1. Order a small display cake.
Ask your baker to make a one- or two-tier cake for display and cutting, and supplement with sheet cake in the back for serving your guests. "The cost difference is usually around 20 percent per slice," says Liz Shim, owner of Eat Cake Be Merry. And have fun with your table. Victoria Zagami of Made in Heaven Cakes suggests having a one-tier wedding cake and loads of cupcakes.
2. Keep it simple.
Sugar flowers, tall tiers and lots of piping can really increase the price of a wedding cake. So when it comes to choosing your cake style, try to look for designs you love that don’t have a lot of add-ons. "We’re pricing cakes based on ‘touch time,’ the amount of labor and hours spent designing the cake," says Amy Noelle of Sugar Flower Cake Shop. If you still want flowers, there are designs that cost less. Lauri Ditunno founder of Cake Alchemy charges less for decorations that are flat, like painted flower motifs, and more for sugar flowers.
3. Pare down your flowers (or choose real ones!).
Speaking of flowers, sugar flowers are a lot of work (and we mean A LOT). It can take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours to mold and dust just one pretty sugar replica. Choose a simple cake with one large stem or a spray of flowers on a single tier of the cake. Another trick is to choose sugar flower types that don’t require as much detail (read: labor). "Instead of a cascade of roses or peonies, choose hydrangeas or calla lilies," Ditunno says. Fresh flowers are a pretty and cost-friendly alternative too—just let your florist in on your plans, so they can source buds that are free of pesticides and food safe.
4. Be resourceful with your cake display.
Some couples go all out buying or renting elaborate cake stands, which are pretty, but not really necessary. "Most bakers will provide a decorated base board you can place right on the table," Shim says. Once you have your cake display, focus on adding to the space around it—choose a fun linen from home, add candles or repurpose the bridesmaid bouquets to give the table some sparkle.
5. Serve smaller slices.
Consider scaling back on slices if your caterer includes a sweet course—passed chocolate-covered strawberries or mini-truffles are both good options. "You can let your caterer know they should cut tasting portions, three quarters the usual size, and plate the cake with other desserts," Noelle says. Instead of having a plate served at every place setting, you could ask your caterer to put the slices on a buffet or cake table instead.
6. Choose buttercream.
In the world of frosting, there are two heavyweights: buttercream and fondant. There are pros and cons to each, including cost. "Buttercream is almost always less expensive," says Shim. "Fondant requires extra steps and materials, and it can be a difficult ingredient to work with, so the cost is more expensive." But beware: "A ‘clean’ looking frosted cake doesn’t always mean simple," Noelle says. If you’re requesting a smooth applique finish on your buttercream confection, which requires precision and time, you may not notice big savings. And some bakers may charge you extra for fondant, especially if you’re requesting a lace applique or a detailed pattern design, so it’s good to ask up front.
7. Go naked.
Another way to save money on your cake is to skip the frosting. We call them naked cakes, and they’re actually a hot trend, plus they’re practical. "Naked cakes are a lot less expensive because they use less buttercream and take less time," says Alana Jones-Mann, a Brooklyn, New York–based baker. Experiment with unique flavors and fillings, like lemon curd, champagne buttercream or chocolate ganache with toasted almonds, so the "wow factor" is on the inside.
8. Have your cake pull double-duty.
Here’s a fun idea: Instead of spending extra on your favors, have slices of your cake packaged up in to-go boxes so your guests get their dessert and a take-home on their way out the door. You could even pair it with mini-jugs of milk. Or another way to go is to serve your cake first and use cake slices or cupcakes decorated with mini-flags as the escort cards.
9. Choose a boutique bakery (or add a cake to your catering package).
You might not get tons of tiers, intricate patterns or realistic-looking sugar flowers, but if you love your local bakery, ask the baker if they make wedding cakes. Because they aren’t specialists, you may have more limited design choices—but the savings can be big. In the same way, ask your caterer if they include cakes in their packages. A lot of times if you order your cake from your caterer, the overall cost will be lower. Some caterers even require that you use them, and if you don’t, they’ll charge a fee for bringing in another baker. So do a little cost comparison to snag the best deal.