Once you’ve graduated from a culinary school, the possibilities are endless…the world is your oyster. You can start your own restaurant, hit the road in a food truck, join a culinary team at a hotel or convention center. If you have the right training, the only limit to your career path is your imagination.
Many graduates from our school choose a less “public” path and work towards becoming a personal chef.
If you like to work on your own, have good time-management skills and an entrepreneurial spirit, this is a good route to follow. You’d be joining the ranks of nearly 10,000 personal chefs in the country who spend their days working for multiple clients (families, busy professionals) providing meals they’ve planned and prepared, stretching their creative culinary muscles while making a good living.
Personal versus Private.
Before we explain how to become a personal chef, let’s clear up a common misconception.
A personal chef works for many people throughout the week, while a private chef works solely for one client and attends to all their culinary needs. They travel with the client and are “on-call” 24/7 for that specific client.
Both professions are a great way to make a living in the culinary arts, but a personal chef has more control over their schedule and their client base.
So, here is how to become a personal chef:
1. Brand yourself – then share your brand.
Don’t make your clients work too hard to find you, or figure out what you’ll deliver when they hire you. The vast majority of your new business is going to come from online searches – Google, Yelp, Facebook – so be sure your brand is clear and accessible.
Put serious thought into building a good website and marketing strategy. You’ll probably want to consult with an outside agency to get it right the first time – a small investment in a professional at the outset will result in great returns in the long run.
Make sure you can be found…don’t make people hunt for you. Put yourself out there!
2. Unleash the power of referrals.
Every encounter you have during your training, and any job you do as a personal chef while you’re getting yourself established, is a source of future referrals.
Be mindful of the image you’re projecting and don’t be afraid to network. A great deal of business comes from a handshake in the culinary world – what you know gives you the foundation, who you know gives you the repeat business.
3. Build your customer service skills.
The line between chef and server is very fine when you’re a personal chef. That’s why it’s so important to engage with your clients – the relationship gives you an understanding of what they expect from you, and what you can deliver.
Be sure to layout your services very clearly – it will help you avoid confusion or disappointment down the road. And don’t be afraid to joke or share anecdotes (though not necessarily about your other clients) to build a more personal relationship. They’re your employer, but it has the potential to be a more friendly working relationship if you put in the effort.
4. Do your research.
You’ve built your brand and put up your website, but you need to do some legwork, too. Take time to figure out who will be looking for a personal chef in your market? Working moms? Bachelors? Busy families?
Market research will guide your business model – and help you cater to the clients you want to serve. It’s wise to figure out the need in your market, but it’s also a great idea to pick a niche and customize your service to attract a certain kind of clientele, the kind you’ll enjoy work with over the long term.
5. Don’t forget the business end.
You’re in business for yourself, even if you’re not running a restaurant or food truck, so this will require some research, too.
In some programs at our culinary school, you’ll learn the basics in restaurant management, but you’ll want to check on other important details – they’ll be different from state to state, and city to city. You might even end up working overseas.
Take time to research:
– Operating permits
– State and civic taxes
– Liability insurance
The other important business detail as a personal chef will be setting your pricing. There are plenty of good software options to help you with costing – they’ll take into account the price of your ingredients and the number of patrons.
Be sure to build equipment into your budget – pots, pans, knives, etc. – including buying, maintaining and replacing.
Working as a personal chef is challenging, but extremely rewarding. If you like the idea of working for yourself and want the opportunity to stretch your culinary muscles as an entrepreneur, this is a great career choice.
With the proper training in culinary arts and some legwork, you can pursue a career that suits your lifestyle and interests.
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This article was originally published on March 17, 2016, and has since been updated.