Let’s talk pay! The freelance chef edition

Let us take you into the world of freelance pay, often a misty foggy world of low transparency where you only know how much to charge based on guessing or asking others and getting vague responses. Well, we wanna blow that wide open for you (as always).


Private cheffing or freelance catering can vary from corporate catering to catering in someone else’s house, to event spaces, holiday homes etc. Talking from personal experience, Countertalk’s Ravneet Gill is here to dissect the freelance pay world and tell you how much she has been paid along the way.


Take it away Rav:


How did you get into freelance work?


I met a few chefs at work who mentioned that they had come from working summers abroad for private clients or work on catering jobs. They said the pay was around £15 an hour and I was like WOAH, I need to get in on that.


I asked them about agencies that I could sign up to and also did a bit of internet searching for private chef agencies. Signing up with agencies usually means you need to send over a CV or fill out a form about your skill set. Once approved you often get thrown the smaller roles so they can test the water a bit, after some time and you’ve earned their trust and gotten some good feedback you’ll get moved up to the bigger better paid roles.


I also met a lot of people through this sort of work, either fellow chefs or owners that I got along with who would then call me for other bits. Clients that liked my work would also ask for me again via the agency. Or I would then acquire private clients on my own for bigger jobs.


Separate from this I also put the word out amongst friends, saying that I had time to accept occasion cake orders or cater small parties and word of mouth really helped.
What I want to reiterate is that this is not a snap-your-fingers quick-easy money game. It takes a different level of organisation and skill to work as a freelance chef/caterer, a lot of self motivation, drive and energy. I’m not saying this to put you off, i’m saying this to be realistic.


Some case studies of the freelance work you’ve done and how much you charged (3 case studies)


  • Corporate catering via an agency
    Info: These were the first types of jobs that I took through agencies, I had been working in kitchens for 5 years.
    Pay: £12.50 p/h (at the very start of when I took on these jobs, had worked in the industry for 4 years)
    Hours: 8 hours
    Job: Prepping under the head chef for corporate dining, cuisine & pastry.


  • Christmas day cooking via and agency & separately
    Info: Christmas day and New years day can be the biggest earners of the year as there is a much lower pool of staff who can work on these days. Clients know this so will pay more.
    Pay: £500 per day (Christmas day, Boxing Day) + ingredients and travel cost. (had been private catering for 1 year, 5 years in the industry)
    Hours: 16 hours
    Job: Ingredients ordering in advance, prep the day before, cooking and cleaning down on the day, travel to and from the clients house.


  • VIP private catering, ad-hoc
    Info: I got these types of jobs through a specific agency that very specifically dealt with VIP clients, it took pre-vetting to get the job.
    Pay: £18-25 p/h (2 years private cooking, 5 years in the industry)
    Hours: 8-10 hours per day
    Job: Shopping for ingredients based on what the client wanted to eat, catering to very specific dietary requirements, breakfast, lunch and dinner when requested.


Licensing/accounting what you need to do


If you’re working through an agency then they will usually sort out your tax. However if you are going it alone you’ll need to register as self employed so you can file a self assessment tax return.


Keeping track of invoices, expenses etc when you’re self employed is a task in itself so in order to keep on top of this it’s good practice to come up with systems that work for you. There are handy receipt tracking apps, apps for banking for self employed people that will keep a track of your expenses and generate invoices for you. An example is Coconut banking


You can also keep track of everything via a spreadsheet or manually, but it’s best to keep a digital back up always. Invoices can be made into PDF’s on Word, Numbers, on Excel etc. To send an invoice you will need these details:


Company (if you have a Ltd Company/Sole Trader)
Contact number
Invoice number – this is useful for you to keep track of each invoice
VAT number (if applicable)
The companies details/individual you are charging: name, address, email
Amount owed, fee breakdown, any agreed expenses
Bank details for payment.


As soon as you start working freelance and you need to charge via invoice, you will need to keep a log of these so that you can file a self assessment tax return at the end of the year. Find all of the information for this here


When you start earning over £85k through freelance pay/invoice you will need to become VAT registered. To find out more about VAT click this link




Firstly, if you’re going through an agent/agency typically you will be paid and a lot of the logistics will be arranged via them, usually their clients have used them multiple times and the agent will have good information for you on the set up.Often, the money upfront seems a lot better than an hourly rate in a fixed establishment. However, there are some downsides to freelancing that you should consider.


When you are going it alone and find clients yourself it can be really tricky to navigate fees and rates for the work. Therefore, make sure you have some set prices and guidelines for certain things, working out menu pricing per head and having a few different options will help communication between you and the client. Avoid grey areas!


Freelance work is often unregulated in terms of client base when you’re not going through an agent/agency. This is not always a bad thing BUT it does mean that you aren’t protected from tricky clients. This is why it’s really important to get your agreements in writing prior to starting any job. Outline exactly what you are delivering, a deadline for changing their mind (sometimes dietary restrictions pop up out of nowhere!), agreed fee and deadline for payment. If you are cooking in a kitchen that you haven’t seen before don’t be afraid to be meticulous and ask for photos, some clients even have a rough inventory to share with you.


There’s a lot of logistics involved when you start to cater bigger dinner parties, lunches, birthdays on your own. The organisation and planning that it takes to make it happen and the de-load afterwards is a process in itself, don’t forget this step! Organising deliveries from different suppliers, checking they arrived, making sure you take all of the extra equipment you need. Organising additional staff members if needed, travel, the clean down and pack up at the end of the day.


Not getting paid on time and chasing invoices. This happens a lot, something to help this is to put a clear deadline at the bottom of the invoice, considering that most companies/people are able to pay within 30 days. A further step is to add on a clause at the bottom of the invoice which dictates that a late fee will be applied if the payment deadline is missed.


Part 2 is on it’s way and includes a suggested pricing model for your skills. No more grey area… kind of.


Ravneet Gill, private chef jobs with friends.

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