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Personal chefs: How much do they cost — and are they worth it?

Robyn Correll
July 3, 2018
Personal Chefs: How Much Do They Cost – And Are They Worth It?

Americans devote an average of 37 minutes a day preparing, serving and cleaning up after their meals, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That number creeps up to 44 minutes a day for families with kids, totaling more than 267 hours a year spent in the kitchen. For many households, hiring a personal chef to gain back some of that time can feel like a pipe dream — but it might not be as expensive as you think. In fact, in some U.S. cities, a personal chef costs barely more than eating out.  

So how can you figure out whether a personal chef is right for you? It all comes down to how you want to spend your time and what you’re able to afford. Food costs money, but your time is valuable, too. Hiring a personal chef might make sense if you value extra free time, are too busy to devote the time you’d like to high-quality meals or you buy a lot of prepared food.

If you’re like most Americans, you’re already spending a big chunk of your money on dining out. Forty percent of the money Americans spend on food every year is on food prepared outside the home, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. The average family of four spent about $4,100 on dining out in 2015, compared to about $5,600 on food at home.

Eating out can also hurt more than your bank account. Meals at restaurants — especially fast food chains — can be loaded with sugar, calories and fat. A personal chef can often tailor to dietary needs and keep health considerations in mind when preparing meals.

What factors influence the cost of a personal chef?

Most chefs charge hourly, weekly or by the serving, but a lot goes into how they come up with their final price tag.

Cost of living: The price of ingredients to prepare your meals will depend a lot on where you live. In 2018, for example, a gallon of milk in Jacksonville, Florida, is about $3.47, whereas the same gallon costs $4.69 in New York City. Rent, taxes, proximity to distribution centers and more can all influence the price of food. Likewise, the more expensive it is to live in a given area, the more chefs around there need to charge to make a living.

Number of servings: There is some economy of scale with cooking, but generally speaking, the more food you need prepared, the more ingredients (and sometimes work) go into it. Chefs take this into account when charging you and adjust their bill accordingly. For some, that means simply charging for any extra time or supplies needed to accommodate the larger orders. Others, however, charge a set price per serving — meaning if you want twice the food, you’ll have to pay twice the cost.    

Specialty menus: Households with a lot of dietary restrictions require more time and effort for planning than those with none, so it makes sense that some chefs would charge more for them. Creating a diverse set of meals for a household with multiple restrictions and allergies (for which chefs have to be extra careful about how they handle ingredients) can sometimes add hours to planning and prep time, and that is typically reflected in the rate. Examples of specialty menus include food sensitivities or allergies, vegan or vegetarian and gluten-free or dairy-free.

Groceries: High-quality or specialty ingredients are nearly always more expensive and sometimes take more effort to buy. Families wanting higher-end ingredients — such as only locally sourced or organic food used in their meals — can expect the grocery portion of their personal chef bill to reflect those higher costs.  

Frequency: Many chefs charge per hour, so it should come as no surprise that the more often you ask them to come by, the more they’ll charge you. Asking a chef to come by twice a week will be a lot more expensive than having them swing by just once a month.

Location: Chefs cooking off-site might charge less than those coming to cook in your home. Large-scale, commercial kitchens tend to make it easier and faster to cook large amounts of food, and that can translate to a lower price overall.

Ownership: A single chef working independently will likely charge more than a personal chef service. Independent personal chefs are small business owners with overhead costs to consider. Those administrative tasks (invoicing, payment processing, grocery shopping, etc.) are often centralized at larger companies, spreading out the cost over a team of chefs, allowing them to keep their prices competitive.

Experience of the chef: Just as important as all of the above is the experience the chef has at doing their job.

“There is a range of pricing,” says Holly Heath, a former personal chef based in Houston. “The more training, experience and notability, the higher the chef can charge.”

Heath herself attended culinary school and amassed an impressive client list with multiple big-name celebrities — two factors she suspects allowed her to charge a higher rate than some other chefs at the time.  

Extras: If a client has a reputation for being overly demanding, picky or harsh, a chef might ask for an above-market rate to offset the challenges of working with someone who is particularly difficult.

Similarly, chefs asked to take on additional responsibilities will charge accordingly. That’s what Marcel Agnez did while working as a personal chef in New York City. Taking on things like “helping clients with service staff or getting their wine list up to date” meant he could charge more for his services overall.

“My prices over the years got better and better because I was a generalist and not a specialist,” Agnez says.

What’s included with the price of a personal chef?

The obvious benefit of personal chefs is that they’ll provide you with meals. But there are a lot of tasks that go into that.

Meal Planning: Part of the job of the personal chef is to develop a meal plan that meets the household’s dietary needs, often with input from the family. This can be especially helpful for homes with limitations on what they can eat. This can include food allergies, religious restrictions and just plain picky eaters — meaning a lot of planning and considerations can be required.

Grocery Shopping: Once the meal options are selected, chefs are also typically responsible for procuring the ingredients needed to prepare the food. If families have strong preferences on the types of food — such as all organic or grass-fed meats — the chef can take that into consideration when shopping. Note: The time and effort to go out and buy the groceries is often included in the price of a personal chef, but the actual cost of the groceries themselves are not. Those are often tacked onto the overall rate or charged for separately.

Food Preparation: While you certainly pay for the food and the planning, the bulk of what you’re getting when you hire a personal chef is their expertise in the kitchen. Many personal chefs come right to your home to prepare the food, though some might prefer to work off-site in their own home or, in the case of a larger chef service, in a professional kitchen. Regardless of where they cook, they do all the chopping, slicing, peeling, dicing and baking needed for the planned meals.

Meal Storage: After the food is prepared, chefs usually package each meal in a way that can be safely and easily stored for you to eat later. If food is prepared outside of your home, the chefs will bring it to you in storage containers or pans that can be reheated immediately or placed in your fridge or freezer.

Cleaning: Perhaps the true beauty of a personal chef is that they clean up if they’ve cooked in your home. There are no dirty pots, pans, knives, spatulas and cutting boards to deal with after you’re finished eating!  

Cost by location   

The median price of a personal chef in the U.S. is about $200-$300 per week for five meals for a family of four, not including the cost of groceries, which can vary widely by city.

Estimated weekly cost of a personal chef for a family of 4

(Add $60-$200 a week to the cost for ingredients)

City

Sample Costs

Charlotte, North Carolina

$250

Columbus, Ohio

$263

Jacksonville, Florida

$294

Austin, Texas

$305

Chicago, Illinois

$333

Los Angeles, California

$347

Denver, Colorado

$350

Memphis, Tennessee

$375

New York, New York

$392

San Francisco, California

$420

Source: Soma Personal Chefs

While the prices for personal chefs in the above table don’t include the cost of groceries — that would be an additional $60-$200 per week, depending on the kind and quality of ingredients prepared — they can offer insight into how much you would expect to pay depending on the city.

Tips for cutting costs when hiring a personal chef

Hire an amateur: Your neighbor down the street might not have trained at Le Cordon Bleu in France, but that doesn’t mean they can’t make a mean lasagna. Ask around to your family and friends to see if they know someone handy in the kitchen who might be looking to make a few extra bucks as your personal chef. These individuals tend to be much cheaper than a professional personal chef, while still able to meet your family’s culinary needs. Note: Some areas might require personal chefs to have a business license and/or food handling certification. In some cases, this isn’t necessary if the food is prepared inside your own home, but it’s still a good idea to check local laws before hiring someone to make sure you’re in compliance.

Share with another household: If you have some friends who are interested in hiring a personal chef, as well, consider going in on it with them to share some of the expenses and spoils. For many personal chefs, it’s not that much more work for them to double every batch. Once prepared and/or delivered, you can split the food however you’d like.

Consider alternatives: Many cities now have simple meal delivery services or traditional catering companies that bring you a set quantity of fully prepared meals once or twice a week. While not nearly as customizable as a personal chef, these services have options available for some of the most common dietary restrictions and are generally less expensive.

Read next: How to find and hire a personal chef

Comments

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