The Business of Cake Decorating #3

by Earlene Moore

When you first begin cake decorating it is a fun hobby. A good place to practice is on your family and neighbors. Neighbors are very important to you when you decide that this is a possible good home business. Most cities have legal zoning laws which prohibit home business’s unless you apply and are approved for a variance. You will need the support of your neighbors if this becomes necessary for you. Take your neighbors a cake once in a while. Let them know what you do and why. Be considerate of your neighbors. If people picking up birthday cakes, cookies and etc. causes too much traffic in your neighborhood, you may need to deliver those items. Arranging for all pick ups during hours that your neighbors are at work or school might alleviate this problem.

If you are only doing a couple of birthday cakes a week - the expenses of having a legal baking facility will not be practical for you. But if your business has grown enough for you to know that you must approach this as a real business (instead of a money making hobby) these are the things you should do. Check with your local Health Department for the requirements to have a legal health inspected food facility in your town. Each state and town have different requirements. Some states are very lenient with small home baking businesses and only require you to get legal when you surpass their limits. Other states or cities just play like you aren’t really there. If you happen to be in a city with a very strict health department - you must get legal or risk being fined or shut down.

Because I had previously owned a cake shop I knew most of the things that were required to have a legal kitchen. When we converted our two car garage into my work kitchen we made sure that we followed all of those requirements. I found it was difficult to get the information I wanted from the proper sources. They kept sending me to other departments and giving me conflicting information. We home cake decorators don’t really fit into their normal criteria for a bakery and they don’t quite know what to do with us. We finally just dropped it and decided that we would just set it up the best we could with what I already knew and when I was forced to get legal we would make adjustments in the room as necessary. I was operating with a business name with a tax number and had done everything listed below. A bakery in town turned me in for the zoning violation and that forced the issue. My neighbors went to bat for me and the health department inspection was a breeze. Now that bakery has a legal competitor. I am really not their competition because I don’t do bakery style work. There is room for all of us. What my customers want is a good eating cake and someone who will let them get creative in designing their special cake. Most of us do sugar art that the bakeries don’t want or have the time to do.

The following is a list of things that may be required of you to become a legal business.
City - State License
Fed ID number for Tax record purposes and buying from the wholesale florist, restaurant supply and institutional food warehouses
Health Dept. Fee - City and State

Physical House Requirements
3 compartment sink with a grease trap installed
Hand sink and mop sink ( 2 separate sinks)
Lights covered (They make clear plastic tubes that cover the fluorescent bulbs)
Washable surfaces - walls, floors, cabinets, counter tops
Ceiling must be of non-absorbent material
Separate refrigerator, freezer, oven (with thermometers)
Separate Entrance
Storage for Equipment - pans, spatulas, bowls, etc.
No pets in work area
Approved Water source
All Ingredient containers must have covers and be labeled with contents and dated in refrigerators, freezers and cabinets
Heating and Air Conditioning may need to be separate from the house system.
If your cake decorating area is to be a separate building from your house you will probably be required to have a small rest room

Check your zoning laws to see if signs are allowed for your business in a residential area.
My zoning laws also prevent me from using my address in any advertising I do.

Records must be kept for tax and legal situations
Receipts for all cake related expenses (Ingredients, classes and etc.)
Mileage on Car - running to the store for eggs, delivering cakes, developing cake pictures, and all things related to turning out those cakes.
Utilities records - gas and electricity that your use in baking and decorating should be deductible on your taxes. A percentage is usually used - depending on the volume of cakes and the size of your work area.

Cake order records - Keep your cake order records for your protection and reference. A father of a bride was irate because they ran out of cake and he held the cake decorator responsible. You can only furnish what they order. The order form showed him the amount of cake that had been ordered. You can not be responsible for the person cutting the cake in large pieces or that they had more people than expected. Protect yourself and keep those records for a sufficient period of time. I keep them for a couple of years. They work great as a reference when a bride wants a cake just like “Susy’s”. You don’t remember what “Susy” ordered. But , you can pull her order and you can find the flavor, design and have the specifics to refer to.

There are lots of little details that you need to tell a Bride.
How to freeze her first anniversary cake.
How the cake should be cut.
She will need to purchase the protective clear mitts for the person cutting the cake.
To be careful with her selection of fresh flowers because some flowers might make her guests sick.
When equipment needs to be returned and in what condition.
When her cake payment is due and the cancellation policy.
I put all of this information and more in a Brides letter given to the Bride when she orders her cake. It saves you the time in the Bridal consultation and gives her something in writing to refer to. It also protects you in case that wedding gets canceled and she wants her money back. Be helpful to the Brides and yet protect yourself where it is necessary and keep yourself out of legal problems.

The only way to find out what is required of you to operate a legal home business in your location is for you to ask you local Zoning Board, Board of Health or your Department of Agriculture. You will probably be given the crite
ria for a large bakery because that is all they have. This article simply tells you what I know for my area - yours may be different.

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