this cake is my responsibility. I've been warned about heat over 83 degrees and displaying on level surfaces. (insert company name) is not responsible for it after it leaves their hands" This is a sobering statement that I also talk with them about over the phone before they come to pick it up and usually they call back and ask me to deliver it. When I deliver a cake I make sure to take two photos, one close up for my website and one further away to show to prove it has or has not been moved. If all your straws were the same size the only thing that could have gone wrong is that one of the straws broke through the cardboard so what I would do from now on is ditch the cardboard rounds and replace with foam core board - cut out with an Xacto knife. Very sturdy. And I use Balloon Sticks (not to be confused with balloon straws) - very sturdy but unfortunately only ordered on line through China. Can't live Without them!
What are balloon sticks? Are they food-safe?
good question, jk, i'm sure they are not food safe if they are made in china for balloons -- not saying they are necessarily unsafe but with all our great products and bountiful treasures we have available i would heartily recommend using specific food safe items for cake dowel --
just as an aside i was feeding my dog these little chew sticks from china and basically he got hooked on them -- literally hooked -- so he whined for them for a few weeks -- he never whined like that for anything before or since and eventually he got over it -- oh my -- and don't get me started on chinese tilapia -- we are just way different cultures and the blending is not always as smooth as one would want to say it diplomatically --
I really like the foamcore board wrapped in a food safe plastic or press and seal. It works wonders for support and gives a little extra height per tier.