Is There an App for That?

The New Year is right around the corner, and with it, a chance to start fresh with your business. Are you looking to make some positive changes? Maybe you want to get better at promoting your services. Maybe you want to update your recipes. Maybe you want to revamp your pricing, make better use of your time, or be more organized.

Chances are, whatever your intention, there’s an app for that: a software application that will help you in your endeavor. Many culinary professionals are so kitchen-focused that they forget that the right technology can be as critical as any kitchen tool, saving you time, money and stress in your food business.

There is a tremendous amount of technology designed for chefs, caterers and food business operators. From maintaining a pantry inventory to planning an event, you’ll find all kinds of applications to make your job easier. Here is a just a sample of the tools available for you.

Cook’n Recipe Organizer: For home cooks or pros, this app allows you to capture recipes you see online and save them to a searchable database of your own. It offers recipe scaling and nutrition analysis, too. Another popular recipe organizer is Living Cookbook. If you’re a recipe hoarder, and if you pull your recipes from all different sources, imagine the time you could save by having them organized and categorized in one library!

If you’re struggling with pricing your retail food product, you may be able to find free calculators online. For a $49 download fee, this calculator from SmallFoodBiz.com is an Excel worksheet that helps you factor in costs including production time, overhead and markups. It’s a good starting point for beginners who can’t invest in a whole business software package.

The American Personal & Private Chef Association sells a software package called Personal Chef Office. It’s an all-in-one suite specifically for personal chefs, and it covers everything from recipe and menu planning to invoicing and financial forms. You can manage your schedule and client information. It has a nutrition analysis tool that will update nutrition information in a recipe based on your modifications.

For caterers, commercial catering software like Caterease can help with everything from event planning and customer relationship management to menu planning and managing your employees. It gets into nitty gritty, like ingredient sourcing and job costing, and logistics like diagramming the floorplan of your event. It even has an ecommerce module so you can offer online ordering to your clients. Caterease appears to be the industry standard, but it’s pricey and could be cost-prohibitive for smaller business owners. For a more affordable option of with some of the same functions, try Total Party Planner.

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.