If you have empty cases, you had no business starting a bakery.

One of my pet peeves, after having worked in a small bakery for about three years, is empty cases.

Every mom-and-pop down-home bakery I go to in this region seems to have mainly empty cases. I understand an empty case at the end of the day, but certainly not in the morning. Even midday, you ought to have a plan to either reload or rearrange so that the case always appears full.

Long tray, but down to three items? Pull them off the tray, put them on a smaller plate in the rotating case, and load up the tray with something else. That’s how we did it. We had a pretty heavy baking plan, we had some staple items that we kept in the freezer that we could pull out and finish or bake quickly. It was really rare that our cases were empty unless it was around 4 and we’d had a busy day.

Why does it matter?

People want to see plenty. They want to see a bounty of food. It makes the food more appealing, it makes it seem “safer.”

valentines pastries

They want to see a lot of food. Even if they only intend to get a brownie, they want to see that it had a lot of friends.

Seeing a lot of items to choose from makes them all look more appetizing. You might have the best brownie in the world, but if it is sitting alone on a tray with nothing else in the whole case, it looks very unappetizing.

We had very full cases most of the time, and people still would look at them and then say “is this all you have?” and I wonder, when I look at these bakeries with a paltry one or two items in the case, if people say that even more to them, or if they are like me and stand in front of the case and see nothing they want and wish they could sneak out but the clerk has already greeted me and then a bout of North Dakota nice sets in and I feel the obligation to buy something anyway and I am left speechless and it doesn’t even occur to me to ask “is this all you have” because it’s all just too sad.

Patisserie Pastry CAse

The pastry case at the Patisserie on any given day.

I’ve about had it with the excitement of walking into a new bakery and seeing empty cases.

If you can’t fill your cases, get fewer cases or smaller cases. Get something in them. Pack them out. Arrange them so they appear full.

Several weeks ago, my friend and I drove to a bakery in a nearby small town to a bakery, excited to try it out for breakfast. We found a few brownies and a few cherry turnovers. And then we were told that this was the last day of “walk in” sales. From here on out, you had to place an order.

“You can still get a donut!” the gal said cheerfully. “Just call us a day before to let us know you’re coming in!”

cupcakes

I want to tell the world this: Just because you like baking for family and friends does NOT provide a good reason to open a bakery.

I know so many people think having their own bakery is a great idea, because they make cookies and bars at home and everyone just loves loves loves them. The envision a cute shop and oodles of goodies and shiny happy people.

But a bakery is a serious undertaking.

Your customers aren’t as nice as your family and friends, and it is a lot of work to bake and maintain high quality and sufficient quantity. You can’t just make a couple of batches of cookies. You have to make hundreds each week. You have to make several dozen cakes each week. You have to make breakfast pastries fresh each morning before you open the doors for people to grab on the way to work. You have to bake ahead so that when you pull a tray out you have another lined up to replace it. You have to have variety and rotation, keeping the favorites around each week but adjusting for seasonal tastes. There is so much more to it than just pulling out grandma’s favorite bar recipe.

Most people who dream of starting a bakery end up with empty cases and weird business models that try to compensate for the fact that they didn’t know how much work it took to keep a case full for a week.

I’m not calling ahead for a jelly filled doughnut.

opera pastries

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Comments

  1. says

    Amen! I can’t go into what used to be my bakery without feeling a great deal of guilt because the cases are empty and everything looks “church bake sale homemade”. It may taste ok but it looks like nothing I would pay the price they have listed for. I don’t want to have to unwrap what is supposed to be a fresh brownie from plastic wrap!
    It takes much more than a couple good recipes to have a “good” bakery.

  2. says

    “end up with empty cases and weird business models that try to compensate for the fact that they didn’t know how much work it took to keep a case full for a week”

    Yeah, I suppose we’ve all run across businesses like that, where they almost act like they’re doing you a favor to let you shop there. Since Yelp came along, I’ve grown accustomed to reading reviews of restaurants with terrible service. I can’t help wondering, “If you aren’t thrilled to serve your customers, then WHY are you in a customer-facing service industry?!!”

    I’m all for entrepreneurship, but some of these folks should probably have read some books by someone like Michael Gerber before they started a business. Like he’s always said, it’s one thing to make good pizzas, quite another to start a pizza business.

    BTW, I used to read your blog some years back when you had the Patisserie. Recently, I ran across your blog again and was sorry to learn it had closed. Tough outcome, I’m sure, but you probably learned a lot of skills that would’ve have been difficult to learn in any school.

  3. says

    I understand and agree that it’s better if a customer sees full or nearly-full cases when he or she walks in, even late in the business day. How does a bakery operator deal with the unsold goods that will inevitably be there when the day does end? Seems like a lot of waste, or at least day-old baked goods, would be generated. What is a businesslike bakery’s approach to dealing with this? (I’m not planning to run a bakery, but I am curious.)