Budgeting your wedding opens a whole new world of expenses you never considered. Between the cost of drinks to those mini hot dogs for cocktail hour, your head is surely spinning. How does buffet catering really cost THAT much? So when it gets to figuring out dessert, you’re already defeated. I looked at the costs of wedding cake for this guide to help you estimate just how much of your budget is going to the cake and how you can find the right option for your budget.
Wedding cake costs $4 per person on average. This is based on national averages for cake and guest list size and supported by a quick comparison of some of the most popular options. The cheapest is a sheet cake from the grocery store at $1.33 per person. And the most expensive is a multi-tiered layer cake from the bakery at $10 per person.
Keep reading for more information on how much you should budget for cake and other desserts at your reception. Plus, some tips from couples for how to keep costs down without your guests even knowing!
How much is a wedding cake for 100 guests?
|Wedding Cake Type||Cost for 100 people||Cost of cake per person|
|Sheet Cake from Grocery Store||$133||$1.33|
|Standard Sheet Cake from a Bakery||$200||$2.00|
|Custom Sheet Cake from a Bakery||$225||$2.25|
|Custom Buttercream Round Cake||$204||$2.04|
|Custom Round Cake with Fondant||$415||$4.15|
|Custom Sheet Cake with Fondant||$318||$3.18|
|Custom Tiered Cake||$1000||$10|
Some explanations of how I got the numbers above. For a sheet cake, I looked at Walmart to see how much the average sheet cake costs. They offer a $19.97 cake that serves 15 people. Full sheet cakes which serve 30-40 people can also be purchased at places like BJ’s or Costco for similar prices per slice.
For the bakery cakes, I did a random sample of 5 bakeries across the country who listed their pricing online. I used an average for the numbers in the chart.
Tiered cake is the hardest to price out because it depends on so many factors like the number of tiers, decoration, fillings and cake base flavors, delivery, etc. But we found a number of options between $750-$1500 so averaged it to about $1000.
These prices vary across the country. So if you live in a high cost of living area, expect to pay a premium. For example, Wedding Cake in NYC can cost anywhere from $8-15 per serving according to the Wall Street Journal.
How much will my wedding cake cost?
Based on the average cost of a wedding cake in the U.S. of $500 for 125 guests, according to Brides and The Knot, here’s a reference table for how much you can expect your cake to cost based on the number of guests you have.
|Number of Guests||Wedding Cake Cost|
As you can see from the chart, the more you guests you have the further you are from the average cake cost. And of course the type of cake and where you live can drastically alter those costs.
If you LOVE cake and don’t want to compromise on the towering cake of your dreams, but still want to save some money, you might want to consider a cake and punch reception. Cake and punch receptions used to be really popular and are a great throwback to the days before the wedding industry exploded. You have a simple reception after your ceremony, typically during the day, and only serve dessert and drinks (aka cake and punch.) You can read more about this style of reception here.
What’s the difference in quality between a grocery store cake and a bakery cake?
To know what you’re paying for and help you make the best decision when choosing a cake, I talked to professional baker, Jennifer Han, from Field and Fire cafe. She helped break it down for me what goes into making the typical cake for an event.
When you buy a cake from a bakery such as Costco or Sam’s Club, you are getting a product that can taste pretty good, but it’s also made cheaply. The flour is cheap, the sugar is cheap, the eggs probably come from factory farms and there are lots of preservatives and emulsifiers—not to say that their cakes are “bad” but they will ultimately lack in the depth of flavor you get from a bakery cake. When you buy from a local bakery, you’re getting simple, whole ingredients—flour, butter, sugar, milk, eggs, baking powder, salt..you get the picture. No junk. Especially when it comes to frosting. There is a huge difference in taste and texture.Jennifer Han, Field and Fire Cafe
In addition to the ingredients, if you want a certain look for your cake to match your wedding color scheme or theme then you’re also going to find a bakery is able to accomplish your vision more easily than a grocery store. Most grocery stores don’t customize their cakes beyond having a regular employee put some writing on the top. With that added effort comes additional labor costs.
Why is wedding cake so expensive?
The average time it takes for a bakery to make a wedding cake is 20-57 hours according to American Dream Cakes. And it costs bakeries several hundred dollars in labor and materials.
Ultimately, you are paying for someone to spend time making your cake. Making cakes is SO labor intensive! Thanks to youtube and instagram, people can now see exactly how much work goes into cakes. I have spent hours on wedding cakes and oftentimes it is a multi-day process. When you want something hand-decorated, it’s going to take time. Even with simple cakes, like naked cakes or plain white, it takes time. You have to scale, mix, bake, and trim your cake layers. They have to cool. You have the make the frosting, crumb coat, and chill the cake. Then, frost, and chill again. Then decorate. With multi tiered cakes, you’re making multiple cakes! It takes a lot of time and care! A cake is a custom handmade product, and you pay more for custom handmade products.Jennifer Han
As you can see from above, the average bakery can make a small profit to stay in business making wedding cakes but they’re not getting rich or taking advantage of their couples. It takes a long time and a lot of effort and many years of experience to make a wedding cake as beautiful as the ones you see on Pinterest or Instagram.
How to save money on a wedding cake
There are two ways you can save money on a traditional wedding cake: combining a sheet cake with a cutting or dummy cake to save money on the amount per serving, or mixing in an alternative dessert like cookies or cupcakes.
If you’ve been paying attention to the pricing above, it might be obvious that a sheet cake will save you a ton of money over something round or tiered. One secret hack that people don’t know before they plan a wedding is to mix and match cakes for money-savings without compromising the look of a tiered cake!
That’s what I did for my wedding and none of my guests knew the difference. We had our bakery create a small fancy cake that served 10-15 people for us to cut into for pictures and put on display. But we also ordered a sheet cake in the same flavor for the caterers to cut from for the majority of the guests. That trick got us a lower cost per slice for the majority of our guests, saving us over $100.
An alternative is to use a dummy cake as the stand in cake for display. Keep reading to learn what a dummy cake is.
A second great way to find cost savings is to do enough cake for half the guests and serve something else that’s cheaper per person like cookies or donuts. Most people won’t eat both desserts so you don’t need to double up on both.
What’s a dummy cake?
A dummy cake is a styrofoam cake that’s used as the display cake for weddings, complete with frosting and flowers.
I haven’t tried it myself but I asked Jennifer what her thoughts were.
First of all, if you want the aesthetic of a beautiful fancy cake but you aren’t too concerned with a custom flavor, or don’t want to pay for high quality, (sugar is sugar to some people, that’s fine! not judging!), or just don’t want to serve cake at all you can find a bakery that does dummy cakes. You can also buy them pre-made on Etsy. They are essentially styrofoam cakes that can be decorated like a real cake. Some people have a pretty dummy cake but then serve a cheaper simple sheet cake. Or have a small 6in cake for the couple only, that sits atop dummy tiers for the “look”.Jennifer Han
The only downside to this approach is that you can’t cut into a styrofoam cake so it would be for display purposes only unless you had at least one tier that was a real cake.
What can I serve at a wedding instead of cake?
How does a cake compare to other dessert options? We’re glad you asked. Here’s another chart with some alternatives to wedding cake and how the costs stack up.
|Dessert Type||Cost for 100 people||Cost of dessert per person|
|Cupcakes (store bought)||$163.25||$1.63|
|Donut Wall||$300 (+ cost of display rental)||$3|
|Catered dessert tray||$600-1000||$6-10|
|Ice cream bar||$1200||$12|
As you can see from the chart above, it really depends on the dessert. Most of them are cheaper per person than the most expensive wedding cakes but depending on the cake you were going to choose the dessert options could be on-par, cheaper or even more expensive than wedding cake.
Dessert tables are the *thing* right now. I love putting them together, the possibilities are endless—cheesecake bites, brownies, cookies, scones, cake pops, truffles, trifle cups, mini tarts, macarons/macaron tower, mini cupcakes, eclairs, donuts…people LOVE pretty, mini desserts.Jennifer Han
If a candy bar sounds intriguing, you can read more about them here and even learn what it takes to DIY one.
Are cupcakes cheaper than wedding cake?
As you can see from our analysis above, cupcakes are cheaper to serve than a wedding cake. By serving cupcakes you can save on average 96-58%. That’s $480 saved if you make your own. And $293 saved if you order them from a bakery.
For that amount of money, it could make a lot of sense for you to make your own cupcakes if you’re having a smaller wedding or ask a friend or family member who likes to bake to gift them to you! It would be a lot of work to ask someone to make you a multi-tiered wedding cake but 4 boxes of cupcakes could easily be baked up the days leading up to the wedding and kept in a fridge.
Thinking of catering some aspects of your wedding? Read this guide from a bride who catered her own wedding.
Cake can be a major wedding expense that you weren’t anticipating but with the tips above you can save hundreds of dollars and still have all the traditions – from the cake cutting ceremony to the beautiful photos. Here are some last thoughts from Jennifer.
All in all, it ultimately comes down to “you get what you pay for.” A wedding cake from a bakery is higher quality, flavorful, unique, customizable, and you have a pastry chef/baker available to you for tasting, consulting, and making something beautiful. Yes, there are places that will upcharge you ridiculously for wedding cakes but that’s wrong, and it gives us honest, passionate pastry chefs a bad look. We put a lot of heart and time into cakes. For some people, “cake is cake” but once you do a custom wedding tasting, you’ll see that’s not the case.Jennifer Han
You can check out my free budget guide if you sign up for my newsletter. It automatically calculates what you should spend where based on your budget and guest count and helps you stay on track. It’s like the fairy godmother of numbers.