The number one question chefs ask me is, “Holly, how should I talk to my clients about the price of my services?”
I hear this repeatedly because the plain truth is a lot of chefs simply have no idea how to handle the number one question they get asked by customers. Let’s get you in the know.
My answer is “Control The Conversation.” Controlling the conversation is how you both initially, and ultimately, handle this question. Say it with me: Control. The. Conversation. It’s easier said than done, but it is very doable, fun even, and it’s a skill you’ll need to get profitable.
The Opening Move for Chefs to Talk About Prices with Their Customers
Remember this, chef: The person asking the questions controls the conversation. NOT the person doing the talking.
When you answer the phone and it’s a potential client who wants to book a gig, that is great news. However, when their first question after the pleasantries is, “What are your prices?” — that’s not such great news, because it means they’ve just taken control of the conversation by asking a question.
So, when you get asked that ‘money question’ right off the bat, don’t spew off numbers right then and there. (I’ve seen too many chefs get caught by that booby trap.) No, what you do is take back control of the conversation. You do this by asking them questions.
Here’s Your Opening Move:
When asked “what are your prices?”, answer with your version of — “Well, it really depends on what type of services you’re requesting, and I don’t want to leave out anything that’s important to you. So can I ask you a few questions to get a more complete idea of how I can serve you?”
This opening move quickly and respectfully acknowledges the client and their question, without making you show your cards. It also completely shifts the momentum and puts you back in control.
From here, you can begin to understand what type of client you’re working with. (And you haven’t risked them hanging up the phone because your price was too high — or too low). Now that you’ve used the opening move and taken control of the conversation, continue to ask questions. Get the client talking. You’ll learn more about what they want, so you can give them what they want.
Never answer the price question before asking questions of your own. Use The Opening Move.
Chefs Shouldn’t Talk About Their Prices Before They Educate the Client
When a potential client goes straight to pricing it tells you they’ve really never bought this type of product before. If they did have experience working with Private Chefs or Personal Chefs, they’d be asking if and how you can fulfill exactly what they need for their dinner or event.
Opening the conversation with the ‘price question’ signals a rookie client, one who needs to be educated on what they really want. You are the professional Chef. You are the expert in the conversation. Take the lead and educate the client. Educate them on what they really need, what they really want. (Try it, it works.)
Teach them all the ways you can, and will, make your services worth the expense (without speaking dollars and cents). Sell your services by teaching your customer what they don’t know. You know more than 99.9% of your clients. Embrace this and make it part of your conversation. When they call you, you’re in a great position. Use that to your advantage.
Many first-time clients are like brides – they are calling a chef to book services for the first time and all the information is new (plus there are a lot of details they haven’t thought of). Similarly, executive assistants looking for a chef for an upcoming function need you to show them what services you provide and how booking with you makes their job easier. Educate them.
And to see what type of chef services they need, you have to gather as much information as possible in a conversational way. It’s like forming an instant friendship. Again, you’re doing this by asking all the questions.
Start with this one: “Have you ever experienced the services of a Personal Chef or Private Chef before?”
If they say no (many will), it’s time to control the conversation and share what they need to know. Tell them they’ve made a wise choice in considering a professional, and then lay out, in detail (and with confidence) exactly how booking with you has more benefits than they ever thought possible.
And if they say they do have experience with private chefs, great. Ask about their experience and what they liked best. Again, let them talk. If they had a positive experience their reminiscing will remind them why they want you and it will reveal what you need to repeat so they’re happy. Similarly, if their experience was less than ideal, what they share with you is the key. They are practically outlining what you can do differently to score the gig! Knowing their expectations as well as what they know — and don’t know — gives you a clear runway to educate them on exactly why YOU are the best choice for them.
It’s an excellent idea to have pen and paper handy to jot down notes during your conversation for follow-up questions. The more questions you ask, the more you repeat back what you heard and relate it to what you do, and the more tips you give them — the more professional and seasoned you come across.
Build Value by Talking Benefits
When people look to hire a Personal Chef or a Private Chef, they aren’t actually looking for the cook who makes the best chicken dinner. They’re looking for the professional who can give them back their time and make things effortless. Communicate the benefits of working with you — and they’ll discover they can’t afford not to hire you.
Clients want to be wowed by a chef. Clients want a chef who will wow their guests. Clients want a chef who’ll create memories in their home, who give them something they can’t get in a restaurant.
It’s not about the food, chef. It’s about YOU.
When you understand this essential truth of your work as an Independent Chef , it’s easier for you to talk about your services and how they benefit your client. And when you communicate and articulate how you’ll give them back their time, then the price you charge becomes more meaningful to them. People pay for time, convenience and ease. And they don’t balk at spending good money for it.
Vision: The Jaguar and the Buick
The plain truth is that oftentimes a client’s vision doesn’t match their budget. Especially those who aren’t experienced with engaging Personal Chef or Private Chefs for their home. People want the Jaguar for the price of a Buick. They do.
You’ve gained control of the conversation by leading with questions. You’ve educated your client and built up the value of your benefits. Now it’s time to really paint the picture of what you do.
Paint the vision for them. Repeat their vision back to them in its most grand form. They should be able to see their experience playing out in their minds so hiring you is hands-down, no-brainer excellent decision on their part. Be the Leonardo da Vinci of Independent Chefs here. You have my permission to paint the vision for them.
If, and only if, their budget and that vision are truly out of alignment — then you can down-sell your services by identifying which parts of their vision can be altered or trimmed. (Maybe the number of servers can be cut, perhaps the client can drop a course from dinner, or switch from small plates to family style, etc.) Again, use your expertise to advise the client as to what is possible and what needs adjusting to still make their dream come true.
- Start from the top. After all, you want to make sure you offer everything they’ve outlined and show them you have the exact options they requested. And, if the vision you paint for them is a Jaguar, they just may decide it’s exactly what they want and it’s within their budget.
- If the client begins to express concern over price you can say ‘That’s okay, I just wanted to show you the options I’ve provided my other clients. I’m happy to make adjustments to keep within your budget and still provide you with services you value and treasure’. Make suggestions for things you can do (don’t ‘trim’ or ‘take things away’ just suggest alternatives) until you reach the sweet spot where they’re getting what they want at a price they’re comfortable with, and you’re adjusting your services to reflect their budget.
Ask the questions and give the answers which illustrate a complete and clear vision. Once the client can practically “taste the schnozberries,” you’ve positioned the conversation well for them to simply go ahead and book you.
Chef, in the 23 years I’ve run our private staffing company I’ve held a few conversations wherein I asked thoughtful questions, let them talk, and within moments the client gave me their credit card and ‘bought the Jaguar.’ It’s super exciting. (But muffle your Wahoo and act like it’s an everyday thing.) And then get out your calendar and take that advance payment to book the gig.
People Book ‘People’
To seal the deal, be professional — and personable. Get out your front-of-the-house skills and form a connection.
People book with chefs they like. It’s human nature. Though being a snob may still fly in some restaurant somewhere, it’s the rare jerk who becomes a profitable Personal Chef or Private Chef.
When a human being is planning a special event — one they will be proud to take photos of, post online, and remember forever — they want connection. With their guests, yes, and with their chef too.
If a client is considering two different chefs who both make the same ‘bomb chicken dinner menu,’ 100% of the time they’ll go with the chef they feel the most warmly toward — the chef who’s taken the time to build a friendly and professional connection.
Do this by being a human being. Your first job is to be curious and make a connection:
- Ask about their guests. Learn who will attend, and see if anyone will require special meals or alternatives. If you make grandma and the kids happy, you’ll make the client happy. (And Happy = Repeat Client)
- When you book that gig and get into the home, pay them genuine compliments. Humans spend a lot of time making a house a home and we all love compliments. Even if the kitchen is organized like a tool shed, find something about their home you can compliment (the color scheme, the views, their oven/range), and do so.
- Be adaptable. Focus on your work but remain approachable and conversational. Talk sports when the game is on. If the conversation turns to politics or religion, remain neutral. Even if it’s not your style, embrace the music that comes on the stereo.
Chef, you know you cook delicious food. But it’s your ability to make a connection (call it schmoozing if you like, but it’s more fun when it’s genuine) that will get you the opportunities to get paid what you’re worth. Have fun with it, and do it genuinely. People spot bullshit, and they respect the real thing. Form connections.
When do I talk about my prices?
You are the expert in the conversation when you’re the one asking the questions. Retain control of the conversation and never talk price right off the bat.
Hone your Opening Move masterfully.
Get curious and ask questions, questions that give you valuable information about the client and their desires. Educate them. Build up the value of your benefits so they can’t afford not to hire you.
Give them the grand vision. Adjust your offerings only if they’re a match and you can do so and make a living. And always be the personable and professional chef they cannot wait to invite into their home.
Once you’ve positioned all the pieces the topic of pricing will insert itself naturally into the conversation. You simply say, ‘I have a really good picture of [fill in the blank], and I’m glad you called me because I’m confident I can [fill in the blank]. Would now be a good time to tell you about my prices and how you can make a reservation with me?’ When they say yes, you know you’ve done good work. Now share your prices and effortlessly book the gig.