Recently, my partner Carey and I had a discussion about this... Carey had talked with one of our clients and couldn't get them to come up with a cake design. After talking for a while I realized that everyone has a different style of meeting clients and designing cakes. Some have a menu of cakes and brides to-be order cake #4 off the list. Others ask clients to bring photos of the cake they like and they copy that cake for them. It's easy to miss that your style of doin a consult can determine the style of cakes and types of cakes you get to do. We all have our way, but my thought is that there is only one cake expert at a consult... And it sure as hell isn't the client!
I used to work with my mother, and she had a style of taking several photos of cakes the client wanted and combining the pieces and parts of several designs to make a single "custom" cake. As a result I ended up helping produce a ton of cakes with dots, diamonds and stripes, with quilted patterns and pearl borders. I realized that even though we were meeting with a client and "custom designing" their cake, the designs reflected our style of consult. Since I started woking on my own I have found that the style of cakes I get "asked" for has changed.... Is it because they're just asking for something different, or is it that my own style of meeting with them has changed?
When I meet with clients, I frequently look at the many cake pictures they've gathered, I look at the dress, sample their invitations and try to get a feel for the personal style of the client... Many have settled on some sort of design they've created from what is essentially their first and only attempt at cake design. Why would we as cake designers be satisfied with that? Who's the expert here? As cake people we understand what it takes to make cake. We all have ideas and techniques that with a little thought could be just the right touch for a clients wedding or event. Our job as the cake designer is to help them get what they want, even if they don't really know what they want!
In a short amount of time it's pretty easy to get a feel for a clients personal taste. Most of them are drawn to a certain style or theme, the next step is to interpret that information and create something that they will like and that you as a decorator wants to do! It's much easier to work on a cake when you feel like the design is your own and especially so if you can talk a client into letting you do something you've been dieing to do. As we all know when we want to do a cake, we usually go above and beyond! Very rarely do I have to do dots and diamonds and I'm very happy about that! My customers are always excited to see their cake and proud to know it's truely one of a kind!
Finally don't be afraid to say no. Many times I've been asked to do a design that I know won't look right. Or it may be that a client wants a design thats done in fondant in the photos but they want it in buttercream. Again it's important to explain that your experience is that the combination doesn't wok.
so in short:
Don't be afraid to tell the customer what they want. be the expert!
Listen to them and design something that fits the bill, but is unique and pushes the design envelope.
let them know that their design is just for them and not just a copy or combination of copies.