Wonderful people. Rav here, thanks for all of the feedback from the first freelance article, it was really great to hear from so many of you about your experiences working as a private chef or caterer. We also had a lot of questions surrounding different routes, pay structures and more. We realise that the freelance world of private cheffing and catering is a complex one with a lot of different scenarios, therefore I reached out to one of my industry friends Lulu Clare Cox to ask her about her experience in this world, in the hope that sharing more experiences helps us all to learn from each other. Lulu has worked both as a chef in restaurants and in the freelance world.
Take it away Lulu!
Aged 18, I was determined to reach out to cooking agencies and tried tirelessly to get jobs cooking for, generally speaking, families or groups of friends on holidays. I got rejected almost solidly for 6 months and spent my days anxiously waiting for agencies to return my calls! My lack of experience and my age was what held me back. Finally I cracked one job, and then another and slowly began to gather experience in various different locations, which turned into being global and really varied too. My desire to travel and experience different cultures and their local cuisines was what pushed me. From cooking in Safari Lodges in remote locations in Uganda, film stars in Hollywood, an 80 year old lady and her donkey in Dorset to French Chateaux in Southern France. I covered a wide variety of roles. Some were great, some horrendous, most were good, all of them were valuable.
Several years into freelance work I was keen to expand my cooking knowledge. I made a big financial decision to take part in a 6 month Diploma in Food and Wine at Leiths. The exposure to ingredients alongside the strict and meticulous teaching methods made it an incredible learning opportunity. I still refer back to Leiths books now (8 years later.)
On completing the course, freelance jobs became plentiful and I was able to put what I had learnt at school straight into practice, and get paid a higher wage for it too. Cooking for wealthy people meant I could often choose specialised ingredients, that I’d never be able to use for myself. I spent the summer cooking back to back across Europe and in a year I had paid back the cost of the course.
From here, I went into London restaurants, and was drawn to those who valued their ingredients. Bocca di Lupo, St. John and Rochelle Canteen. I’ve become increasingly curious about farming and the impact food and farming choices have upon our environment. I have since left full time restaurant cooking to investigate this through SSAW Collective. (Although I’m cooking for a few months at Newcomer wines as of next week!)
Here are 3 examples of private catering jobs from my journey:
Remote Fishing Lodge – west coast of Scotland , age 22
Age 22 : At this stage of my career I had done a two week crash cookery course and had spent 5 – 6 months cooking for local families and had worked, front of a house in a local pub.
I charged £150 a day for 7 days. All travel and food expenses were covered. In total I made £1050.00 and was given a £250 tip on top of this.
I had to write the menus, shop, cook breakfast, lunch, a cake for afternoon tea and a 3 course dinner for 10 adults and 5 children under 6 years old, as well as do all the washing up. It was a very remote location. There was no phone signal or internet, the nearest shop was a 30 minute drive, and the supermarket was 55 minutes.
Benefits – A chance to travel to incredible places and to meet new people. A good way of making money quickly. Forced to work in an organised manner, and be faced with problem solving, adapting to different ovens / equipment etc. These problem solving skills are so valuable.
A piece of advice – find out as many details as possible before you go, to avoid unexpected shocks! Be clear on what you can offer before you arrive and make sure you feel comfortable with the clients. To get the most out of it, investigate the local area before you go. If you’re into provenance it opens up a whole world of sourcing and understanding local ingredients. For example for a job like this; game cookery, incredible seafood, local farms, artisan bakeries etc. Research the area!
Private chef Hollywood LA
Age 26 . I had completed Leiths Diploma in Food & Wine and had worked for 1 year as chef de partie at Bocca di Lupo.
I sourced ingredients, cooked breakfast, lunch and dinner 6 days a week for a couple for 4 months. There was a housekeeper to help with washing up / cleaning etc. I was able to use incredible ingredients and explore L.A, it was a memorable experience although it wasn’t always ‘fun’.
I had my own private apartment and car. I charged $4000.00 a month and all of my expenses were covered. For 6 days a week I was basically on call. Plans often changed last minute.
A piece of advice – It’s so important to establish a good relationship with clients. Don’t be afraid to set your boundaries and say what you can and cannot do. A great way to cook, travel and save money, perhaps not the best way to challenge and learn new kitchen skills.
Private chef on ad hoc basis to client in London (drop off dinners)
Age 30. At this stage of my career I have been working in the industry for 8 years and feel confident with what I want to offer. I can stick to my principles and style of food and as a result the job is always fun.
Day rate of £250. Menu plan and liaise with the client, source all of the ingredients, drop off food with instructions ready for the client to cook. Amazing relationship with great clients.
A piece of advice – consider whether a day rate or a price per head suits you best. A price per head might be more admin at first but could end up being more lucrative.
Thanks Lulu! So then she and I spoke about how we would charge clients and the sort of framework we work around. We have shaped this into a model and a guide for you.
Here we go:
A pricing model
Pay per hour on a scale
Firstly think of the minimum hourly pay that you would be happy to work for. Remember that you are being paid for your skills and your years of experience. The lowest end that I would suggest is £11p/h (1-2 years of experience), £12-25p/h (3-7 years of experience), £25-50p/h (8+ years of experience).
Time spent working
Once you have obtained a client, note down all of the hours you spend working on this job, you should have forecasted a rough amount already which has been agreed
Factor travel into your estimate, either petrol and miles or taxi estimate with the time that you are spending travelling for this job.
How much do the ingredients cost? Are you prepping in a separate kitchen before going to the client or are you making everything yourself and delivering it? If so, price up an hourly rate for the use of your kitchen (gas, electric, water – there’s always a mountain of washing up isn’t there?).
The job might dictate that you need to purchase specialised equipment, you might need to rent cutlery and tableware. Any staff you also might need to employ to assist.
Consider a cancellation policy
Particularly during Covid times, make clients aware that often you start prepping before (depending on the size of the event) perhaps the week before.