Here’s the deal: You love to cook. Most people don’t.
The average person sees cooking as a task. As a chef, you see it as a creative puzzle to solve. They look in the fridge and see some cavernous black hole of desperation and say, “there’s nothing in here to eat?” You see a mystery box of opportunity and say, “what can I make with what’s in here?”
The Questions that Make Clients’ Lives Hard Make Personal Chefs’ Lives Easier
Knowing how people ask questions (and using that information when talking to clients) can make chefs a lot of money. (I see it happen all the time.)
The key to making money as an independent chef is getting a calendar booked with gigs. To do that, you’ve got to get into the shoes of potential clients and the problems they need to solve.
Forrest Gump led an incredible life because of what he says in the opening scene: “I’ve worn all sorts of shoes.” And when you slip into the boots, loafers, or flip-flops of your clients (and potential clients) it’s easier to solve their problems and put that check in your back pocket.
So let’s look at the questions people ask themselves about cooking e.v.e.r.y.d.a.y.
- I’m getting hungry: What am in the mood for?
- I’m in charge of others: What is everyone else in the mood for?
- I’m already tired from my day at work: Do I have the ingredients in the house?
- I just want to relax: Do I have the time, interest, and skill to make food right now?
- I want to put on my pajamas: Do I have to go out to get it?
- I don’t want to start another project: Who will clean it all up?
Notice: With a client’s ‘everyday questions’ a savvy chef can turn problems into solutions — through the food you cook and the services you offer.
Chefs should take the opportunity to step in and say, “Hey, I know what you’re thinking about [insert any question from above] and I have a solution for you. . .” (It’s often less about your food and more about your people skills.)
Questions Improve Communication for Personal Chefs, Private Chefs, and Their Clients
By communicating and understanding client’s challenges, your services become the invitation for them to try something new, to skip the hassle, and to avoid all the clean up. (Just take their problems and show why you are the solution.)
The fact is: the average person is fairly confident at breakfast, less so at lunch, and simply ‘lost’ by dinner. Relieve them from their recurring hellish nightmare — simply by doing what you love. (They’ll pay you good money for it.)
So, get inside the thought process of those who have to cook three times a day and who don’t enjoy the process. The thing is, chef, you love to cook — most people don’t.
The Right Questions Turn A Chef’s Good Food Into Great Memories For Their Clients
Here’s the deal: People love to attend (and sometimes even) throw parties, but many don’t understand how much more meaningful and memorable each gathering can be (with a little help from you).
The average person’s ceiling just ain’t that high — after all, they can’t even cook dinner for themselves. While they understand food to be a component of the party (people need to eat) they don’t truly understand how food can become the integral part of the celebration. (That’s where you come in.)
Again, knowing a couple good questions (and using the information when you talk to clients) can make chefs a lot of money. This is where you become the master.
The key for chefs to turn a meal into an experience is knowing the client and their guests. This is about your food (but it is also much more than that).
Benjamin Buford Blue (“but people call me Bubba”) is beloved for giving us all the ways to prepare shrimp: “There’s fried shrimp, boiled shrimp, baked shrimp, shrimp on a stick,” and so on as he and Forrest scrub the mess hall floor with their toothbrushes. It’s sort of the same thing with Thanksgiving and stuffing. (We’ll get to that in a bit.)
When Chefs Ask the Right Questions, the Menus Write Themselves
So let’s look at it from the perspective of standing in the shoes of your client. Here’s some of the questions you can discuss (before you talk about your menus) with clients who are entertaining:
The basic list of questions look like this:
- What are you celebrating?
- Why is it important?
- Who will be there and where are they from?
- Where do you like to eat?
- Where did you grow up?
Let’s look at how these questions play out when savvy chef Robert uses the information to plan a menu with Thanksgiving stuffing.
The client wants Chef Robert to cook their Thanksgiving meal. Chef Robert is from Texas so he’s salivating at the thought of his traditional stuffing recipe of cornbread and sausage. But he’s savvy and asked more about the celebration only to discover what’s most important about the family’s get together is that their matriarch Grandmother Grace survived cancer and this year she’s traveling a great distance to be at The Family Table in Florida. Another piece of key information is that Grandma grew up vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard.
Like we said, stuffing is like Bubba’s shrimp: there’s a ton of ways to prepare it. And chefs who don’t ask questions first risk losing a lot of clients — and a lot of money too.
A chef who doesn’t ask questions and ‘just goes with what they know’ can make a client’s skin crawl — or the chef can cash in by understanding who’s at the party and what regional traditions they value. Guests in Florida might be put off with a traditional coastline oyster stuffing, so chef Robert hit a home run and made Grandma smile (and everyone else) by making her favorite from those childhood vacations in Martha’s Vineyard — a New England-style apple and cider stuffing. That’s mastery. (And money.)
Asking Questions is More Important than ‘Selling’ Yourself to a Client
Notice the power of questions and how they give chefs the opportunity to exceed a client’s expectations — without guessing. Chefs should take the opportunity to ask, and listen. The more you ask the more you know. The more you know, the happier the client. The happier the client, the more gigs you book. The more gigs you book, the more money you make.
By being a good communicator (asking good questions and listening) you can avoid the schmoozing and the ‘forced selling.’ Know your clients. Know your audience, and give them the show they desire. Do less selling and more cooking. Weave together the people and the occasion to create a menu, the drinks and the dessert that reflects the people and occasion you’re celebrating.
Chef, Mastering the Power of Questions Puts Money in Your Pocket
Stand in your client’s shoes. Ask great questions. Listen, don’t sell. Have a conversation so you can offer solutions. And make a great meal that turns your clients dinner into an experience — something they will remember you for and call you to create again and again.
Questions are the most important ingredient of your work, chef. Ask and you shall receive. (Gigs, repeat clients, the opportunity to be paid what you’re worth.)