For anyone who thinks working in the personal or private chef business is simple, Jenna Helwig is here to set them straight.
After graduating with a degree in communications and working in the radio and television industries for six years, she discovered that her real calling was cooking. Though she rarely cooked when she was younger, over the years she started collecting recipes and becoming more and more interested in preparing food for others.
While becoming a personal chef fit her lifestyle in some ways–as a young mother, flexible working hours are a must–she also confesses that it’s an investment.
“[I]t is possible to… take the easy way out sometimes, to choose to prepare a simpler recipe …or rarely challenge yourself with different ingredients and techniques. But… you should really just go all in – get your hands dirty and push yourself to try every possible recipe and technique, no matter how seemingly difficult. Like most of life, you get out of it what you put into it.”
For better or worse, effort is only one key to the puzzle. The more troubling challenge? The clients themselves.
You are your own boss: The Critical Reality
As a personal or private chef, your occupation is not all that different from a freelance writer who markets his or her work and seeks out clients, sometimes juggling multiple clients at a time, always dealing with a variety of preferences, requirements, and working conditions.
As your own boss, essentially, you are also responsible to meeting those needs personally, and addressing any concerns that arise. The hard truth about being your own boss, Emily Kelly of The Cusp explains, is that you alone are solely responsible for marketing, providing services, and approving requests.
As a personal or private chef, that can sometimes mean dealing with a bossy or demanding client who tries to manipulate the terms to which you’ve agreed. Before you lose your cool, here are three scenarios and strategies for dealing with that client that keeps stepping on your toes.
Demanding Client? Five Ways to Cope
Scenario One: The Client Doesn’t Respect Your Time
Flexibility is one of the key reasons families and individuals hire a personal or private chef. And in most cases, the chef should work to accommodate their client’s personal needs and schedules, even somewhat to the cost of their own, within reason. But what happens when the client keeps changing meal times, or gives little notice when he or she needs a meal?
Set Time Parameters: Before signing with any client, discuss what time frame parameters would be agreeable to you both. Consider how far in advance you would need to know of a cancellation, meal service time change, or how much time in advance you would require for a special occasion, such as for a holiday party or anniversary. Make sure to put your agreement in writing. If a client is unwilling to accept your terms, or you cannot come to a compromise, consider it may not be a good fit for either of you. Even better: avoid an awkward situation by posting time frame policies on your personal web page or blog. It is an equally good idea to set parameters regarding texting or calling. Also consider using a separate phone and email to conduct business so it doesn’t impede so much on your personal life.
Scenario Two: The Client Questions Your Authority
In some ways, it’s good to have a client who is invested in your services to the point they observe your cooking methods. Especially at the beginning of a professional relationship, it’s important, for instance, that he or she communicates preferred cooking methods, dietary needs, and overall preferences. In fact, more concerning is a client who is unhappy with something about your services but does not express his or her distaste.
On the other side, though, are clients who constantly monitor your performance, questioning if you are cooking a meat properly, or even suggesting ways you could do something better. It’s like having an amatuer teaching you how to cook, and it likely can get in your way in terms of both creativity and time.
Assert Your Authority: The Professional Way
A few occasions is one thing, but if your client shows no signs of backing off, despite addressing any concerns he or she may have raised, calmly let them know you would like to discuss your agreement. List the concerns they have addressed, and ask them if you have satisfactorily met their needs. Do make it clear why you prepare things a certain way: if it is beyond preference and is on the topic of food safety, for instance, calmly explain the science behind what you do. Offer to make adjustments, but stand firm on your need for time and space.
Most of the time it’s a matter of fear due to miscommunication. Alternatively, you could offer your client a chance to cook alongside you, as a pseudo cooking course: both of you might benefit, and the client may gain insight into what you do.
Scenario Three: The Client Demands Increasing Quality
On the surface, someone who demands high quality is actually great for a personal or private chef. Setting high standards challenges the chef to perform to the best of his or her ability and helps him or her learn, furthering their expertise, professionalism, and opening them up to continuing to improve.
The problem? Overly critical clients who continually insist that their standards aren’t being met, or clients who push for higher quality ingredients and more elaborate meals than you first agreed to.
Look In the Mirror First, Then Assess
This problem is more difficult to identify, because it’s possible that your current meals are not meeting standards. Review the contract you agreed upon, and make sure you are meeting the quality you designated, both of preparation methods and ingredients. After assessing and then meeting with the client, offer the option of including higher quality ingredients. If the client, for instance, suddenly insists on all organic produce, and you are not already offering this, offer it to them at a slightly increased rate. Always be transparent about any additional costs and explain your reasons.
If all else fails, but confident in your abilities as a professional chef. Use clear guidelines, have all agreements in writing, and communicate politely as possible. If you have done everything you can, you’re more likely to both have and attract respectable clients in turn.