At Your Service: Becoming a Personal Chef

Once considered an exclusive luxury for only the very wealthy, personal chefs are becoming more commonplace. Whether it’s the increasing demands on the average American schedule, our growing awareness of nutritional issues, higher standards for food preparation or some combination of those factors, more people are using personal chefs than ever before. According to the American Personal and Private Chef Association (APPCA), “the current number of personal chefs is estimated at 9,000, serving 72,000 customers. Industry observers predict the number will double in the next 5 years.”

What exactly is a personal chef? A personal chef prepares meals for clients according to the clients’ needs and preferences. Unlike a caterer, who delivers prepared foods to clients, a personal chef prepares food in the client’s home or in a rented commercial kitchen. A personal chef should not be confused with a private chef, which is a chef that cooks exclusively for only one client, family or organization.

Some personal chefs will plan and prepare meals that can be quickly heated and served by the client, stocking the client’s freezer on a weekly basis so the client has heat-and-serve-meals on busy weeknights. Others will completely handle the process from planning to shopping to serving.

The path to becoming a personal chef is varied. Some go to culinary school with the intention of beginning a personal chef business, while others find themselves leaving the stressful world of restaurant kitchens for the independence and slower pace of personal chefdom.

If you’re interested in becoming a personal chef, many training programs are available. APPCA is one of several organizations that offer training programs and business support for those pursuing careers as personal or private chefs. Another well-known organization is the United States Personal Chef Association (USPCA). On their websites, these organizations offer everything from advice on pricing meals to online stores where you can purchase cooking tools. There are also community forums where you can gather information and opinions from other personal chefs.

As with any startup business, there’s groundwork to be done. You’ll need to comply with federal, state and local regulations regarding the licensing of your business. Depending on how much money you earn, you will most likely need a business license for any city you do business in. If you’ll be doing business under a company name (i.e. Meals By Meg, or Kitchen Concierge) then you’ll need to file a fictitious business name statement with the county in which you live. You’ll also need a current food handler’s certificate which can be obtained through your local health agency.

Most importantly, you’ll need clients. You can register with online agencies that match clients with personal chefs . APPCA and USPCA both offer such registries. Also, use our tips to build your network and get referrals.

And if you need a commercial kitchen, visit CookItHere.com to locate an available kitchen in your area.

Business Building Basics for Caterers

Have you heard of the 90-day principal? In the business world, they say that whatever you do today, you’ll reap the benefits of in 90 days.

90 days from today is mid-November.  The catering season will be heading into full swing. Wouldn’t you like to have some events on your calendar for the holiday season?

Here are some things you can do right now to make that happen.

Gear up for a marketing push. Do you have business cards? Have you set up a web or Facebook page with basic information about your products and services?  Look at your calendar and set a goal—how many events can you handle? What dates are you available?

Make a contact list.  Start with your existing clients, or if you’re brand new, start with people you’ve cooked for—put them on the list. Then brainstorm leads from the people you know. Who are the social butterflies—who hosts or attends parties every season? Who works parties—entertainers, decorators, florists, valet services? What about business contacts—who hosts staff meetings and client appreciation functions?  Sales people are also great prospects; who do you know that calls on clients? Include everyone who comes to mind; even if they’re not interested, they may lead you to someone who is.

Reach out. You’ve got three ways to do this: electronically, by phone or in person.  Use all three ways.

  • Post to your social networks and your website. Remember to be customer focused—this is not about how you need work; it’s about how they need a great caterer.  Ask for referrals, and offer a small incentive for anyone who sends you a lead.  
  • Pick up the phone and start calling your contact list. This is a tough one if you’re not used to it—you’re a chef, not a telemarketer, right? Well, remember that and present yourself as such. You have a valuable service to offer.  If you’re nervous, try writing a basic script. You don’t need to stick to the script; it’s just helpful to have words in front of you to get you started. Another trick is to practice on a friend– have a trial call or two to warm up. If that’s comfortable for you, then tell yourself they’re ALL practice calls. Just working on your sales skills…that’s all…it takes the pressure off. 
  • Hit the streets. Bring business cards with you wherever you go. Make it a goal to give out several cards every time you leave the house. If you go to the bank, ask the bank manager who caters the holiday party. If you run into someone you know, tell them what you’re up to, and ask if they know anyone who needs a caterer. Also, attend networking events. Try your local chamber of commerce; most have monthly networking meetings. You may wish to call on some local businesses in person; if you’re going in cold, sometimes it helps to bring samples of your work. Food has a way of opening doors.

So you get out there, you get events booked, and then you need a place to do all that cooking, right? Don’t forget, that’s why CookItHere.com exists. Visit the site to find a commercial kitchen in your area that’s available when you need it.

Social Media Tips for Food Entrepreneurs

You know you’re supposed to use social media to promote your business. Maybe you’ve set up a Facebook page. Maybe you even tweet. Or maybe the thought of juggling posts, tweets, and pins makes your head spin, and you’d rather just get back to the kitchen.

You’re not alone. Social media can be overwhelming. So many sites: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube…for a small business owner, it’s a lot to keep up with. But if you use social media properly, you can take advantage of this powerful (and essentially free) tool to get your message out.

Here are some basics to help you make the most of social media.

Be consistent. If you have to start small–say one post on one site per week–that’s fine. Just stick to it. Many beginners launch with a flurry of activity and then fizzle out.  The idea is to become a familiar contributor to the online community, and that familiarity comes through consistent actions: posts, tweets, uploads, etc. Once you’ve got that weekly post down pat, you can add another platform. (See “Work Smart” below.)

Be interesting and customer-centric. This is probably the most important principle of social media. Imagine a TV channel that only played commercials–no one would watch it. Likewise, if all your tweets are promotional, no one will want to follow you. You’ve got to deliver some real content in between the commercials. Imagine what your customer wants. If you’re a wedding caterer, share links to articles that brides might find helpful. If you’re developing a line of healthy snacks, post health and fitness tips. Educate, inform, entertain–give people a reason to follow you. If they like what you’re giving them, they’ll share it with their networks, and that’s where you start to see growth. Promotional posts are fine, just be sure they’re sandwiched between customer-focused content.

Remember, it’s a community. Get involved. Follow leaders in your field. Join online groups that mirror those you’d join in real life. For example, if your specialty is gluten-free cooking, join Celiac-awareness groups. If you want to cater for local businesses, find the Facebook page for the local chamber of commerce.  Not only will you make new connections, but you’ll find content that you can share, quote or retweet to keep your own pages interesting. Just be sure to give credit or link back to the source. If you’re not sure, ask permission before you share it.

Work smart. Use a program like HootSuite to manage multiple platforms. HootSuite allows you to post to all your accounts simultaneously. In other words, you can tweet it, post it or update it all at once. Or, you can select specific accounts for each message.

Get help. If you can afford it, engage a social media expert to manage your program for you.  If that’s too pricey, consider paying someone just to set up the accounts and show you how each platform works. Sometimes getting started is the hardest part.