No matter your wedding budget—whether it's $10,000 or $100,000—couples are always looking for ways to save money. And wedding cakes are one place that brides tend to look for shortcuts (read: more affordable!) ways to keep with tradition. But will serving a small cake at each reception table save more money than offering just a single big cake? And like a 12-tier coconut chiffon cake with a cream-cheese-and-lemon-curd filling, this question has many layers.
"Not really," says contributing editor and New York City pastry chef Jason Schreiber, and "Ordering multiple cakes from a specialty cake shop will almost certainly not save you a dollar, and may even cost more." That's because you're paying for labor and work-intensive add-ons—like sugar flowers and piped icing—not size. "The time and effort that goes into making 15 small custom cakes is not remarkably less than that of a single larger one," explains Schreiber. "Plus, if your order takes over a bakery's fridge space, you might be charged extra to make up for lost business."
Remember this cake cardinal rule: It's all about how your slice it. Most wedding cakes - whether one tier or many - are priced by the slice, with the average cost starting at about $7.50 each.
Further, the more cakes you have, the more accessories you might be responsible for—there's the cost of renting a dozen stands instead of just one, for instance. There's also the additional slicing fee charged by some venues, which can be anywhere from $1 to $8 per slice. Also, table cakes are likely to be more expensive to serve because the venue will have to provide more wait staff to organize the "production" of removing cakes from tables, slicing and plating them, re-serving the slices, then clearing plates, explains Ashley Garner, the Senior Catering Sales Manager of Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina. "That's much more effort than a standard wedding cake or a simple dessert course."
Because cost is your prime concern, opt for a modest buttercream-covered confection from your caterer with one flavor, a single filling, and topped with something simple. Additional sheet cakes cut in the kitchen (out of sight, out of mind!) will feed the remainder of your guest count.
And one more thing: if you talked yourself into the idea of serving table cakes, here's how to have your cake and eat it, too. Reduce your flower tab by forgoing floral centerpieces (your cakes become "edible arrangements"), and therefore, your overall budget. And try ordering standard family-sized cakes (say eight inches) from a retail bakery, which might in fact save you money, says Schreiber, but probably not as much as you hope.