There are so many different ways to craft a career out of your culinary skills.
Which one will work for you? It's even possible you may dabble in more than one in your lifetime. 🤔
The personal versus private chef is the most confusing to people. In summary, a private chef works for just one client while a personal chef has many clients.
As a private chef, you are an employee of your client and may receive benefits such as paid vacation time or health insurance. Sure, it's great that you have "for sure" income each month, but the drawback is that you are still an employee and lack the freedom of being your own boss.
The contract between you and your employer will lay out the terms of the job to include days of the week you will work and how long you are guaranteed a job. Even though a contract is in place, it's not unusual for your employer to ask you to work special events on your day off or perform tasks unrelated to your chef duties such as housecleaning or caring for the family dog.
What happens when your year-long contract is up? You are then unemployed unless they sign you for another year or able to immediately jump into a contract with a new client. The private chef career could be very unstable. If using a management service to obtain new client contracts, you'll have to pay them a percentage of your earnings.
What happens if you're three weeks into the year-long contract and you don't enjoy your employer? You're stuck - you're in a binding contract. Argh.
As a personal chef, you choose what clients you'd like to work with. You are the one drawing up the contract terms. You get to decide how much a client will pay to work with you. Help with chef-client contracts is available here >>
Comparing a personal chef to a restaurant chef is like apples and oranges. Starting a personal chef business costs about $500 while starting your own restaurant could be multiple six figures.
Running a restaurant will require your presence almost daily, from morning to evening. Employee salaries and benefits will be the largest percentage of your overhead.
Even if you were able to secure the funds to open your own restaurant, there's also the marketing aspect. Making great food will not bring people into your establishment. You have to know how to share the grand opening with the community. Then, once it's open, you have to continue marketing to them, reminding them you exist and why they should come to your restaurant instead of the hundreds of others in the area.
It's takes hard work to run a successful restaurant including knowledge of food cost, bookkeeping, marketing, human resources, management and oh yeah, cooking!
The whole reason you're opening a restaurant is to sharing your culinary passions, but it often takes a backburner when all these other areas need attention.
If you think that owning a restaurant is a way to "get rich", think again. Ask any restaurant owner and they would laugh at this statement. As a general rule, a third of a restaurant’s revenue goes toward food costs and another third to labor expenses. The remaining revenue has to cover overhead including rent, utilities, marketing expenses, bookkeeping fees, federal and state taxes.
Once overhead is covered, the restaurant owner is left with 2 to 6% profit. This also assumes you didn't take out a loan to start the restaurant.
For me, as a personal chef, I'm often asked during small talk, "how's your catering business?" Argh, I'm a personal chef, not a caterer, but apparently that's what comes to mind when people think of what I do for a living.
Cooking for dinner parties in client homes is acting as a personal chef. The personal chef shows up with groceries, cooks all the food in the client's kitchen, then serves it to the guests.
As a catering chef, you would have a commercial kitchen to prepare for many events so food is purchased in bulk. Because you're purchasing in bulk, you must calculate food costs and price out events based on food costs, staffing and your overhead (rent, utilities, insurance, equipment, food containers).
Similar to a restaurant, you have a rented commercial space with equipment, staff to cook and serve, marketing department to obtain new clients, human resources to find and process new staff (there's a high turnover), management to handle the large number of staff needed for regular events, plus a rental department to either offer rentals to your clients or to work with the rental companies in your area.
Rentals could include tablecloths, dinner plates, silverware, serving platters, barware, chairs and tables. Event spaces don't often come with anything but maybe tables and chairs. You'll still need tables to place a buffet or cocktail hour appetizers. A bar table may be required and all the tables will need tablecloths.
Full-service catering companies may also offer floral decorating and event planning to coordinate with photographers, tent rentals, event venues, and bands.
There's a ton of moving parts in a catering company. Running a full-service catering is more complicated than a restaurant since a restaurant serves guests in-house and a catering company has to bring the restaurant to the event space. It's actually a labor intensive job moving equipment from one place to another. Oh yeah...you'll also need an event van or multiple vans that have the capability to move all the parts from your commercial kitchen over to the event space.
But wait...you started a catering company because you love cooking. You didn't plan on operating a moving company!
As a personal chef, you could still cater events, but you'd cook from the client's kitchen. The client pays for the groceries. The overhead may be any independent contract staff hired for this event only. The client would supply all the serving ware or you could direct them to a rental company and have the items delivered to the house on the day of the event.
I receive daily emails from chefs sharing that they're cooking out of their home. It may sound like a dream to bring home groceries, cook several meals, then deliver them to your clients...except it's illegal.
Your home kitchen needs to be approved by the health department before legally cooking and delivering food from it.
When cooking from your home kitchen, you'll need space to store dry goods and meal prep containers. As well, you'll need proper methods of transportation to keep the meals at proper temperature during travel.
You'll also need to make your space available to the health department to pop in during business hours.
I had a friend who did have their kitchen approved by the health department for baked goods. She had stacks and stacks of containers lining the dining room walls and a pallet of flours in her garage. Having your business inside your home will absolutely affect your daily living. You'll have a hard time separating work and personal hours, let alone having guests over for a holiday party.
You'll probably be paying a local meal tax as well as sales tax because you're selling actual goods and not services, according to tax guidelines.
To wrap it up, however, the biggest obstacle cooking from your home is getting it approved by the health department.
As a personal chef, you are the boss and can start this business with very little overhead (see article about start-up costs here >>).
After the initial costs of license, insurance, website, and chef coat, the expenses are basically transportation. Your client pays for the groceries. It's a simple service business that requires you, your culinary skills, and the ability to market.
Successful personal chefs know that there is never a "right time" to start a business. They don't wait for confidence to arrive, for COVID to end, or wait for their life to be perfect. They know that the best day to start was yesterday. The second best time to start is always today.
I'm Virginia Stockwell, a Personal Chef Mentor. I help cooks and chefs start and build personal chef businesses so they can have control over their own hours and income.
Unlike most personal chef mentors, I don't provide you with a checklist of marketing things to do, but instead introduce you to the principles of marketing so you can build a long lasting business based on referrals and stop wondering where the next client is coming from.
Working with someone who has been in the personal chef business for years is going to get you to your ideal point in business much faster than trying to go at it alone. How long do you plan on struggling?