Managing expectations. That is what it all comes down to. Making sure you (the cake designer) and the client are on the same page. Making sure they know that they brought you pictures of an $800.00 cake but only want to spend $200.00, and that they will not be getting what is in the picture. Making sure that when the customer doesn't give you any pictures at all, and say they trust you to make their vision a reality, that you know exactly what their vision is. Making sure that you ask every single question you can possibly think of to make sure the customer will be happy with their cake.
A few weeks ago, I had my first unhappy customer. It has taken me a little while to stop stewing over it, but now I realize that the customer wasn't unhappy because I made an ugly cake. The customer was unhappy because I (and by 'I', I mean the bakery I work at) couldn't read her mind. She had trouble putting into words what she actually wanted, and we failed in response by not laying out an exact plan prior to making her cake. We were not on the same page, and as a result, we lost money and, more importantly, we lost a customer. As a team, we learned a lot from this cake. We learned we need to manage our customers expectations better. We need to ask more questions, provide clear sketches, gather pictures, and there needs to be more communication between the sales team and the design team.
This is all a new adjustment for me. Up until now, I have been making cakes directly for clients as a freelancer. Mostly for people I know, or through people I know. Even at the restaurant, I was dealing directly with the clients for consults and was not only able to hear what they wanted and discuss options, but to read their facial cues and hear the emotion in their voices. Now, I am detached a bit from the process since the cake consults go through our sales team. I realize that it would be impossible for myself or my fellow cake designer to meet with every client that we have at the bakery, that is a full time job, but it adds a whole new aspect to the execution of a cake.
So, when I get a chance to design a cake for someone I know and someone who trusts me, I jump at it. For this cake, I got a color scheme and no expectations. I was free to do whatever I wanted, and that is something I find I will miss working for someone else. I had been wanting to try making dahlias out of gum paste for a while now, so that is what I did. Maybe I need to learn how to manage my own expectations as well. Until I have my own shop, my own business, this is how the game goes. I don't want this to sound like I am complaining, because I am not. I get to make cakes all day, every day. Some of them I get to help design, some of them I don't, but either way it is definitely where I want to be.