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(Dec 27, 2020) How do I price my services as a Personal Chef?

I find some chefs not starting their business because they're not sure how to go about charging. Is that you too? 

It's the most common question I'm asked, "how much should I charge for my meal prep services?"

More in-depth calculations of pricing your service is available in the course Pricing for Personal Chefs. You'll learn the psychology of pricing your services, exactly how to calculate your worth, then perform several practice calculations so you'll be ready when the next request for a dinner party or meal prep comes in.

How do I price my services as a Personal Chef?

Before addressing this question, let's clarify personal chef services versus catering services. As a personal chef, you’d bring all the groceries to a client’s house and cook everything there. In catering or meal delivery service, you would be working out of an approved commercial kitchen, then deliver to the client’s home.

The health department's job is protecting public health. They can't allow just anyone to cook and serve out of their kitchen. They need to see the kitchen before giving such approval.

In order to use a commercial kitchen or offer meal delivery service from any kitchen, it must first be approved by the health department. You can’t just decide, “I’m just going to cook out of my house and deliver to clients.”

Having your home kitchen approved by the health department involves having no pet access into the kitchen, washable walls, a special sink designated for only hand washing, a three-compartment sink for washing dishes, among other regulations.

As well, transporting food from your kitchen to a client's home involves a refrigerated truck or (very heavy and bulky when loaded) special food transporting equipment to maintain safe food temperatures.

One of the perks of working in client homes is that you don’t have to go through this process of paying rent, utilities, stocking a commercial kitchen or getting approved by the health department.

What services are you going to offer as a Personal Chef?

As a personal chef, you may offer cook sessions, private dinners or cooking lessons. Before deciding which services to offer, decide first which days you’re going to work. Cook sessions tend to be Monday through Friday with emphasis on Monday through Wednesday, while cooking lessons and private dinners tend to be Saturday nights.

There are of course exceptions to offering these services on other days of the week if you are able to create a special business model. Perhaps you specialize in Wednesday evening cooking classes, weekday group lunches, or meal prep on Fridays.

As an entrepreneur, you can create a business model to fit your schedule, assuming your target market is willing to be flexible to your schedule.

Will you be pricing your meal prep services by the meal or by the package?

For your business model, you may choose to charge by the meal instead of by the meal package. With a meal package price, you are setting a minimum fee for the client. If charging by the meal, you should also set a minimum fee. Going to the grocery store, traveling to a client's home, cooking, cleaning up, then traveling away from the client's home takes time. If a client orders just one meal, is that something you're going to do...or will you have a minimum order?

How are groceries handled? Are they added into the cost of meal prep? How does the client pay for groceries?

My current business policy is that I pay at the grocery store with a business credit card, then bill the client for service fee plus cost of groceries. I do provide the client with an original grocery receipt and accept check or electronic transfer.

I have always had excellent communication and relationships with my clients, so personally never had issue with grocery reimbursement or payment of services. My policy is payment at the time of service and am usually paid within 24 hours. I state this policy on my website, at the consultation, and in my first email menu to the client.

To avoid issues with payment, I highly recommend establishing a payment policy as part of your business model. Learn how to draft a Chef-Client contract for your business model here.

Have you considered charging by the hour?

Never ever charge by the hour! When I first began as a personal chef with no direction or mentor, I made the mistake of charging by the hour. At that time, it probably took about five hours to complete a cook session. Now, I can whip through a cook session in about 2.5 hours. Imagine if I still charged by the hour. My income would be declining!

Picture hiring an employee to help you with yard work and agreeing to pay them by the hour. The moment they sit down for a break, you'd be thinking that time and money are going by! The same would happen with clients watching you like a hawk if you were charging by the hour and not being as efficient as they would like you to be.

There is a difference between an employee mindset and an entrepreneurial mindset. If you're continuing to believe that charging by the hour is the way to go, you may be stuck in the employee mindset.

As a new personal chef, I know you're looking for a start price to begin meal packages.

I know you’d love if there were a firm, “start your business at this price,” but it’s just not possible. Pricing your services has to be based on your area, competition and experience.

Assess the competition's services and pricing. If there aren't many competitors in your area, review outlying areas to get a bigger picture of your state. What are you offering that the competitors are not offering? How are your services unique? How long have they been in business and what kind of experience do they have?

How will you approach clients when it's time to raise prices?

I've created a freebie about pricing your services, "How do you know if you're priced right?", available here.

You may find that you began your business underpricing yourself without realizing it. Time for a raise! Giving clients ample notice will ease them into a new pricing structure. You may fear losing clients over a change in fees, but if they truly appreciate your value, they will agree with you.

In my business model, I declare (often three to six months in advance), “starting this date, my new service fee is this new price." New clients automatically begin at the new rate without knowledge of my ever having had a lower rate.

Of course, it’s your business! You get to decide what you want to do with your business model. That’s the cool thing about being an entrepreneur!

How will you increase your income with your current clients?

To increase your income without searching for more clients, you could offer upsells. In addition to your meal package, consider suggesting to the client adding freezer items for an additional fee, such as turkey meatballs in marinara or chicken enchiladas, both of which can be easily frozen.

If desserts are your specialty, a pie of the week could be your upsell. You could offer the client a choice of additional side dishes as lunch meals. Instead of three meals at this price, you could offer a "premium" service of four meals at an upgraded service fee.

Will you work weekends? Are you confident enough in your skills to offer private dinners?

The second service personal chefs often offer are private dinners. These dinners are a lot more work than cook sessions.

Private dinners involve much more consultation than weekly cook sessions. Not only are you catering to your hosts' dietary concerns, you have guests with other dietary lifestyles to consider, such as gluten free, vegan or keto.

You'll likely be undercharging in the beginning and that's okay. You're still learning! Once you have about five dinners under your belt, you'll have a good idea of what you'd like to charge for small events.

More in-depth calculations of pricing your service is available in the course Pricing for Personal Chefs. You'll learn the psychology of pricing your services, exactly how to calculate your worth, then perform several practice calculations so you'll be ready when the next request for a dinner party or meal prep comes in.

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It's wonderful to see perspectives on how others run their personal chef business. If you'd like to share your personal chef journey, I'd be honored to have you as the next guest post.

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