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What is the difference between a private and personal chef?

Thinking about a career as a personal or private chef, or what the difference between the two is? One of the most popular searches on the internet is what is the difference between a private and personal chef. This article is your one-stop source for up-to-date information about the differences between the two. It is the first in a three-part series that covers the origins, duties, training and marketing, salaries, and even real-life case studies between a personal and private chef. I’ve spent nearly three decades representing both and it’s time to put current information at your fingertips to help you better understand these wonderful and rapidly evolving career paths for chefs.

Chef salaries
January 2020 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; Market Research conducted by Holly Powers-Verbeck

The traditional definition of a private chef.

The private chef traditionally works on a full-time basis for one client in their private residence. This is similar to a chauffeur, butler, or nanny.

What is the job description of a private chef?

The job description depends on your clients and the scope of the job. The modern private chef devotes their time and talent to one client who can be a professional couple with no children, a family, or an individual. The chef may be in charge of weeknight dinners or three meals a day plus after-school snacks for the kids. Some assignments offer living accommodations for the chef and require the chef to live with the family or on their property. Other jobs simply require the chef to commute to the home each workday. The private chef’s job duties can also include traveling with their client either to second homes, vacation destinations, or other travel destinations.

Here’s what a day in the life of a private chef looks like: A private chef’s tasks include planning menus, shopping, prep, cooking, and often serving and clean up as well. Clients will likely have special dietary or eating restrictions to accommodate. Since you work for one client it’s important to possess a large cooking repertoire so your client is served a wide variety of food to enjoy on a daily basis. Also, if you work for a client who values social gatherings you may be responsible for their entertaining schedule including planning and executing meals for small, intimate dinner parties, large casual outdoor celebrations, formal holiday gatherings, or hosting out of town guests at the daily table. In larger, busier households, the private chef might also have the responsibility for cooking for the staff, e.g. the nanny.

Every private chef job is different because each client’s needs and lifestyle are different.

Discover the real-life pros and cons of this work in part two of this series. 

How do I find work as a private chef?

How to find work as a private chef: Getting this type of work often involves being represented by a placement agency that will introduce you to a client who is a good fit for your skills, experience, and ability to consistently execute quality meals. A placement agency will also consider your salary requirements. You can also find private chef jobs using job search services like Indeed, Craigslist, and even Facebook. Because this work has historically been performed in larger households and estates the work of a private chef is often thought of as high-end compared to work as a personal chef. 

What does a private chef make?

Let’s talk about pay: Private chefs are typically paid a salary or set wage for a predetermined set of duties. Typically, a private chef will send a quote or an invoice. Private chefs do not pay for the cost of groceries. Your client will provide a budget and method for purchasing food for their household.

The rate of pay depends on several factors: your experience working as a private chef, your knowledge as a chef, the details of the job assignment, and the region where you live (private chefs get paid more in Silicon Valley than Scranton, Pennsylvania).

How much does a private chef make?

You can look up a wide range of salary information from a number of sources like Salary.com, Glassdoor, Salary List, Salary Expert, and the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics. Two other sources with average pay for private chefs can be found on Indeed and PayScale.

Consider these figures may not take into account benefits such as living expenses, lodging, and other perks. Likewise, salary information may also neglect to account for all the extra hours you will work in the household.

Read about three real-life private chefs crushing it in 2020 in part three of this series.

What are the qualifications of a private chef?

Building your business: Typically, a client looks for a private chef with a minimum of 1-5 years restaurant experience and a culinary certificate unless you can show that your on-the-job training provides equivalent experience. It doesn’t hurt to show off your other skills and personality, often referred to as soft skills. Being brought up in a food environment is also compelling if you can articulate this value in a compelling way. You can also pay a membership fee to professional organizations to beef up your credibility, but this is not a substitute for being able to cook well. Some chefs are certified in estate management (think handy-man slash dog-walker) but experience as a property manager isn’t necessary if you intend to focus on cooking rather that a Jack or Jill of all trades.

Grab essential tips on how to succeed as a private chef in part three of this series.

The traditional definition of a personal chef.

Typically, a personal chef runs their own business and has a list of clients. This career path is an alternative to private chef work and has recently gained widespread acceptance as a legitimate and professional career path for chefs.

What is the job description of a personal chef?

The job description depends on your clients and scope: The modern personal chef has the flexibility to work full or part-time depending on their schedule and how much they want to work and earn. Personal chefs work for clients who don’t know how to cook, don’t want to cook, don’t have the time to cook, or have special dietary restrictions that require the expertise of a chef. These clients can be busy individuals, couples or families. The chef typically has a set day/time to serve each client (e.g. once per week) and prepares leave-behind meals that are labeled and stored for the client to eat as their schedule allows. This can include entrees in the freezer, mise en place left in the refrigerator, and shelf-stable or dry goods to augment the client’s meals and snacks. The chef prepares meals that are custom-designed to meet the requests and requirements of each client.

Here’s what a day in the life of a personal chef looks like: The chef is in charge of acquiring their own clients and creating a schedule. The chef may work at one household on Mondays, another every other Tuesday, the still another family on Thursdays, etc. For each client, the personal chef will maintain a flavor profile or service management profile (SMP). The SMP is used to plan weekly menus, get the client’s approval, shop, prep, cook, and label the meals. Often the personal chef will cook onsite at the client’s home. Since you work for many clients that want daily meals it’s important to possess a large cooking repertoire – so your clients don’t get bored with lasagna casseroles every week! Also, if you work for a client who has specific dietary restrictions, sensitivities, or allergies you will be need to accommodate those. Personal chefs handle portion control for and will likely work within a modest food budget. 

Every personal chef’s career looks different because their expertise and their clients’ needs are different.

In part two of this series I reveal the real-life pros and cons of this work.

How do I find work as a personal chef?

How to find work as a personal chef: You can build a clientele who want your talent and services by getting the word out about your food and expertise. Once you display your skills and professionalism, referrals usually follow. Your clients can be found through traditional job search tools like Indeed, Craigslist, and even your neighborhood’s Facebook group. Because this work is traditionally performed for busy couples and families the work of a personal chef is often regarded as an affordable and practical service.

Psst: If you make a good living calling your own shots working as a personal chef you probably owe a salute to my friend and colleague Chef Candy Wallace, a true culinary pioneer. She founded the American Personal and Private Chef Association (APPCA) and, until recently, spent the last four decades educating chefs and promoting this option as a legitimate, alternative career path – especially female chefs. Thank you, Chef Candy!

What does a personal chef make?

Let’s talk about pay: Personal chefs are typically paid a flat rate for their day of cooking. This can be $200-$600 per day depending on a lot of variables. Personal chefs typically provide a proposal, description of services, and sample menus to acquire new clients. Whether or not you pay for groceries and include them in the cost of your services, or the client leaves you money for groceries, must be arranged. Some clients will assign a credit card to you for their purchases. If you cover the grocery costs in your flat fee – I recommend that you DO NOT – you must know how to calculate accurate costs to be are profitable!

Similar to a private chef, the rate of pay depends on several factors: your experience working as a private chef, your knowledge as a chef, the details of the job assignment, and the region you live in (private chefs get paid more in New York city than Pawnee, Indiana).

Make Your Business Cook shows you the difference between private and personal chefs in this three-part series.

Explore the wide range of salary information from a number of sources like Salary.com, Glassdoor, Salary List, Salary Expert, and the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics. Two sources with average pay for personal chefs can be found on Indeed and PayScale.

It’s my experience these figures are low for personal and private chefs. Over the last 23 years of owning my California culinary staffing company I’ve seen fluctuation based on the economy and time of year. Yes, you can charge more for Christmas day. And again, pay depends on you, your reputation, your specialty, and your clients.

Here are the stories of three real-life private chefs crushing it in 2020. 

What are the qualifications of a personal chef?

Building your business: You only need a few clients to fill your calendar. Whether you learned at your grandmother’s side, gained all your practical skills through on-the-job training, or possess a formal culinary certificate, personal chef work is attainable. You must possess knowledge of food handling safety so you’re not Typhoid Mary. You also need a smart phone, a set of knives and a personality clients will feel comfortable trusting in their home. Knowing how to price your services and conduct yourself with customers is essential to your long-term success and there are affordable, convenient online courses and consultants to help with this.

Snap up essential tips on how to succeed as a personal chef in part three of this series. 

The similarities are more important than the differences.

Yes, there’s a difference between the two titles, but try not to get hung up on the details because when you’re starting out you may be performing some combination of both. The essential point is that you’re calling your own shots and: 

  • Great food is great food – it’s just a different business arrangement for how it’s delivered.
  • The background and education required to do this work is the same as working in a restaurant; you can get a shiny certificate or just get in there and gain experience – it’s hard work either way.
  • Both situations deal with small, intimate, repeat relationships that you must foster.
  • Both require that you have a personality and ability to communicate warmly and earn people’s trust.
  • Both use equipment in the client’s homes.
  • Both have the potential to earn better pay than a traditional restaurant job.
  • Both can have arrangements to pay you by the hour, the day, or the job.
  • Both give chefs a chance to perform food theater directly in front of clients instead of remaining hidden in the back of a restaurant’s kitchen.
  • Both offer a greater level of creative control over menus, execution, and ingredients, subject to clients’ needs and/or wants.
  • Both allow you the opportunity to define a specific client niche such as athletes, weight loss, celiac, gluten-free, etc., that give you great joy.

How is the work changing today?

By now you can see there is a traditional distinction between the terms personal and private chef, but I tend to use them interchangeably because this career path is changing rapidly, especially with the impact of COVID-19 on traditional restaurants.

What you need to know about how to get hired as a personal chef or private chef.

Your clients may not know the difference between these traditional definitions. This is evidenced by the fact that, at the time I’m writing this, personal chef is a term searched on the internet more frequently than private chef. Not only that but Yellow Pages and online directories usually only have categories that include caterers and restaurants. In recent years, the category of personal chefs has risen in popularity while the term private chef is behind. The key is to put yourself where clients can find you!

Demand for chefs is on the rise.

What you need to know about how to become a personal or private chef.

The modern personal or private chef is the fastest growing career path for chefs. Not only are there similarities between the two career paths, but the job descriptions are becoming increasingly blurred as clients seek chefs with the perfect blend of services to give them the privacy, time, and convenience they need in their busy lives. In 2019, the age-old definitions of these two career choices lagged behind the rapid rise in demand for entrepreneurial chefs who want to call their own shots and work one-on-one with clients and make them happy with their food.

In 2020, coronavirus blew the doors of opportunity wide open. As restaurants pivot and customers struggle to find ways to enjoy restaurant-quality food in a safe environment the demand for chefs has sky-rocketed. This has created an emerging opportunity for chefs who own their own business.

Once you possess many of the skills acquired in the different cooking stations in a restaurant you have what it takes to start the rewarding career of a chef business owner serving personal and private clients.

Get more information: Parts two and three of this series include case studies of chefs who are crushing it by specializing and/or blending these fields, the pros and cons of each, things to look for and avoid, how to tell which path you’re best suited for, and tips to help ensure your success.