Should I Charge a Last Minute Order Fee?


The question of charging an additional fee for last minute orders seemed like a total no-brainer to me. Until I got an email which said this,

“A few days ago, a lady posted a question on a Cake Decorators FB page, asking for a bit of advice. She received a last minute order for a cake (to be completed within 24 hours) and was not sure whether it is reasonable to charge a late order fee considering her workload she already had. The responses were all for charging the extra fee (a few suggested not to take the order on). The main arguments were:

  • the customer needs to learn not to make orders in last minute
  • she (the cake lady) needs to compensate herself for the stress she will have by taking the order, working under pressure and until  late hours.

I was the only one arguing the opposite, answering following: “Charging more just because they approached you with a last minute order does not make sense. It is up to you to decide whether you can physically and emotionally do it and if you agree to take the order on, you are responsible for the decision you made (cannot see why they should pay for it). You do not have to say yes.”

So I did a bit more reading on the internet – online chats on the same topic – and it seems that it is widely supported by the cake decorators to charge more if they accept last minute order. Well I still struggle to accept that, thinking…hold on, why would you want to educate your customer by price “punishment” about making orders well in advance next time. The customer’s circumstances could have been such that they too did not know until last minute they will need a cake. Additionally, most cake decorators sound as if they have to take the order on and because it is going to be terribly stressful for them, the customer must pay for it. Again, hold on, nobody is forcing them to do it. In my opinion, there is no such thing as for example paying overtime when a person is self-employed. You either want the business or not. You can either do the cake or not.  I am still convinced that charging extra for last minute order (with exception of incurred extra expenses caused by the late order) is unprofessional, but I feel under pressure from so many opposite opinions.”


I have to say, it’s rare for an email to stop me dead in my tracks like that. I really stopped and pondered on this one for a few days, because it made me think hard about my “of course late orders pay a late fee” idea.  She makes some VERY valid points in this email.

First let me say that I agree entirely with the first bit – your business, your rules so if you want to take the business, take it and if not, well, not.

However I still think a last minute fee is a good idea and here’s why I think so.

In my mind the last minute fee isn’t really just there “because you can” charge it. It’s there to cover the fact that last minute orders will often require more of you – more running around, adjusting your schedule, getting things last minute, working longer hours, getting someone to help etc. So the extra fee is covering the extra time/work/effort that it may take you to complete the order in a shorter time frame – which is time/work/effort which would NOT BE THERE if they ordered on time. More work = more money. Of course in some instances, because you’re not busy there may not be any extra effort involved beyond a normal cake order – but then the issue is one of consistency. You can’t really charge someone a late fee because you have not much on that weekend, and then the next time they order you are more busy so you would charge them. Also there is the issue of, “Well if I ordered with 24 hours last time, why can’t I order like that this time?” so there is something to be said about the late fee also helping with educating the customer to order with plenty of notice.
Honestly, I don’t think a late fee is “punishing” the customer. Ultimately it’s their choice if they want to go with the order or not just like it’s your choice to give them the option to order in the first place. When we order online, they give us the same option but it’s not a “fee” per se. For example, standard shipping is $10 but express shipping is $20. We’re not being punished, we’re being given a choice about how soon we want to receive something. Same applies here.
I find it’s quite rare for a person to not know they need a cake within at least a week of their event – and quite honestly there are a LOT of options for those kinds of instances. Supermarkets, local bakeries, etc you can walk in and buy a cake that day. It’s rare for someone to need a highly decorated, custom made cake with less than a few days’ notice.
So do I think a late fee is warranted? Yes, I do – but I don’t see it as punishment.
With all that said, let me tell you how I did things in the real world of my business.
If someone called my business last minute and needed something, and I could easily fit it in with no extra issues, I just did it with no fee, however I would make a point of saying that we prefer and appreciate one week’s notice for orders. If they called last minute and it DID require me to do extra running around etc, then I’d be really upfront about it and say, “Because I’ll need to do XYZ especially for this order, there is a late order fee of $25. Would you like to still go ahead with the order?” and at that point, it’s up to them. They still have a choice, right? To go with me, or to go to a local supermarket and pick up a ready made cake.  Most of the time, people still ordered with me so it was a win/win situation – and if they didn’t, well, I didn’t lose much other than the irritation of having to run around.
So should YOU charge a last minute fee?
By now you know what I’ll say, right?

Your business, your rules.

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