Personal Chef panel report

Discussion in 'Professional Catering' started by suzanne, Apr 30, 2002.

  1. suzanne

    suzanne

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    Last night, I attended a panel called "How to Become a Personal Chef" sponsored by Women Chefs and Restaurateurs (WCR). Presenters included a women who runs an agency placing private chefs, 2 culinary-school placement officers, and 2 personal chefs. In 2 hours, they barely scratched the surface. But here's some of the stuff I found interesting:

    What are the differences between a personal chef and a private chef?
    There are many. A personal chef is an entrepreneur, often a sole-proprietor business, who contracts with multiple clients to cook for them on a regular basis. S/he may cook at each client's home, at a commercial kitchen, or a combination of the two. Must provide own insurance coverage for liability (as well as own benefits, of course).
    A private chef is the employee of one family or person, and cooks ONLY for them. Could be live-in or -out; is on-call according to the arrangement made with the employer. As an employee, is covered by the employer's insurance regarding liability, etc., and might receive benefits including health insurance, retirement plan, and so on.

    Do you need culinary training to become a personal chef?
    Not really -- just as you don't need it to cook in a restaurant or other facility. One PC on the panel had been to I.C.E. (Kump's); the other was self-educated.

    What skills do you need, besides being able to cook?
    People skills: you have to negotiate menus, fees, limits of what you will and will not be responsible for.
    Business skills: as a PC, YOU are the business. You have to deal with pricing, insurance, taxes, contracts or service agreements, billing, banking. Also, you have to be able to market yourself, whether with ads or by word-of-mouth references.
    Time-management skills: since you have many clients, you have to be able to get the work done for each in the time you allot. VERY IMPORTANT. And you need time to handle the business details, to keep up with food trends, etc.

    What is a typical day like?
    Both PCs work differently. One will shop, bring the groceries, cook, pack and store the prepared food, and clean up, for 2 or 3 different clients each day, four days a week. On her "off" time, when she's not handling business details, she's reading and researching. The other may only work for one client a day, also shopping, cooking, packing and storing, and cleaning, but might then do dinner parties in the evening and on weekends. Both said that sometimes they only use the equipment at the client's home, sometimes they bring their own (always their knives, sometimes pots and pans).

    How do you charge? What do you charge?
    One charges a daily rate for about a 7-hour day (5 - 6 hours on site, the rest doing the shopping), plus food costs, plus other fees for disposable packaging materials, travel (if necessary), etc. The other charges by the hour, with a 3-hour minimum, including the cost of groceries.

    That's about what I can recall.

    Here are a few websites to check out:
    US Personal Chefs Association
    American Personal Chef Association and Institute
    Personal Chefs Network, Inc.
    Canadian PC Association
     
  2. anneke

    anneke

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    Great post Suzanne, thanks!

    A couple of things I wonder about:

    - Couldn't you just have a price list instead of negociating everything with the client? I can't remember who once said that, maybe Shroom.. Otherwise, I can see what a stressful experience it must be. It gives the client the impression that they can haggle every time you come over.

    - What do you do with the 3/4 celery and half bag of carrots you haven't used? Leave it in the client's fridge? If they don't cook, won't it be spoiled by the time you come over next time?

    - How often do you rotate your menus? Or do you always cook something different for your client?

    - What would be a standard pricing equation? Groceries + travel + labour + markup + tax? What's a typical markup?

    I'll have more questions I'm sure.. :)
     
  3. shawtycat

    shawtycat

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    Ive been doing some research regarding this part of the industry. Visiting Personal Chef sites and associations etc. I found that pricing may vary. Some do pricing by entree and dessert per person. The more people the more money it is. Prices vary from 250 bucks and up.

    I don't know what they do with the leftover product. Take it home maybe unless they know exactly how much of the product they will be using.

    Im waiting to hear what Markdchef or ChefTom have to say regarding pricing etc. since they are PCs themselves.

    Here are a few Personal Chef websites to start:

    Thyme Savor

    Supper Solution

    Jodi
     
  4. shroomgirl

    shroomgirl

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    I'm cost plus supplies....on initial meetings we agree on the amount of meals I'll prepare. After doing this for 7 years I've figured out how fast I work.....salary is always the same, cost of groceries varies from week to week. Necessary equipment is bought when I start....perks of the job. Through the years I've figured out what works for me and what does not...more than likely I will turn down a job than even start with a client that does not fit in the "profile".
    So this week is
    salmon with teriyaki, spring rolls, rice, butterscotch pie, coconut bread pudding, Tom Kha, Shrimp Green Curry, Chicken Caccatori, Chicken salad, oatmeal cookies, salads, Gumbo, Root slaw, Orange Chicken.
    That's for two people and between us I faxed the menu and they agreed or changed what they want.....again after 7 years they have favorites.
    I was approached recently by someone who wants me to cook 4 nights a week, 3 hours a night....$75 a day....essentially shop, cook, serve, clean up....this would not work for me.
     
  5. shawtycat

    shawtycat

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    Hey Shroom,

    Are you a Personal or Private Chef? Do you do exclusive work and is it easier or more flexible? Im thinking about giving Personal Cheffing the good ole college try. Trying to iron out my overhead costs, total expenses, recipe costing in regards to a flat fee. I know things that work for others may not necessarily work for me but Im sure I can iron out the kinks of start up by next year. I will probably be operating at a loss the first year as I get established right?

    Jodi
     
  6. shroomgirl

    shroomgirl

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    I'm a hybrid....I took what would work for me and altered it to fit my life.
    I started making money from the beginning, advertising was all of $150 over 7 years.....at one time I was cooking for 10 families a week....not fun. I cruise at 5 per week/4days.....But as of 2 years ago I dropped or through atrition got down to my original client on Wed. Between private cooking classes, demos, the farmer's market, catering and consulting I'm doing what I want at this time. Catering is much more lucrative for me and I will pursue it much more than personal cheffing.
    You can get fussy and have a set rate...ie however much per person per week....I much prefer charging a salary and food costs are what you choose to eat.
     
  7. shawtycat

    shawtycat

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    I think pricing is the hardest thing to iron out. As soon as I know what my expenses are it will be easier for me. I like to look at the whole pic not what profit I made from payment minus groceries and gas.

    I think there is much more to it than just that. To me its kinda like running a mobile restaurant, where the restaurant is the person's home. If I just look at what Id charge per menu item and don't take into account my overall expenses I could actually be losing money. Right?

    Jodi
     
  8. shroomgirl

    shroomgirl

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    Mileage you deduct on taxes...keep records. Depending on your set up, I have an agreement that the client supplies necessary equipment. Food is SEPARATE from salary. Salary is consistant 52 weeks a year whether they are on vacation or not. The only exspenses are computer, paper, ink, car, gas....they pay for containers, labels, etc.....if you are cooking in their homes the electricity etc is on them...So you can portion and price out meals;or just let them pick up their food costs.
    Finding the right fit is important....I like playing with great ingrediants, my clients have a budget that can afford the fun shtuff....they also like to try new things. It works for me on a whole lot of levels.
     
  9. shawtycat

    shawtycat

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    Hey Shroom,

    Boy am I full of questions huh?! Just let me know when Im getting annoying. :)

    I was curious about the spices situation....if you have one that is. When Ive visited the homes of my friends and family, not one of them had a wide range of spices. Mostly salt, pepper, paprika, onion powder, garlic powder and red pepper flakes. My mom has the hot curry powder and ground cloves though. So do you have a stash of spices somewhere? Buy what you need and charge the client? Or is that inclusive in the equipment charge? :confused:

    Jodi
     
  10. shroomgirl

    shroomgirl

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    If I have abundant fresh herbs I share, if not I buy fresh with the groceries. Penzeys supplies the spices and some dried herbs....just let them know from the beginning that herbs/spices make a difference and that you will need to stock their cabinent....$30-45 a year depending on amounts they use for dried. There are weeks I spend $8 on fresh herbs for a client.
    ***My clients want low fat <not desserts necessarily> so herbs, wine, stock are major flavor contributors. I make chicken stock on a regular basis and freeze it in portions that work for sauces and soups.
    Do not eat unnecessary exspenses......But you have to make sure that your clients are aware of costs....which are one time or every 6 monthes costs. Containers, herbs, equipment....
    Again, my clientel are dbl surgeons or CFO's of major companies, they have expendable income and can afford me year after year. It takes too much effort for me to walk into a non-promising situation and figure out what the newbies want to eat.
    One of my biggest thrills is shopping and creating.....I jam on the stove with multiple pots/pans/ovens going in syncronicity....that keeps my mind from going to mush. Figuring out how to plan a rounded menu, use up extra ingrediants, keep from over loading it with timely dishes....bologanese and lamb stew and strawberry pie with icebox cookies....all are multiple long preparations, I try not to load up on them. I love cooking !!! In 7 years I'm sure there were a few OFF weeks....make sure you mention that you may have an off week and make up for it along the way with something special. I can remember having something on a menu getting to the store and the ingrediants are not to be found.....this is where you have discreation to substitute....clear it ahead of time....but again that's communication with your clients.
    Make sure they realize that you have booked them on a special day and that it is their time....thus you are paid wether they are in town or not....I will cook at other times if it is conveniant for me<courtesy will come back around when you need it>. Set up the ground rules from the beginning or you will be in bad situations that will be unsalvagable. Have a trial period.

    Down sides are if you are sick....SOL....there are not alot of mid week vacations...I plan my vacations around others or just leave town when I'm done. Children get sick or are out of school on vacation....deal with this from the beginning. It takes a few weeks to replace a client....placing an ad/or calling someone on a waiting list, setting up an initial appt, and starting all take time.
    Working out the contract....what's important to you? What makes it equitable to everyone...win-win situations.
    There was a time I tought of hiring support staff so that I could take on additional clients....someone to clean up after me, possibly shop, do some prep.....I did not want to be responsible for someone else.
     
  11. shawtycat

    shawtycat

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    This makes a lot of sense and I haven't even started thinking about a contract yet. (Im fine tuning my Database first) Though when I do, since I am not a lawyer, Ill have a consult to make sure its all legal, precise and has no loopholes. :)

    Wow! I actually hadn't given vacation a thought. :eek: I know I will need one so that info was very helpful also. One more thing added to my to-do list but then Ill be in the planning stages until early next year. So I have lots of time to set it up right.

    Thanks,

    Jodi

    PS

    I may have another question but Im not sure yet.
     
  12. shawtycat

    shawtycat

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    I don't know if you use a set menu or if you cook on the fly but I know many others who have set menus where the client makes a selection.

    1. In planning the menu, do you think it is beneficial to standardize and cost them out in order to set a profitable selling price? Is this unecessary?

    I was thinking that if I cost out my recipes (which I was doing before all this anyway) with the regular Supermarket/Restaurant Depot prices and that item goes on sale my profit margin goes up a little. I have seen a few sites where they charge say $375 for 5 entrees/person plus 1 dessert/person and leave it at that.

    2. Is it better to set up the menu in courses so substitutions are available (and easier to do if you ask me) or to use a list of meals with set prices?

    I am leaning more towards courses with a separate dessert section. I also noticed that other PC's are using a list of meals to choose from but with no pricing. I guess they negotiate the price but I don't want to do that since I could end up on the losing end of the stick and the client might not be taking into consideration the labor factor.

    Thanks for listening and putting up with all these questions. :)

    Jodi
     
  13. suzanne

    suzanne

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    Jumping back in with what the 2 PCs on the panel said:

    When they first agree to take on a client, they both have a serious session with the client to learn what the client likes, dislikes, is allergic to, and as many other food preference quirks as can be thought of at the time. Then each week they present a menu plan for the client's consideration, based on those preferences and, I suppose, what is fresh and available. This is done a week ahead, actually. Client can ask for changes, but once the menu is agreed upon, the only changes will be in substitutions in the absence of some expected item.

    Since all clients have different preferences, I doubt the PCs make the same for all. Although if something wonderful just came into season, and the client likes it, I'm sure they both will try to include it (such as the first fresh asparagus in spring).

    The general consensus was that it's better to charge a standard fee for your time, with cost of ingredients separate. That way your actual INCOME not going to fluctuate with rising and falling prices, or more or less expensive tastes.

    Jodi, what you're talking about with a "set menu" sounds more like the way a caterer or restaurant operates. The point the 2 PCs made was that theirs is a PERSONAL SERVICE, tailored to the specific tastes of the clients. Sure, they set the menu for each week, but it's the client's wishes, not what they want to sell, that is its foundation.

    Hope this helps.
     
  14. shawtycat

    shawtycat

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    Well, lets see. Every PC website, with the exception of a very few, offer sample menus or a short list of some of the dishes they make. I am very sure they have a bunch of recipes that they can draw from and add a few more each year.

    This is how I saw the scenario:

    I have a database set up already where I can input all information (client info, diet info, special diet info, allergies, children's preferences and allergies etc.) during the initial interview. I conduct a grande tour of the kitchen to see what is available and what I will need to bring with my mobile kitchen. Present my sample offering menu (marketing materials :) )....in courses of varying diets so they can get the idea of a complete meal of entrees, sides plus dessert (dessert optional.) And what their menu will eventually look like. I could never find much appealing about set listed menus.

    Discuss the packaging materials that need to be purchased with the client along the labor and spices fees. Have them read and sign the booking contract (not sure what to call it). Search my database for recipes that match their criteria and THEN create the tailored menu for the clients perusal along with an initial price quote based on the recipe costing.

    Maybe Shroom can tell me if this sounds feasible...

    Wow! I look long winded :blush: :D :blush:

    Jodi
     
  15. shroomgirl

    shroomgirl

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    JODI~ your not grasping it.....I get two checks one is salary and a set amount every week, the other is reimbursement for groceries.
    I don't care if my clients eat dried beans or lobster, it will not affect my income.
    I do not use recipes on a regular basis though I do skim through mags and books when I hit a dry spell....nothing like a trip to NYC to instill creative juices. I do not care how much I make within reason....a pot of stew takes as much labor as a cup of stew.
    Making childrens meals can be time consuming and a major pain.
    When I've cooked for families there is usually some adaptation for kids (chilies on the side) but as a whole I do not cook "kid food" and for most clients they don't want to pay my rates to feed children something different.
    One of the most important things I discovered was that both spouses need to want you, both need to be at the initial meeting<I can not emphasize it enough> you need a house key, security codes, I got blank signed checks and check cards too.
    Go through likes and dislikes, with personalized cooking the more info you get the better. I generally ask for a 1.5-2 hr meeting.
    PEOPLE that eat out all of the time are not good clients, they waste alot of food and end up not using/needing you after a couple of months.
    Do not dwell on the contract, if the family works out for you, it'll be great if not.....better to move on. Having a written agreement about vacations/appts/etc is good for everyone.
     
  16. shawtycat

    shawtycat

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    Then why do orgs like USPCA, APCA and PCN stress that they have "tried and true recipes" or "client approved recipes" with their membership package? I have "virtually" thumbed through what the packages basically include:

    Biz Start up Tools:
    Biz Plan Outline - Downloaded a freebie from SBA for current home biz (Restaurant Menu Design)
    State & Local Cert. List - Got em already
    Home Office Setup - Already got one

    Marketing Tools:
    Brochures - Got em already
    Press Releases - Done that before and have templates
    Biz Cards - Got em, print them myself and can update. I also have a credit acct. at the office supply store.

    Mobile Kitchen Setup Info
    Already have one for my once a week Pastry Job at family biz.
    Food Safety - Already Certified as a Food Handler
    Recipe Software (some orgs) - I have one already

    Freezable Recipes - Compiling some as we speak

    I was discussing this with my mom (another home biz owner) and wondered why I needed to "join" an org and pay anywhere from 500 bucks to 3k for their membership package? I was interested in joining one of these orgs because I thought that maybe they would know more about the biz than I did. BTW I AM grasping what YOU'RE saying. You are close to my original intent! Im just not grasping where THEY are coming from with needing a menu for other than a marketing tool.

    Here was the original idea:
    Update Biz registration with State
    Update/Create new marketing materials for THIS biz
    Setup my contact management & accounting system
    Market for Clients
    Conduct interview
    Create custom menu
    Set cookdate
    Shop,cook, clean up, leave reheat instruc.
    Get Paid and do it again.

    Sounded simple to me! 2 to 3 steady clients should be all Id need. Im not looking to become a millionaire at this. When I mentioned the recipe costing I was more talking about the accounting system. That way I would know where the money was going and what my P & L was. But if you're telling me that they cover everything and you just charge for labor.....my answer is "Why didn't someone at the orgs just say so?"

    It would have made it less confusing. They mentioned: container fee, pantry fee and a bunch of other stuff that was confusing. You are more to the point. Labor cost is this much, client pays for containers, pantry items (including spices that need to be bought) and groceries. Containers and Pantry is basically once every 6 months or so (if needed), while groceries is whenever they need you to cook. Can't get much clearer than that. That way your rate never budges! Only the grocery cost fluctuates. That means you supply them with the grocery receipt? And do they tell you what they want to eat or do they give you total discretion? How often do you cook? Weekly or Bi-Monthly? This is beginning to sound more like being a Private Chef though.



    Jodi
     
  17. suzanne

    suzanne

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    Probably so that they can sell you more stuff. Remember, they too are businesses.

    I'm sure there are some plusses to joining the orgns -- they do offer training in running your own business. But Jodi, someone like you who knows all that (and more! ;) might not get much for your money. And why a person who knows enough to be able to cook for others would need their recipes is beyond me. Oh, sure, someone with little or no cooking experience might. But they probably shouldn't be hiring themselves out as a cook, for pete's sake! One more thing about the orgs: maybe they function as matchmakers, bringing together clients and chefs? But once you have the first 1 or 2 clients, like a good caterer you build your business on word-of-mouth.

    Jodi, you really do seem to have it together. You've got it: the client pays for the groceries, containers, extras like pantry supplies -- and possibly also your travel (gas & mileage, at some standard rate). AND the client pays you a regular fee. The fee could be hourly, daily, whatever, and covers menu development and approval time as well.

    Both the PCs on the panel estimate the grocery costs before they shop (AHA! that's where the costing come in!) and either get the cash upfront or get a blank check or card, as Shroom said. I suppose they build in a factor for higher prices in the estimate if they get cash. Then of course the client must get the receipt (and change, if any).

    How often they cook depends on the arrangement they make with the client. The PC whose clients prefer "fresh" (i.e., non-frozen) food goes to them twice a week, for about 1/2 a day each visit. The other one goes weekly or bi-weekly or monthly, depending on the clients' wishes. That's one of the "negotiables" I originally mentioned. Both said they would never, EVER take a client who wanted them to come every day.

    My guess is it could be some of each. Maybe they give you a category and you suggest a specific item? Probably not until you are very, very sure of their preferences. Anyway, that's one more negotiable.
     
  18. shawtycat

    shawtycat

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    Here is an example of what I mean:

    "A 10-day supply of dinners for two or a five-day supply for a family cost $350 and includes the consultation for the customized menus, grocery shopping and the preparation of multiple healthy dinners and the preparation of multiple healthy dinners worth celebrating A fee schedule is provided to each client"

    This is what one PC charges, that is why I wondered about how the flat fee was calculated. This PC has everything all inclusive, offers a Seasonal Menu to select from and offers to also create a customized menu for the client. How did this PC arrive at what the groceries will come out to, what the labor charge will be for the length of time spent cooking and what the container cost will be? Did they factor in their overall biz expenses (assoc. dues, gas & mileage, equipment costs) into the flat fee in order to be profitable? That is why I was asking about recipe costing for my accounting system. It seemed as if they charge a flat fee and give a breakdown in the contract. BTW this PC claims to provide their own supplies and only uses the clients stove, micro etc. So you can see how I found it confusing.

    Jodi
     
  19. shawtycat

    shawtycat

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    Seems you were posting as I was writing Suzanne! :D The reason behind my wanting my basic recipes costed out is because of the many PC sites I visited that only charge a flat fee with a breakdown. I thought that was the way everyone did it. I know most people who do not know much about running a biz would just say "Hmmm, well so and so is charging 250 and so and so is charging 300 so Ill charge 275." That is not the way I want to run my biz!

    I have P & L sheets for my household now since having to supply one to Medicaid for my State supplied health insurance. From our 3 months of bank statements they thought we may not qualify. That thing was real depressing to read let me tell you. We actually had this thought that we HAD savings. I mean our bank statement looked ok at the end of the month. What we found out was that our expenses were more than our income and that we weren't saving a penny. The money in the bank was only there to cover an incoming bill. We actually had a deficit!

    And I can tell you that whenever I estimated groceries at the supermarket (cause I couldn't remember the actual price and didn't keep receipts :blush: ) the actual cost was always higher than I anticipated. Like thinking Id only have to spend $40 this shopping trip and ending up spending $60!

    I also file my own taxes, no CPA here (my mom used to do biz taxes for people so I got that from her). That P & L statement will come in handy when tax time comes around especially when establishing what my expenses were versus my income to see if I made any money or had losses. Saves time to fill one out quarterly than having to run around gathering receipts when tax time comes around and you need to fill out Schedule whatever. When I worked at the Merger's and Acquisitions firm going over P & L statements I got a real inside look at keeping the books. If I plan to charge a flat fee and don't consider my overall expenses, how do I know Im not under selling myself?

    Im not sure if Im explaining this right. :(

    Jodi
     
  20. suzanne

    suzanne

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    Well, yeah. Who wouldn't be confused by that? The old "time plus materials" just seems so much easier to me. And I am a big booster of KISS (keep it simple, stupid). If it works for her, fine. But I can't see doing it that way.

    That menu from "Entree Nous" looks more like a catering menu. I mean, most of that stuff sounds way too fancy for a simple weeknight at-home dinner. Not that all of it is inappropriate. Just that a lot of people want something only a few levels above a bowl of cereal. Clients have the money to eat that kind of food out; they don't have the time to shop, cook, and clean up, even simple (to us) stuff like stew or lasagna.