personal chef business....advice needed.

Joined Apr 6, 2010
ok, here's the deal. I have been thinking lately of starting a side business as a personal chef for special occasions. nothing big. nothing extravagent. sort of like, if someone would like to treat their significant other to a good restaurant quality meal without going out, in the comfort and privacy of their own home. like, say for instance, a couple's anniversary is coming up, and for that special occaision they think it would be cool to hire someone to come cook a good full 3 to 5 course meal, or some kind of special small get together. does anybody have any experience with this? or any advice on how to go about doing it? or maybe even a list of pro's and con's to think about? it is something i have really been considering getting into as a side business and if it takes off than that's cool but if not, it's definitely not the end of the road. pleeeeaaaaaaase give me some feedback!!
Joined Sep 15, 2006
Sure, there are plenty of them out there.  Just Google "personal chef" and check some of them out.
Joined Apr 3, 2010
 Do you have enough experience and know how to pull this off? Culinary school teaches basics a lot more experience is required to earn the title chef. It takes years not days or months. Make sure you know what your doing before attempting this,or it could kill your reputation early. Good Luck
Joined Feb 8, 2009
I have done 7 course French Dinners in private clubs and 5 course dinners in wineries, it could be days of work if your doing everything from scratch, making stocks for sauces, and so on. These meals ran about $125 to $150 per person depending on the menu,and wine pairing. Its more than just going to a house and cooking. Just think of the ingredients needed for a 5 to 7 course meal. Its takes more knowledge than you think you already have......................Chef Bill
Joined Apr 6, 2010
oh definitely. It's not something I would start anytime soon. Just something I've been thinking about lately. Not to sound cocky but I think I know a pretty good deal, enough to maybe start small with friends or friends of friends etc. I've been cooking from scratch for myself for years, before I even decided to take the school route for the official paper. It's definitely NOT the beginning of my career. Just something I figured would help me out and make me look a little more professional. Thank you though for the responses I am definitely keeping everything in mind and will definitely do alot of homework behind the business before even attempting to start anything official.
Joined Aug 11, 2000
Starting with friends, family, non-profits or community groups.....
I learned how to cook for large groups by catering events for the mycological society, (wild shrooms)
it was challenging, rewarding....great experience.  Cooking on open fires, camp stoves, butane burners for many people, sometimes 200.  Building up to 3 day events, out of town at girl scout camps...100 people, Friday night dinner, Sat quick breakfast bag lunch fancy dinner brunch Sunday pull out all the stops.

Event wise I was program chair for a professional educational culinary society (3 different  terms)....basically you had to make your money in it teaching, PR, wine, grocery stores, etc....anyway I learned how to setup events, what worked for this area, how to work with incoming celebrities, logistics for sure....was a great way to meet people and learn.  

Personal Cheffing.  been there, still doing it.  Figure out what works for you, what you need out of a gig....what's marketable then go for it.

Huge demand for small dinner party cooks.  Regular caterers don't want to take on nominal small events.....just does not pay....but if you design something that works for you, more power to you. 
Joined May 1, 2006
great advice shroomgirl..  this is exactly what i am in teh process of trying to do and have found some great advice here so far.  business cards and word of mouth so far have been the best, as all of my friends already know of my obsession woth food :)  i regulalrly host dinners at my home and always bring something impressive with me whenever attending one..  small wine parties and events are a aspecialty of mine and what i consider to be a great way to get my feet wet so to speak..
Joined Oct 30, 2006
Hey Jay as you know from my posts I'm trying to get out there as well.  I'm finding the hard part right now is getting started.  But I'm also starting off by cooking for friends, and hosting small parties for friends.  I've been working for the last few years mostly for organic markets, and catering with some line experience.  So I feel it's a good foundation and a starting point for me.  Now it's just a matter of logistics and "figuring it out" as I go along.  That's why doing some "dry runs" on friends is so important.  I wish you the best of luck. 
Joined Sep 18, 2008
The "cooking" is the EASY part of operating a personal chef business, the HARD parts include:
  • Marketing
  • Bookkeeping
  • Marketing
  • Shopping
  • Marketing
  • Research
  • Marketing
  • Web site development and maintenance
  • Marketing
( You might notice a trend above /img/vbsmilies/smilies/crazy.gif )

Don't forget, you'll need:
  • Business License
  • Sales Tax number (in jurisdictions that require it)
  • Food Safety Manager certification (may not be required, but can't hurt)
  • Liability Insurance
You might want to look into joining American Personal and Private Chefs Association,
Joined Aug 11, 2000
The economy right now is rough for personal chefs starting out....that's not to dissaude you from trying.

There are several threads related to starting personal cheffing on Cheftalk
Joined Aug 21, 2009
Personal cheffing is in the long run where I want to end up with my career but in this economy it's hard to start a business so I have to take my time.  As I work in the business I am learning more and more and that is going to be a benefit once I finally can get up and running.
Joined Mar 9, 2010
I don't know about experimenting on the local Girl Scout  Troops ..but what I do Do Know is there is some serious coin in  catering for local individuals in their home ( they just throw money at you when you get to know them and then they are at your mercy.) I would strongly  suggest doing a few 'Gigs" for a reputable caterer in your area ..before you venture out on your own

Joined Mar 9, 2010
Catering is different from personal cheffing.
Caterer's do provide Personal Chef's

                                                      speaking from personal experiance
Joined Feb 10, 2010
Its a great idea, it's not as hard as it may first seem.

I had for many years been a personal chef as you hope to begin doing.  In itself, it may not remain your primary income, but likely, as it has in my case, become something much bigger.  In any case, it's a fantastic start, and I encourage you wholeheartedly.

By starting out on my own as  chef for hire, primarily for small dinners at the homes of semi wealthy people, I was forced to think on levels culinary students typically don't. I had to register a business, learn about insurance and other regulations.  But more than this, I had to be at the top of my game all the time.  I had to cook great food, I had to source great produce.  I had to make it profitable.  To begin, that was easy, because my overheads were, and still are, very low.  I had to go to trade shows, read relevant magazines, and when a client asked me for a menu, I had to confidently give them something new and modern, and that I knew had the skill to produce, or time to perfect at home.

In my case, that humble start grew into a catering business, and other opportunities from that too.  You may want to got my website (  I did this at home on my computer using the iweb program that comes with Apple Mac.

The current site is not too different from what I began with.

go for it, and contact me if you have any questions.

Joined Feb 10, 2010
Incidently, I have, and still do, work for other caterers.  That provides me with fresh ideas, I can see how they manage their logistics of food transport and production.  I get to see their menus, costing and staff levels.  

It also allows me to select which staff I ask to work for me.  In Australia, many catering staff work on a casual basis.  That is they are employed for that day/night, at a set hourly rate, with a minimum of 4 hours.  Neither the employer, nor employee are under any obligation to commit to that staff again.  That means that the best staff, get the most work.

As a business owner, this also allows me to consider how my opposition market their business.  So as to keep this morally viable, I work for caterers that do something different to myself, or operate in a different market.  I never seek to steal their clients, nor do I directly advertise to them.  In the case of staff, I simply ask if they are free on a particular date, to work for me at $25 per hour.

I have, and still do, also cater for school groups, scout camps etc...

Its a very different game, but both are viable, and require relevant skills.
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Joined Jul 18, 2002
let me preface this by saying that we each have our own path and direction we want and need to go in.

that being said, I have always found it hard to phathom how being a personal chef without morphing into bigger catering jobs can be profitable enough given the numbers.

let me explain

on valentines day we did a small catering job for a good client

dinner for two in their home, 5-6 courses - plus hors d'oeuvres, chef and waiter

(it really could have been done with one staff but basically very special clients 

and charged enough for the whole dinner that we really didn't charge for the 2nd staff

but it was my partner and myself so we were paid via the job right.

OK lets break it down

we charged with food, labor, rentals prep shopping parking, tax, etc

almost 600 per guest.  Sounds marvelous right (and it was a fantastic meal and they were thrilled - that's another post).  But when it comes down to it, how much $$$ did we take to the bank out of almost 1,200? - really think about it even if it was 100% - and of course it wasn't, compare that to a low end job for 300 - box lunch sandwiches at 10 per guest.  The work - shopping, planning, even execution is not that much different, and probably the food cost would even be close when you compare high end lobster, scallops, rack of lamb, heavy cream etc vs. smoked turkey, loaf mozzarella, bags of chips - and which one netted more $$$ to the bank account.  

there is a saying in business and especially in catering - you don't take percentages to the bank, you take dollars (pounds, euros, baht, whatever) to the bank.  

so my point being that most of the time you are going to get more in the 250 or even 150 or less per person range for personal cheffing job at someones home - for a special occasion.  You will spend at least 1/2 a day shopping and prepping before spending 2-4 hours with them cooking and serving the meal.  Are you walking away with enough money for the amount of work you are putting into the job.  

Just a different perspective  - but eventually many personal chefs morph to at the very least smaller catering jobs - 25-50 guests and many to larger catering jobs, cause that's where the real profit lies (in my opinion and again not meaning to put others down - money isn't the only factor in what we do but it helps)
Joined Aug 11, 2000
There are many variations of personal cheffing...

Cost + is typically how I worked.

The food is on the client, ie....whether they give you a check, credit card, store charge they are paying for food.  If they eat morels they pay more than if they eat red beans and rice.

+, Time....time is menu prep time, drive time, shop time, prep/cook time, cleanup....15 years ago when I was raising my sons it was imparative that I worked school hours (my youngest son had severe profound disabilities) @ that time 5 different meals (# of people to a certain amount did not matter...because they were paying for food) + a couple of lunch options & a dessert or two ran between $125-175.  It was possible for me to have 7-10 clients a week.  I was cruising with 4-5.

2 of my clients were long time 5&7 years  I worked for each. 

If you read through the archives you'll see specifics....when my clients went on vacation I got paid, if it was a light week I got paid, basically they were hiring me to cook for them every week or in a few cases every 2 weeks.

Each client had likes/dislikes....they were paying for me to keep up with how they wanted their food taken care of....

It does not take a great mathematician to figure out that a $175 x 52 = $9100  which is a decent wedding that takes in total about a week of planning, cooking, serving.....But it is regular work, it can be challenging, it is a super way to earn decent $$ while raising children, working Mon-Fri.

It also figures in that if you are single and working for yourself that health insurence could be a HUGE issue.  Workmans' comp does not cover owners....if you get laid up what do you do?

Tigerwoman & Cascade were describing "private small parties".....which in most cases caterers grimace's hard to price out little dinners.....

personal cheffing is typically filling the fridge/freezer for an extended time, not just one meal.

Cheftalk Archives are an amazing resource for personal/private chef info.  Many of the personal chef associations have information for you to purchase....if you are willing to do your own homework you'll find that it's easy customize it to your needs. 

Feel free to PM me if you want to go over specifics.
Joined Jul 3, 2008
Design and offer a menu just as if you were a 'brick and mortar' restaurant.  No more, no less.  Know how to cook the menu flawlessly.  Offer the menu on a "personal chef basis." Cap the size of the parties that you can accommodate, say at twelve or so just like you might if you owned a small bistro.   If the food is good, the menu is good, you can do very well.  This way, you can pick the food you want to cook, know how to cook, and for which you can source all the ingredients reliably.  No surprises, or fewer surprises at least.  If people ask if you can cook off the menu, politely decline or consider requests on a case by case basis but be pretty brutal.  As soon as you try to be all things to all people you can just hang it up, IMO.  That's a path to mediocrity.  Nobody can cook all styles of cuisine with precision and with success all the time.

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