Here is some more information that might help you in choosing custom vs. grocery store:
(Thank you, Over Cake and Coffee)
Custom Cakes 101
Why would you buy a custom cake?
The main reason to buy a custom cake is to be sure you are getting the personalized service, taste and design you are looking for. In addition, you can often choose from many flavors and fillings that are not generally available commercially. You are getting not only the cake, but also the design expertise of the baker.
It is a common misconception that a custom cake from a non-commercial bakery is a cheaper cake - not so. These cakes are done one at a time to your specifications - they are not mass produced.
How are cakes priced?
Cake pricing is based on the cost of the ingredients, the time it takes to create it and the intricacy of the design. Designs often take a variety of tools, equipment and products that must be purchased for a specific cake or project.
As the cost of ingredients rise, so do the prices of cakes. Cakes often require unique ingredients such as high ration shortenings, confectioner's chocolates, fondant and other items that are expensive to buy and often require shipping. These cakes are not your average "crack some eggs and mix in some oil" productions. Between the icing, the cake and the filling you have your initial costs. To cover a 10 inch cake that is four inches high requires approximately 10 cups of buttercream or 4 pounds of fondant plus a crumb coat of about 5 cups of buttercream icing. Fondant costs approximately $7.40 per pound including shipping. Buttercream made from scratch using gourmet flavorings and high ratio shortening is approximately 2/3 of that price. This does not include the cake or any fillings. Chocolate ranges between $3.99 and $12.00 per pound. You are aware of the price of eggs, butter, sour cream, heavy cream and the like because you shop the same places I do.
Time is another element of the pricing structure. Handmade flowers, stacked tiers, sculpting and the like add so much to the beauty of a cake but also require a lot of time and expertise. A single wedding cake can take in excess of 35 hours of hands on work.
Cakes require presentation boards, dowels, support structures and the like to make them seem so gracefully effortless! A good investment, but an investment none-the-less.
Custom bakers often have in excess of $1000 invested in supplies, molds, pans, colorings, special effect dusts, cutters, gumpaste, tools, printers, software, leveling guides, scales, and the like. Like so many other things - it takes a lot of different pieces to make something look so very seamless!
For most of us this is an act of love. Our passion for sugar and edible art is strong and we know we are blessed to have developed this business and that we have worked hard to polish our skills. Though it is an act of love, we also need to be able to get our costs back like anyone else who is providing a service.
Cakes are often priced by the serving or slice with figurines, intricate details and sculpting as additional charges. The serving guides are "all over the place" with bridal cakes generally cut in 1" x 2" servings and other cakes in 2" x 2" x 4" slices and priced accordingly. If you are feeding cake only, you will need to allow for larger servings; if you are having cake in addition to a meal, you can generally depend on the serving sizes above, if you are feeding teenagers....well, you know how that one goes!
If a cake, such as a wedding cake, has to be delivered there is generally a delivery and set up charge for the decorator to come to the venue, assemble the cake and make sure it has a beautiful presentation.
Live flowers for a cake should be discussed with the decorator and are generally provided by the florist. Be certain, if you are using live flowers on any edible product that they are non-poisonous and have not been sprayed with insecticides - your florist can help with this.
Can I taste before I buy?
Certainly, for a larger cake tastings can be arranged so you are able to choose the flavors you like. For more than 3 flavors there may be a small charge that would be applied to the cost of your cake.
Information to consider for all cakes~
What finish do you want?
Fondant is a type of sugarpaste used to cover cakes as an alternative to buttercream, ganache or other icings. This is a very smooth - almost porcelain like - finish. The advantages of fondant include that it holds up well in hot weather and provides an extremely smooth finish for the artistry to follow. The disadvantage is that it is not generally as tasty as some other coverings, but the old days of it tasting like wallpaper paste are over - there are now new products on the market that assure fondant tastes good! It is also used for decorative accents, flowers and the like. Generally buttercream or another type of icing is put on the cake before the fondant so it will adhere to the cake.
Buttercream is also a popular finish - it is much softer than fondant though it may not stand up to very hot and humid weather. It can be made smooth, but not as smooth as fondant. Royal icing is often used for flowers and accents - it dries very hard and holds up well in all kinds of weather - it is not used to cover an entire cake due to the hard finish and lackluster taste.
There are also edible glitters, dusts and glazes that can add "magic" to the look. Ask a lot of questions so you are sure you are getting exactly what you want.
Will I need to put down a deposit and/or sign a contract?
Most custom bakers require one or the other or both. This is for the protection of both the baker and the client. The baker will often have to purchase specific supplies for your cake and will need to do so far enough in advance to have them available when they are needed - this is often an expensive venture. In addition, they are setting aside that time just for you and your cake and turning away other potential business. The contract further clarifies all expectations so there is no confusion regarding design, services, dates and prices.
How much advance notice is needed?
This requirement varies, but the earlier the better! Most custom bakers require at least a 4 - 6 week notice for wedding or larger cakes - it all depends on their work load, supply needs and the like.
Can I save some money by getting cupcakes or cookies?
Bite-for-bite, probably not. Depending on the design work and how many you want, the baker may be working on 100 or more individual pieces which will add to the time element and packaging costs. Ask for a comparison, but do not expect huge differences.
How can I meet my budget and get a beautiful cake?
Be very candid about how much you have to spend on this aspect of your event and communicate that. The custom baker can often help you with options to achieve your objectives. Consider having a smaller cake and "kitchen cakes" in combination. Kitchen cakes are basically sheet cakes that the guests do not see - they are the flavors you choose but not elaborately decorated. They do not generally look different than the wedding cake once they are cut. —Be sure the person cutting your cake has a good idea of what they are doing and/or have your baker provide a cutting chart - that way you can get the maximum servings from your cake. Keep in mind that "simple" can be both elegant and beautiful.
I have seen pictures of cakes I like, can I have one just like those?
Remember that often the cakes you are seeing in many magazines, on the internet or on cake shows begin at $1000 and go up from there. Also, custom baking is just that and each cake by a custom baker will vary just a bit based on the artist's skills, budget and ability. You can certainly have one that is close to the picture and you may not even see a difference, but custom cakes made one at a time and not mass produced will have some differences.
The cake is an important part of an event - it should be special. You will see it in many of the keepsake pictures, it is the first food that a bride and groom share and you want it to be right. Regardless of where you purchase your cake, be certain to ask a lot of questions along the way - you will be glad you did.