The Dos and Don’ts of Becoming a Personal Chef

Chef Chris Spear explains how being creative is just as important as being a great entertainer when you’re a personal chef. Plus, why digital recipes are vital to business success.

I started my personal chef business, Perfect Little Bites, 11 years ago with the goal of bringing the fine dining experience into a customer’s home. In a lot of ways, I am an entertainer. I bring everything with me – china, linens, equipment – cook the food on-site and oftentimes, do culinary instruction. 

frederick maryland personal chef chris spear

It took me several years to figure out my process and build up momentum enough to become a personal chef full-time. I’ve found my footing and have even developed a community (and podcast) of like-minded industry experts called Chefs Without Restaurants for customers in need of a personal chef in Maryland-DC-Virginia.

From costing, to scaling and planning, as you can imagine, being a successful personal chef has a lot of challenges. People are always asking me for some tips on how to start a personal chef business. So here are a few things I recommend as you start your journey as an entrepreneur.

How to Become a Personal Chef – 5 Tips for Success

Do – Practice with friends and family

To become a personal chef, the first thing you need to do is get out there and practice. Cooking in your home or at a restaurant is so different from cooking in other people’s houses. Find a neighbor, a relative, or someone who has an anniversary or birthday, and just offer to cook for them. 

It could be as simple as a two-course dinner to see what it’s like to take all of your stuff into someone’s house to cook on a stove you’re unfamiliar with. You also need to understand how you cook with people talking to you and watching.

As a personal chef, you have to be able to deal with whatever comes your way, whether that’s a dog or kid running through the kitchen, having five things cooking at once, or people asking a whole bunch of questions. You can’t just think, “I’m a chef, I make good food and will just go to a person’s house and cook it.”

Don’t – Focus only on your food

As a personal chef, you’ve been hired for more than just your food. You need to think about what your experience is going to look like overall. For a lot of chefs, this is really hard to accept. You have to let go of some of your ego to be succesful. For example, when I was starting out, I told myself I wouldn’t make something like a chicken parmesan because it seemed a little mundane. But if it’s a client’s favorite dish, why should my personal bias get in the way? You’re a chef and can do a great job of it. Why not make the best chicken parmesan they’ve ever had? 

personal chef dinner

Do – Ask for reviews early on

Once you start booking clients, reviews are super important. A lot of my customers today tell me that they went to Google and picked me because I was the top-reviewed chef in the area. 

People love social proof. And when someone says they had an amazing time, they want to experience it too. Because only 25% of people actually write up reviews, make sure you ask everyone you can as early as you can. 

I pride myself on the fact that I have exclusively five-star reviews on every platform – Google, Yelp, and Facebook – in the 11 years I’ve been a personal chef. It can feel like a lot to repeatedly ask for reviews, but being persistent can help your business grow significantly.

Don’t – Underestimate the power of a network

A lot of personal chefs come from big operations, where you have a lot of people to bounce ideas off of and work with. But when you start your own business, you don’t usually have anyone. Most of us are a small team, if not just one person.

Since we’re doing everything, including business development, having a stream of referrals can really help you out. If you’re booked on Friday night, but someone wants to hire you on the same day, it’s great to have another chef you can recommend. Not only will your prospect be grateful, but your referrer might pay it forward to you later on. 

Being a personal chef is much easier if you have people to lean on who know what you are going through. Even a network of just four chefs in your local community can be a huge help. You are not only sharing job opportunities, but resources and advice. 

Do – Work with vacation rentals

frederick maryland personal chef chris spear

I did a whole podcast episode on this, but I would say that one of the biggest business drivers for me has been working with vacation rentals like Airbnb. They account for about 90% of my business these days. 

If a guest is hosting an event, then more than likely they are looking for someone in the area to cook for them. Reach out to the owners and operators of vacation rentals, not Airbnb directly. Ask them if they will pass on your contact info to upcoming guests.

A lot of times people say, just leave a card. However, by the time guests get to a house, a card’s not going to help if you’re booked out two months in advance. Make it easy for the owner and operator and put together a media kit or PDF they can share as a welcome package.

Don’t – Rely on a recipe journal or binder

1. Sharing 

Some of my clients ask me to send them recipes. This is so easy to do with meez. I can just pull up the recipe on my phone, type in their email, and share a link with them instantly. This is also really helpful when I am planning a cooking lesson at a client’s home and working with freelancers. Instead of printing recipe packets for everyone, I can just email them a meez recipe.

2. Scaling 

meez really comes in handy when you have to create a recipe for an odd number of guests. All you have to do is put in how many people you are cooking for, and it scales the recipe exactly. That means I can leave a house with little to no food waste, whether I’m cooking for five or ninety-nine people. 

3. Organization 

As a personal chef, you are at someone else’s house, not a commercial kitchen or your own place. Previously, I would bring a little manila folder with all these paper recipes. Keeping them organized was hard, plus they often weren’t scaled or converted. Now I can just bring a tablet or my iPhone, pull up the recipe in meez, and get started.

4. Search 

As personal chefs, our menus change every day. And sometimes you make a dish, prep too much, and have to use an ingredient by the next day. For example, I do an apple fennel celery salad and almost always have fennel leftovers. Before, I wasn’t sure what was the best way to use an ingredient like this. But now with meez, all I have to do is type’ fennel’ into the tool and it will pull up all recipes with fennel listed as an ingredient. 

💡Quick meez tip

With the latest iPhone update, recipe importing is even easier. All you have to do is take a photo of your recipe, click on the recipe text, and copy and paste it into meez. Your recipes can be imported in minutes without any real manual labor required. 

About Chris Spear

frederick maryland personal chef chris spear

Chris Spear is the chef and owner of Perfect Little Bites, an in-home personal chef business based in Frederick, Maryland. You might also know him as the host of the Chefs Without Restaurants podcast, and the man behind the culinary networking organization of the same name. Chris graduated from Johnson & Wales University with a B.S. in culinary arts, and has been working in the foodservice industry for almost 30 years. Now Chris splits his time between cooking unique dishes for his guests and engaging with the culinary community he built. He has written editorials for StarChefs, and some of his recipes can be found on the Garden & Gun and Imbibe websites.

This article was originally published on the meez website and contains some affiliate links. That means that if you signup through my referral link, I might receive a small comission.


If you enjoy the show and would like to support it financially, please check out our Sponsorship page (we get a commission when you use our links).  

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Why Doing Free Work as a Personal Chef is a Recipe for Disaster

The Dangers of Free Work for Personal Chefs

On this week’s Chefs Without Restaurants Podcast

On this week’s podcast, I discuss the dangers of free work for personal chefs. As a personal chef, my business is centered around providing my clients with a restaurant-style experience in the comfort of their own home. This includes personalized menus, table service, and even bringing my own cooking equipment and dishware. However, one mistake I made in the early days of my business was thinking that attending events and giving out free food was a good way to market myself and attract paying customers. In this post, I’ll share some of my experiences with this approach and why I believe it ultimately doesn’t work.

The Problems with Free Work

One of the main issues with doing free work is that it can be difficult to effectively showcase your skills and services when you’re limited to a small, sample-sized portion of food at an event. My business is based on providing an in-home dining experience with personalized menus and table service, which is not something that can be easily translated to a six-foot table in a mall on a Sunday afternoon. Additionally, the caliber of food I’m able to give away for free is not going to be on par with what I’m able to serve at a full-scale dinner event.

Another issue with free work is that it can be time-consuming and costly. For example, I once paid to have a table at an event and gave out hundreds of portions of free food, only to have people come by, grab a bite, and move on to the next table without taking a business card or showing any real interest in hiring me. Similarly, I was once convinced to do a dinner on a boat, which involved a lot of time and effort setting up and preparing food on a grill. While I had hoped to get some exposure to food media and potentially land some gigs as a result, the event ended up being a disaster and I didn’t end up getting any new business out of it.

The Better Alternative

Simply put…Don’t do it. After experiencing a number of failures with this approach, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not necessary (or even effective) to do free work in order to succeed in business. I’ve found that my skills and services are valuable enough that I don’t need to give them away for free in order to attract paying customers. Over the past five years, my side hustle has become my primary source of income, and I’ve been able to build a successful business without having to attend expos or work for free.

Final Take-away

Doing free work as a personal chef (or in any creative or service-based business) is not a successful marketing strategy. While it may seem like a good way to get in front of potential customers, it’s ultimately time-consuming, costly, and might not effectively showcase your skills and services. Instead, focus on the value you can provide to your clients and charge accordingly. This will not only help you build a successful business, but it will also help you attract the right kind of clients who are willing to pay for your services.

Relevant Links and Where to Learn About Chefs Without Restaurants

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How to Grow Your Personal Chef Business with Airbnb

grow your personal chef business with airbnb

On This Week’s Podcast

This week’s Chefs Without Restaurants podcast is a solo episode (find it here). I teach you how to grow your personal chef business with Airbnb, VRBO and other vacation properties. This has been where the majority of my business has been coming from for the past five years. 

I’ve talked about it as part of other podcast episodes but thought it warranted a standalone episode. If you want to make more money cooking as a personal chef or caterer, tune in to find out my top tips for acquiring more customers staying at rental properties. 

For more advice on growing your personal chef business, here’s an episode with chef Steven Lash where we talk about the personal chef business. Do you have tips you’d like to share on how to grow your personal chef business? Let me know. Connect with me on one of the platforms below. 

Relevant Links and Where to Learn About Chefs Without Restaurants

You can listen to the show on PodpagePodlink,  BuzzsproutITunesSpotifyTuneInStitcherAmazon MusicPandora I Heart Radio, and everywhere podcasts are found.


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This Week’s Sponsor

Sponsor- The United States Personal Chef Association

Over the past 30 years, the world of the personal chef has grown in importance to fulfill those dining needs. While the pandemic certainly upended the restaurant experience, it allowed personal chefs to close that dining gap.  Central to all of that is the United States Personal Chef Association.

Representing nearly 1,000 chefs around the US and Canada.  USPCA provides a strategic backbone for those chefs that includes liability insurance, training, communications, certification, and more. It’s a reassurance to consumers that the chef coming into their home is prepared to offer them an experience with their meal. USPCA provides training to become a Personal Chef through our Preparatory Membership.  Looking to showcase your products or services to our chefs and their clients, partnership opportunities are available.

Call Angela today at 800-995-2138 ext 705 or email her at for membership and partner info.

Restaurant Marketing That Works – A Podcast with Matt Plapp

matt plapp of restaurant marketing that works
marketer matt plapp of restaurant marketing that works

About Matt Plapp

This week, my podcast guest is Matt Plapp, CEO of America’s Best Restaurants. He’s a marketer, author, speaker, consultant, and business coach.  He’s owned his own marketing firm since 2008, and since then he’s helped hundreds of companies market with a purpose. In 2016 he changed his focus to restaurants, and today helps restaurants all over the world with their ROI Engine marketing platform. Matt also has a podcast called MP TV, and has released a number of books including the recent book titled Restaurant Marketing That Works

On This Week’s Podcast

This episode is from an Instagram live conversation that I recently had with Matt. To be honest, my intent was not to release it as a full podcast, but I was so blown away by our conversation that I just had to put it out there. Most of our conversation revolves around how to obtain customer data, and best use it in your marketing strategy. We talk about email lists and how often to send out an email. We discuss using your time and money effectively, and he gives tips on using the Upwork website when you’re ready to hire someone to help you. 

This Week’s Sponsor

Looking to hire employees for your restaurant? This week’s sponsor is Savory Jobs, a job site only for restaurants. For just $50, get unlimited job postings for an entire year. Use discount code SAVORY10 to save 10%

Relevant Links and Where to Learn About Matt Plapp

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Matt Plapp

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