Here's a favorite tip that we used this weekend. When icing layer cakes, lay four narrow strips of wax paper on your cake plate, just under the edges of the cake. Frost the cake, which always makes a mess on the plate as you smooth and scrape the frosting onto the sides.
When you're finished smoothing the sides of the cake, pull away the wax paper strips and all the mess will go with them.
One word of caution and more pictures below...
...this is a nearly foolproof tip. But one potential problem is making your wax paper strips too wide. We nearly did that here.
If the strips are too wide and pushed too far under the cake, with a lot of the cake's weight resting on them, they can actually tear the cake as you pull them away.
Also make sure that you pull them out as soon as you've finished icing the cake. Some frostings dry hard, and if you let them dry too long they will break or tear when you pull the strips out.
In general, this tip helps us present a clean and pretty cake plate. (Do notice that we still dripped frosting on the foot of the cake plate - this tip won't help with every cake-making mess...)
The cake is a Coconut Milk Cockaigne Cake from a vintage Joy of Cooking. It's frosted with 7-Minute Boiled Icing - otherwise known as meringue...