“What's the best lot with which to open our auction?”
I invariably answer that question first by saying there is no one best lot to start every auction. Different events have different success with different opening lots...but I usually follow that answer by asking the organization if they have ever considered starting their auction with a cake. Perhaps paired with a chilled bubbly.
The benefits of opening an auction with a cake lot are many. A cake is relatively easy and inexpensive to procure. It can be donated, or at least made by, a business known to the organization -- a bakery near campus for a school’s auction, for example. Or better yet it can be made by a figure held in high esteem by the organization.
I once auctioned off, at a fundraiser for a Catholic school, a cake made by one of their beloved nuns. With an opening bid of $100, it eventually sold for $2,200. As the bids rose and rose, the crowd all watched the Sister, in attendance at a front-and-center table, instead of me the auctioneer. There was cheering and thunderous applause for the winning table as the lot closed and the Sister beamed.
Obviously, we had moved beyond simply selling a cake. It had become a beautiful shared philanthropic and community moment and a chance for all assembled to honor a deeply loved member of their organization.
Another advantage of a cake is that regardless of the amount for which it sells, it can be started with a nice egalitarian opening bid of $50 or $100. At an auction where many lots may have dauntingly higher opening bids, this gives everyone, including those of more limited financial means, a chance to raise their paddles and get in the game early on.
A cake is also fun. It can be shown off during the bidding by a thoughtfully chosen “Vanna.” If the event includes seated dinner, the cake can be brought to the winner's table, cut, and served within minutes of the lot closing. And it can be paired with a pre-chilled champagne or a nice dessert wine, brought with glasses to the high bidder's table, and also served immediately. Everyone at that table will feel extra special and festive, and everyone near that table will remember how fun and delicious winning looked the next time they have the opportunity to bid.
If an organization has already used and experienced success opening their auction with a cake, they might consider taking the idea to the next level and trying a “cake dash.” For example, a school event last year featured eight different desserts -- a cheesecake, a pie, a tray of gourmet cupcakes, a torte, etc. etc. -- each paired with spirits and laid out beautifully for the guests to ogle during the reception. Then to start off the auction, guests at each of the 25 tables chipped in for a table bid. The highest-bidding table got first pick of the cakes, the second highest table bid got second pick, and so on. The eighth highest table bid got the last cake.
Before the cake dash ended, the cutoff dollar amount for the eighth-highest table bid was announced, and all tables were given an opportunity to raise their bids. Things predictably got competitive as some tables fought for first pick while others vied for the eighth and final spot. It was lively entertainment for the guests, it raised thousands of dollars for the school, and a lot of delicious cake was eaten by all.
So for any group planning an auction event and looking for a looking for a simple, fun, and egalitarian opening lot for their guests, Let Them Eat Cake!