I've been running bakeries for 15 years, I've been decorating cakes for 5 years and if there's one thing I've learned it's that you can't avoid every mistake. You can't read a customer's mind. Be as clear as you can with a customer and your pricing structure, and if you decide to do things you haven't specifically discussed, to add the unexpected be prepared to do it for free.
I have two basic price schedules for each size cake:
Standard decorating includes an inscription plus, two flowers on an 8" and one additional flower per larger size, or streamers and confetti.
Custom decorating? Charge for everything! If they want you to match a specific color, that's custom decorating, drawings are custom decorating, swiss dots, special borders, any time the customer wants something on the cake to look a certain way charge for it. Extra flowers are $0.50 each, fondant figures $5-10 each. Don't give your labor away for free!
You get these crazy customers who call 50 times with changes to their order. I tell them if I think they are going to far, you know which orders this apply's to, like when you can say to a customer I don't want to do this cake because I'm pretty sure it's not going to look the way you're imagining it, and know that every other bakery in town is going to laugh them out the door when they try to place the order there One of my favorite lines to use when a customer balks at a price, or when they don't like the work I've done do to some subjective miscommunication ("That doesn't look like navy blue to me," or the like) is, "Ok, if you don't want this cake I will be thrilled to keep it and put it on display in my case so my other customers can see it."
Another thing I like to do if I'm worried about over charging, or whether I'm going to look bad if I refuse to make an order, is to call a couple other bakeries around and pretend to try and place the order with them. If they laugh in my face I know I'm on the right track.
I've had that too, but now I get a deposit to cover cost at least. Sorry that happened to you!
Great advice JJ! But the cost for a flower, is that a royal icing flower, a buttercream, or gumpaste. Some of the gumpaste flowers can take a long time to make. Some of them I charge 2.00 to 5.00 each.
I've just come across this thread, a little late. There is nothing worse than an awkward customer. I've been looking into the best ways to handle such situations; I don't think throwing the cake in their face would be good for my reputation (despite feeling better for a second). I did come across this great article which I would highly suggest anyone in the business read. It's by 'Baking it'