Dinner's ready!
September 22, 2011 11:10 AM   Subscribe

How do I become someone's home cook-for-pay?

I'm interested in becoming a home cook for families, i.e. preparing nightly dinners and/or other meals to store for the week. I love cooking and am very good at it, and it seems like it might be a nice flexible/temporary option for employment when times are rough. However, I have no idea how one goes about becoming a cook-for-pay or what it is actually like to do it, so I might be totally off base and be underestimating how complicated/time-consuming/not-profitable it is.

Do any of you mefites use such a service or know anyone who has done this? Here are some of the specific questions I have:

1. How do you charge for your services? Hourly? Flat rate? Do you include the cost of food in the rate you charge, or do you get the family to buy the food?

2. Where do you prepare the food? In their homes? (Seems like equipment could be a concern.) Or at your home? (Seems like you could run into licensing/health code laws, as you might be doing under-the-radar "catering.")

3. How much food (i.e. # of meals) do you prepare at once?

4. How do you market yourself or, conversely, find someone who provides this kind of service?

Relevant websites, blogs, etc. of people who do this would be greatly appreciated as well. I'm in Minneapolis, have lots of experience cooking, and can accommodate many different types of diets (gluten free, vegetarian, vegan, etc.), if that's relevant.
posted by Betty's Table to Work & Money (5 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Try some of this type of service:



I did a search for healthy meals delivered as I feel this type of serviceis growing.
posted by skepticallypleased at 11:13 AM on September 22, 2011

Sounds like you are talking about being a personal chef. You might find some help at the American Personal & Private Chef Association
posted by ghharr at 11:15 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

My husband did this for a while in LA, and he worked in the client's homes--he'd bring his own knives, but otherwise managed with what they had (these were people with huge, gorgeous kitchens that didn't cook.) He'd suggest a weekly menu, submit it to the family, shop and prepare and left the cleanup to the rest of the staff, who also ate food he prepared, but not the same high-ticket dinners the family ate. It wasn't all that hard, but he didn't really make a ton of money either.

If you can find a specialty--gluten-free, vegan, etc.--you'll have a big advantage, but to make a profit, you need to really research how much people will pay and how much time this will take.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:29 AM on September 22, 2011

Best answer: I went to culinary school and can answer a couple of your questions. Yes, you are talking about becoming a private chef, also known as doing private cooking.

In most (if not all?) jurisdictions, you are required to cook at the client's home. You can bring your knives and some other equipment, I think, but you need to check with the local health regulations on the specifics. I don't know of any jurisdiction where it is legal for you to prepare food in YOUR home (non-commercial) kitchen and then sell it (due to health regulations). You may, however, prepare food in a COMMERCIAL kitchen (that you can rent or otherwise use that is subject to regular health dept inspections) and sell it as long as you meet whatever the local health code guidelines are. They may require you to have various kinds of sanitation training (such as Serv-Safe or a Clean Hands Certificate). Your local small business advocacy organization or chamber of commerce should be able to help you figure that out.

However, every personal chef I've ever known has worked inside the client's home. It's easier and faster than going through the rigamarole of securing commercial space.

Pricing structure is up to you. In order to take money in any business, you are technically legally required to register the business first. Again, check with your chamber of commerce or small business advocacy org on how to navigate this. I've known chefs that charged hourly and others that charged a flat rate. However, everyone I know charges for cost of food separately. It's just like having someone come in and build a new wall in your house -- he bills you for his labor, then he gives you receipts from the hardware store and you reimburse him for supplies/equipment.

One issue you should consider is whether and how to carry liability insurance in case someone gets sick from eating your food.

You might want to start with offering your services for cost of food only to friends/family to see if you enjoy the work. Being on your feet in someone else's kitchen for the entire day to prepare meals for someone else can be very grueling, even if you love cooking! Memail me if I can be of more help. Good luck!
posted by pupstocks at 6:56 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, also, when calculating your rate, be sure to take into account your planning, shopping, schlepping, setup, and cleanup times -- not just the actual prep, cooking, and packaging times.

AND, be sure you figure out where you're going to put the food. Will your clients have to buy a set of Tupperware or glass containers for your meals (I know a couple chefs who do it this way) or will you bring Gladware or what?
posted by pupstocks at 6:58 PM on September 22, 2011

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