When Bad Things Happen to Good People

I received a Facebook message from a friend who had had a 4 tier cake collapse. She was understandably upset and was seeking advice. As I read posts on Facebook from other friends, I realized that numerous people were having a really rough cake weekend. I wanted to let each of you know that you are not alone and that cake-tastrophes rarely define your career.

What would I know about it? More than you could imagine. I am going to be very honest with you and share a couple of the worst day of my life. Well, what I thought at the time were the worst days of my life.

One day a bride had called in her credit card number for final payment on her cake. I took down the number and handed the file to an employee to ring up. Long story short, the employee never rang up the charges and at some point tossed the file on my desk with a bunch of other papers, where it became buried. If you can connect the dots, you know that means that the bride’s wedding day came and went with no cake from us. I came in the next day to find the most hateful, awful phone messages. I nearly vomited on the spot.

I found the file buried on my desk, after a frantic search to figure out how we missed a cake. I did the only thing I could do. I called the mother and apologized. I wrote a letter to the bride. I paid her for the cake…not a refund since we never charged her…I gave her what it would have cost. I gave her gift certificates for a two tier cake and an anniversary topper. And you know what? I survived. The family saw how distraught I was and saw that I was trying to make it right. The best part? Her church continued to be a source of many weddings for me. I handled it like a professional and it all worked out in the end.

One of my favorite brides ever had a six tier cake. As I finished setting it up, it was beautiful. My husband Rob, who usually points out any flaws, said “I’m really proud of you…that is a great cake”. I was ecstatic. A few hours later, I received a call at home from the wedding planner. The top two tiers of the cake had ” fallen” off the cake. The cake could still be served, but they needed a dummy cake for the reception.

I couldn’t decide whether to cry, scream or hide under the covers. I took a breath, and ran to my shop to get a dummy cake. I ended up refunding the wedding cake price. To this day, I believe that someone did something to my cake, but the country club denies it. The florist added flowers after I finished, so who knows. There was a prom going on upstairs and every teenager had to pass the cake. I still have no idea how two tiers can jump off, but the rest of the cake is fine.

Even worse, the local high society newspaper mentioned it with their picture of the bride and groom. It cost me most weddings at that country club (high end, two blocks from my shop). All I could do was do my best on every bride’s cake and hope that eventually people would realize that I did nice work. Eventually, my reputation did speak for itself and the wedding planner began to defend me if asked about the incident.

In each case, I thought I was done. That my bakery was done. That I would need to leave town. But the sun rose the next day. People still needed cakes. Life went on. Someone told me that if something won’t matter ten years from now, it doesn’t matter and to move on. The process of moving on takes every bit of courage you have. But you CAN do it!

Sometimes your errors are simple misspellings, learning that you cannot stack cakes that high, that cardboard cake circles absorb moisture and give way or any number of other lessons that are out there waiting for you. In each case, accept responsibility. Try to make it right with the customer. Pray you don’t end up on CakeWrecks. Let the customer yell or cry if they need to – let them release their emotions without getting emotional back.

When I was an attorney, I went to see a judge, who had a quotation on his desk. When days seem too hard to handle, I repeat this quote. It was spoken in a speech by Abraham Lincoln. “And this, too, shall pass away”.

Don’t feel like a loser. Don’t give up. Believe that you are better than what just happened. I promise, this too shall pass. Promise.


22 thoughts on “When Bad Things Happen to Good People

  1. How right you are, Ruth! I’ve had a handful of instances where I thought my caking career would end before it really began. But we press on, doing the best work we can, striving to remain understanding, yet professional when things go wrong.
    My cooking mentor, Chef Bill taught me “this too, shall pass away” twenty plus years ago. I do my best to remember it. Thanks so much for the reminder today 🙂

  2. Thanks for posting Ruth! A few weeks ago I had the most horrible caketastrophe of my career. It is both comforting and sad to know that others have had similar problems. It almost broke my heart for my beautiful bride to know I couldn’t have a do-over when her cake was so beautiful before I left on delivery. I narrowly avoided an accident and saved myself but her cake looked like it had been punched down the entire side. I felt like I should have hurt the vehicle and saved the cake. Those kind of events make you question whether you REALLY want to do this and make it hard to try again the next weekend. Thank you for being amazing and still sharing your catastrophes. You have made the bitter pill a little easier to swallow.

  3. Oh yes, this holds true for other situations in life. On a bad day we should all remember: “And this, too, shall pass away”. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Oh my gosh! You must have been a fly on the wall of a chat going on between me and some of my sugar sisters! I swear our cakes were cursed for us to all go for so long without any mishaps and then – boom! This last week was rough. Even if we didn’t personally have a caketastrophy, it broke our hearts to see a friend’s work not go as planned & scared us that we were next. It’s hard to say “this too shall pass” when you’re in the middle of the storm, but we’ll make more of an effort to remind each other of that.

  4. Thank you for this!! I have had a few mishaps myself and you are so right! I definitely felt as if I was done with cakes – I don’t know what I’m doing, this isn’t for me type of thoughts! Then the thought of the bride/client seriously makes you want to be sick knowing how you met and discussed everything and it was going to be so perfect and beautiful – then if its not – ugh! defeat and disappointment! Thank you for sharing your stories – it really means a lot!

  5. Great post – had my first “disassemble/ scape everything off/ and do over” on Memorial day weekend! I have lived long enough to know a few simple truths – everything happens for a reason and that these “blips” are all learning experiences – Let’s put it this way – I’m always learning! Thanks for the great supportive words!

  6. WOW how true. Two weeks ago I was delivering a four tier wedding cake. I don’t know how I missed putting a center dowel down thru the top two layers but I did. A car stopped short in front of me and off came the two top layers.Thank God I always put a clean sheet under my cakes so when they came down they at least landed on something clean. After almost having a heart attack I carried everything in and stuck every thing back together with my extra supplies I always carry. The bad side went toward the back against a wall. This cake was a gift to the bride so I didn’t have to give any money back. It sure did teach me a lesson!!!

  7. You always have the right things to say at the right times for me. It’s good to know I am on the right track – and being human and professional is possible. Thank you again, Ruth for your kindness and your wisdom.

  8. I thought it was the end of the world for me. I was just starting out when a friend of ours asked me to decorate her cake, not bake but to just decorate it. So i gave her atleast 10 sketches of the cake i have in mind for her theme and colors. I asked her if i was getting paid since fondant materials are so darn expensive. She got mad at me and took one of my designs to her baker and said it was hers. She even promised me that she will pay me for the time i spent doing the sketches but she didn’t. I was so mad and told my husband that i don’t want to see her at all unless she paid me for it. Guess what, she banned me for coming to her wedding.

    Thank you for your kind words. This post gave me enough courage to try again.

    • You might want to go read my “She’s kind of sketchy” blog post, too. It was about giving copies of sketches and the games customers will play with your work. Don’t give up. She wasn’t a true friend.

  9. You are such an inspiration and so encouraging, Ruth. Thank you for sharing your caketastrophes with us, it is a blessing to know I am not alone. I too have had a caketastrophe and decided I could not do this any more, it was too heart breaking to know that I had ruined some one’s wedding day because the support system that I used failed miserably! And to top it off I had rushed home to bake, frost and decorate another cake only to be too late to deliver it. I was crushed! That cake sat there as a reminder until it molded, because I just couldn’t let it go. I have did more cakes since then, ( I use a different support system now), but I will never forget that time. I couldn’t believe the event planner gave me another chance. I am always afraid everytime I do a cake that something will happen. It is incredibly stressful, but when it turns out good and you make some one happy with your cake, it is the most wonderful feeling. That is the only thing that makes it worth it to me!

  10. I have been baking and decorating cakes for the public for ten years this year and I can say I have had my ups and downs. But in May I did 2 – 5 layer cakes with white chocolate icing roses all over on cake stands, and a 3 tier baby shower cake both for delivery, each going about 25 miles in two different directions. I had to deliver the baby shower cake first and with no problems, But then I drove another 25 miles to the next location. My daughter was with me and holding one of them and the other I used the styrofoam form that the cake platter came in to keep it from tipping over. About half way to our destination I hit a bump and my daughter was not holding the cake plate and about half of the cake jumped in her lap. We kinda laughed, I said that’s okay we have the other one for them to put out and they can just serve this one first.

    OMG!!! When we got to the delivery, I opened the back door and the icing on the other cake
    had fell off the back side of the cake. I live in Texas and it was HOT that day and I didn’t lay down my back seat for the a/c to get to the cake, Then we both cried. The customer is a very loyal customer and she was upset but she also understood. I DID NOT charge her for these cakes. I went home sat on the porch with my husband and said I’m DONE…. I can’t do this
    anymore. Since this I have done about another 30 cakes. But I’m still considering quiting
    I think I need to step back and take a look at WHY I started doing this in the first place..

  11. Hey Ruth- how timely your blog was this time. I really needed to hear this from someone who has been doing this a lot longer than me, and still finds the will to continue! as I can see from the other comments, we are not alone! I don’t know what is worse, actually having a caketastrophe, or waiting for the next one, because I’m sure there will be one. I guess all we can do it “press on” and keep going! Thanks for your posts and all you do!

  12. And to think that it would have been my signature cake 😦 😦 :(. I was late with the cake and when I finally arrived (3 hrs late), they refused the order. I’m decorating cakes for a year now and this was my third big order. (3 tier cake and 160 mini chocolate collar mousse cakes). I usually make my collars with dark chocolate, no problem, but in this instance they wanted white chocolate collars and for 2 days I struggled with the chocolate. And being in a situation, you just continue doing the same thing over and over, it’s like your brain switches off!!! You can’t think of any other way to remedy this. It was 2 days later while pondering that I thought, damn I could have put the mini mousse cakes in glasses. Although the presentation would have been different, at least all the aspects would have been there just in a glass i.s.o a collar.

    The worst part is that although she paid in full, the money was just about enough for ingredients and an assistant. So now I’ll have to bake at least 5 birthday cakes to refund her.

    The good news is, a friend wanted a confirmation cake for the Sunday, so I phoned her up and turned the middle tier into a confirmation cake. I just removed the collar, covered cake with fondant, made letter cutouts and moulded toppers (using alot of tylose lol). She also bought 12 mini cakes and the rest of the minis I distributed amongs 3 businesses (marketing) and to relatives who always see what I do but don’t get to eat the real thing. I do get that this won’t be the last catastrophe, but the fear is still ther. It’s very demoralising to think that you have spoilt someones special day and the guests whispering and with social media right there in everyones hands!!! Frightening thought.

  13. I loved reading this! It gives me hope as an amateur, I haven’t started selling my cakes yet and I am so full of fear of these things happening. I love hiw you bring it back down to earth – it’s not really the end of the world and we can soldier on!

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