For those of us who have not yet found our personal style (or in my case, will never find one – here’s my article about that) or those of us just starting out, most of our orders will be things the client has seen elsewhere, or something they have come up with themselves. This isn’t usually a problem until they design something or give us a picture of something which is, well, plain old UGLY. Sometimes we think it’s ugly because it’s not to our taste, other times it might be something that offends us, and sometimes it’s just, well…gross (I’m looking at you, zombie cakes.) So what do you do when a client asks you to do something which isn’t your thing? As I see it, you have two choices here:
- Take the order. If the cake design is just not to your taste, but it’s not actually offensive to you – you can do the order, but make sure the execution of it is amazing. Sure, purple and green gingham with a crocodile eating Minion might not be your idea of a beautiful cake, but if you do it – ROCK IT. Make sure it looks and tastes as amazing as you can get it. Take pictures so that you have a record of it, but don’t share them publicly. When you’re starting out, you need to practice your skills and these orders are an opportunity to push yourself out of your comfort zone. If you’re worried about your name being on a cake that is ugly – stop worrying about it. Not every cake will be your thing, and it’s not like there will be a light up sign with an arrow which says, “JANE MADE THIS UGLY THING.” Seriously. It’s not a big deal and not worth stressing about.
- Politely decline the order. If it’s something that’s offensive to you (for whatever reason) you don’t need to justify that. Either tell the white lie that you’re all booked out that weekend, or if you’d prefer not to lie – tell the truth. “Thanks for the enquiry, unfortunately I don’t make zombie cakes,” and leave it at that. Some people will question you as to why you won’t do it. To them I’d say, “It’s just not my thing,” or “It’s just not my style,” or “Zombies freak me out.” Just keep it simple, politely say no thank you and you won’t offend anyone. Don’t start ranting, don’t be mean, don’t be a jerk. You then should refer them onto another cake maker who is happy to do that kind of thing. Also if you have very specific rules about what you won’t do – you can put that on your website on the FAQ page. In my business, I would never make makes that looked like real people or pets. To me there is never a good reason to eat your best friend’s face or Fido’s butt. My website said, “While all our cakes are custom made, we do not make cakes that look like real people or beloved pets, so please do not ask us to.”
Saying no to a customer – for whatever reason – can make us feel bad. After all, we want to please them – and we want the order. The thing to remember here is, being in business is about solving the customer’s problem. In the case of a cake order, the problem is that they want a cake that you can’t make. Since you can’t solve this problem, help them find someone who can. Don’t take it personally, don’t spend a bunch of time stressing about this. Either say yes and suck it up, or say no and move on. Most of the time people are okay with it because ultimately they want the problem solved. At the moment there are a lot of bakeries getting into trouble for refusing to make same-sex marriage wedding cakes. These kinds of situations (where it ends up in the press, and a big legal and financial mess) are the exception rather than the norm. For the purposes of this article, I’m referring more to design than matters of the heart – but in most cases, being kind and polite is usually the best way to solve differences of cake opinion. A simple “no thank you, but here’s a solution for you,” usually works – and saves you from making that hideous creation.