On social media, it is not unusual to see business owners and customers launching complaints at each other. Whether these revolve around poor customer service, incorrect orders, or simply “Karens” protesting for no real reason, these posts are filled with juicy gossip and riveting drama. They can even call for audience feedback, prompting viewers to share their feelings about an issue, or if they would have handled it differently.
The Tik Tok video that started the latest social media storm was one of these. Yet, unlike many viral social media posts, the focus was not on an upcoming war or social justice. Rather, the controversy surrounded an unlikely subject: cake.
Nicknamed “CakeGate,” or #CakeGate, this latest viral controversy raises important questions about retail etiquette, small business use of social media, and the impact of bad PR on a reputation. Social media is a valuable tool for boosting one’s reputation, but when not used wisely, it can make one look half-baked.
What is #CageGate?
On April 8th, West Virginia baker Kylie Allen of Kylie Kakes Dessert Bar and Café shared a video on Tik Tok describing an awful encounter she’d had with a customer. In the video, Allen describes one of her “worst client experiences ever,” where a client refused to pay the agreed-upon price for a rainbow birthday cake.
The cake, which Allen states comes in a signature style, has six distinct rainbow layers separated by vanilla buttercream and an outside coating of rainbow sprinkles. The cake the customer ordered was eight inches, meant to serve about 18 guests, and cost $75.99 before taxes. Allen also explained to the customer that she could write a message like “Happy Anniversary” or “Get Well Soon” depending on the occasion. For a bakery with standard rates, this was not unreasonable. However, Allen states that problems arose when the customer stepped inside.
“She seemed to be really surprised that the cake was covered in sprinkles.” Allen said in the video. “She then got super defensive and rude about the price.”
Allen revealed that the customer bashed her small business on Facebook, and this humiliation prompted her to explain her side of the story.
The video, captioned #badclient and #karen, accumulated over 6.5 million views. Yet, this type of post was not out of the ordinary. Sites like Tik Tok are awash with exhausted customer service employees revealing their worst experiences, so this video didn’t initially stand out. However, that changed when the customer posted her video in response.
The Second Serving
Ashleigh Freeman, Allen’s customer, took to social media to defend herself. She posted on Facebook and Tik Tok intending to face the drama on the platforms where it began (gold star from the PR department!), and it became immediately clear to viewers why Freeman had taken offense to the cake.
With uneven buttercream icing, haphazard sprinkle placement, and a near-illegible scrawl of writing, the cake was, in short, ugly. Freeman captioned her video – which begins the same way as Allen’s before cutting to the mess of a cake – with “I’m an idiot. I didn’t want to ruin her business, tried to squash the beef and she said no. She wants to be Tik Tok famous, not a bad idea. But I can actually make decent content.”
If this wasn’t enough, the video then transitioned to screenshots of a Facebook exchange where Allen expressed confusion because “this is what all our standard rainbow cakes look like,” and Freeman’s response of “Look at it. That’s the problem.”
In an interview with Insider, Freeman stated that if the cake had been professional quality work, she would have happily paid the full price of $84. Yet, as it stood, she felt ripped off. The conversation did not end there.
The Facebook screenshots reveal precisely how much Allen did not appreciate Freeman’s concerns. Allen shot back with a venomous retort.
“The price and time that I do the work for doesn’t change just because it’s not what you THOUGHT it should be.” Allen claimed.
She didn’t stop with her rebuke, and labeled Freeman as sour and disrespectful.
“It’s not disrespectful to expect quality.” Freeman replied.
This strong statement rang true with viewers, who cheered Freeman standing up for herself. Yet, Allen wasn’t finished.
It’s literally the same exact rainbow cake I serve EVERYONE,” Allen snapped. “Do you think you’re one sour attitude toward my cake will shake my business? Absolutely not.”
Unfortunately for Allen, this did not prove true, especially after Freeman referred to her as an “unprofessional, dirty-fingernailed baker.” The argument ended on that tense note.
Freeman posted one last video as her metaphorical icing on the cake. The video responded to a comment telling her to make the cake herself and revealed a much nicer-looking cake than Allen’s $84 one. Freeman admits that her buttercream writing could use some work, but there is no doubt that her words are legible.
Allen’s scandal brought forth opinions from dozens of different sources. Yet, no one group was louder than her fellow small-business bakers. Many denounced Allen professionally, stating that her work did not reflect small business bakers. Not only this, but some said that her work was incredibly poor, and it was obvious that she had no basic baking or business training.
As one Tik Tok user even stated, Allen’s scandal brought to light a greater issue in small business etiquette. The creator @flavoredflavorsfl revealed that customer service is becoming an issue in small businesses. As she states in her video, when business owners refuse to treat their customers with respect it not only casts a shadow over small business practice as a whole, but it also causes extreme ramifications for the business itself. If Kylie had understood her client and tried to work with her instead of attacking the very customer base that keeps her afloat, it might have turned out differently. Yet, Kylie’s drama doesn’t stop there.
As users combed through her pages and videos, they began to notice some disturbing patterns. Namely, Allen does not wear gloves while baking, uses boxed cake mixes, and steals images of other bakers’ works for her website.
All of these rapidly had the baking community up in arms, particularly when it came to misrepresenting her skills. Allen’s pages were bashed on social media and Tik Tok, with dozens of one-star reviews and warnings to watch out for baking “red flags” populating her page. Despite all of this, though, Allen remains unapologetic.
In an interview with @bakingforbusiness, Allen expressly stated that she is not backing down. She denied using images that were not her own, and claimed that reviewers need to “keep your mouth[s] shut.” This caused many business professionals such as PR expert Molly McPherson to label her situation as a textbook way to not respond to a crisis.
However, the CakeGate scandal is just as multilayered as the rainbow cake that started it. Allen still maintains multiple loyal fans who view her as an inspirational business leader – albeit one that needs to work on her handwriting – and Ashleigh Freeman stated on Facebook that people should still buy Allen’s cakes because “We all have bad days.”
While a happy ending seems to be what the customer ordered, the questions surrounding small business etiquette, customer service, and the dichotomy between labor price and quality price are still prominent weeks after the crisis. It still isn’t clear who got the bigger slice, but as Kylie Allen and Ashleigh Freeman have demonstrated, sugar and spice aren’t everything nice.