I feel really out of it! 11 years ago, my DH and I paid for our own wedding. Being on a tight budget and paying cash (no bills to drag us down after the wedding!!!) we only spent around $5,000. I printed my own invites and programs. We didn't do candles because of all of the kids around. My dress cost $250 on sale. It wasn't the fanciest, but I loved it and that's what counts! We had a local restaurant cater a simple chicken/ham dinner. We had a live band and a free bar. My decorations were simple and bought on sale. My mom and aunt made my cake. Even at that, the baker that I talked to originally was going to charge $350 for it. I think it was around 150 servings? (That would have been fine with me too but I had to fire her after she lied to me and wasn't going to do my cake herself but hire out) All of my family and my husbands family pitched in to decorate the church and the reception hall. My friend took pictures for us as a gift and a friend of my husbands took a video as a gift. To tell you the truth, I have watched part of the video and have never looked at all of the pictures. I found the envelope with a picture of the wedding party and that is all I have in the frame.
Now, having said all of that, I agree that people LOVE the cake at a wedding. You want it to be beautiful! I actually hate the "sheet cake" thing. I tell my clients that guest may feel "cheated" if they get something that looks NOTHING like the wedding cake on the table. I will make a small wedding cake with kitchen cakes that are tiered round or square just like the wedding cake but without the bling. That way they are spending a less money but they are not feeding their guests a sheet cake. Of course, I did lose an order because they wanted a dummy cake from me with sheet cakes from somewhere else. I didn't want to put my name out on a "cake" and have them eat something that I didn't provide. If the sheet cake was nasty, I didn't want my name drug through the mud!
As far as cupcakes, I don't mind them at weddings. If it is good and presented nicely, it is not so bad and can help a client on a budget. Especially if you do not have someone who will be able to cut a cake. (Around here, most small wedding parties provide their own person) That can be such a mess if they don't know what they are doing.
Anyway, my point is, there are so many ways to have a nice wedding without skimping on your guests. They are your family and friends not people you don't care about! But, cutting back on everything for the guest is always the first thing that is looked at instead of something else. Besides, we are still happily married, not in debt and it didn't cost us 80,000! :) Okay done harping........