It’s the most common question I’m asked, “how much should I charge for my meal prep services?” You’re welcome to read this blog article or check out the video below. Both are vastly different. More in-depth calculations of pricing and service will become available in my upcoming workshop “How to Become 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?
One of the biggest obstacles in becoming a personal chef is trying to figure out how to price your services.
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 best 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?
My business model charges by the package. I offer one cook session of $250 for three complete meals in a serving size that fits your family. If it’s a family of two, four or five, I charge the same price, $250 service fee plus the cost of groceries.
Because of time, I’m only able to visit one client in the morning, have lunch, then visit a second client in the afternoon. Meal prep for two is only a slightly shorter cook session than meal prep for four. Charging less for a two-person meal package would not make good business sense for my personal business model.
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?
As a personal chef, I suggest always charging “service fee plus groceries” similar to “parts and labor.” I don’t care if the client is ordering chicken or filet mignon since the groceries are reimbursed directly.
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 Venmo, which is an app that the client can use connected to their credit card or bank account. It seemed most of my clients had already been using the Venmo app, so was easy to add as an option of payment.
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.
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.
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?
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 entering my business after I declare notice 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 a severe allergy to onions.
Consider all the steps it takes from planning to cleaning up a private dinner. Divide the number of hours by your chosen hourly rate. From there, you can figure out what price your private dinners are going to be.
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.
Understand that calculating your private dinner pricing by using your chosen hourly rate is different than charging an hourly rate. You are not charging an hourly rate for dinner parties. You are providing one service fee quote for a unique party, such as “plated dinner for eight to include two appetizers at 6pm followed by 7pm dinner of one main and two sides plus dessert – no additional kitchen help needed, service fee will be $700 plus cost of groceries.” You calculated this pricing using your hourly rate, but the client is not aware of your hourly rate and they truly don’t care how long it takes you to provide this dinner service.
Besides weekday meal prep and weekend dinner parties, what other services are you considering offering as a Personal Chef?
The third service you could offer is cooking lessons. The cooking lesson could be demonstration or hands on, just for couples or fun night with the girls, entertaining or skilled learning. There’s a whole range of cooking class opportunities.
Checking out the local competition’s pricing and services are key for this service. I live in an area with several wineries with chefs offering cooking classes with wine pairings. There are also home goods store that offer more basic cooking classes. You may be offering the classes within client homes.
What service is the competition offering? Is food or drink included? Is it just appetizers or a whole meal? Is it a demonstration or hands on? Are the students taking anything home? Is the chef offering a discount offer partnered a local shop? How much is the competitor charging for their service?
Good luck to you!
I hope this info helps begin your calculations of how to price your services. I’m excited about your new business!
Take the “How to Become a Personal Chef” Course
A workshop is coming soon. I’m currently working on it, but it sure is a lot of work putting a course together. The course is on the subject of “how to go about becoming a personal chef,” from start to landing your first client.
As well, I’m putting together an advanced course. If you’re already a personal chef, but need help with a steady stream of incoming clients. It’s going to take more than a handout “9 Ways to Get New Clients.” The upcoming course will include tips about paid advertising as well as how to SEO your website.
Personal Chef Questions Welcome!
If you have any questions, feel free to ask anytime.
Virginia Stockwell has been in the professional catering and personal chef business since 2005. She offers mentoring advice at VirginiaStockwell.com and her YouTube channel “How to Become a Personal Chef”.