A Guide for Clients: The Right Questions to Ask!
Table of Contents
Introduction: Recent Changes within the Private Chef Industry
When COVID-19 grew to unprecedented levels during the past few years, the private chef industry changed dramatically: it suddenly became an excellent alternative to the restaurant industry for many people! Before this, our industry was mainly assumed to be a service for the "rich and famous." But now, hiring a private chef has become much more of a mainstream service!
However, a significant difference between these two industries - both in the dining business - is that private chef companies are rarely discussed in standard media outlets like restaurants [unless they are a more extensive catering company]. And because of this lack of discussion and familiarity, it is much more challenging for people to shop successfully within our industry!
And so the question becomes:
"How do I understand what company is the right fit for my gathering in an industry that I'm not as familiar with?"
Before we begin, I will say this next part with sheer honestly: I am the Co-Owner of a private chef company, and therefore, I am admittedly a biased source on the topic! But I am also an experienced source!
In my past seven years of consulting with clients and studying our competitors, I have gained a broad understanding of what's out there, what to watch out for, and what questions you should ask to get the most relevant information from each company.
Because unfortunately, Googling "Private Chef Toronto" [or another city] will yield the same vague results as Googling 'Best Restaurant in Toronto' - absolutely everyone in the industry will appear, regardless of quality. The search page will consist of the chefs who bring low-end ingredients and the chefs who have integrity and passion for their profession. The ultimate challenge is becoming familiar with who is providing what based on what you see online! Because what happens when the services provided are different from what is pictured online [read: underwhelming] on your special day?
In 2022, any business can hire a website designer, a food stylist, and a copywriter to add famous slogans like "Artistic-Fresh" and "Our chef is passionate about food!" to their website.
Further, we live in a world where fast-food chains like McDonald's and A&W advertise their products as ethical, free-range, GMO-free etc. But when the cost of the fully prepared burger is even less than the price of the cheapest ground meat you can find in a grocery store, a giant red flag should appear! Because when we add in some of the other inevitable costs of doing business [labour, advertisement, rent, corporate salaries, etc.], we've way exceeded the current price of the prepared burger.
And so we must begin to ask questions:
How feasible is it that this inexpensive burger came from a small batch of ethically-raised cattle?
How trustworthy are the "company ethics" they boast to customers?
Who enforces these said "ethics?"
How small is a "small batch?"
And therefore, how can we see beyond the [completely legal] marketing to truly understand what we are getting?
The best place to begin is with a healthy dose of skepticism. Then, start asking the right questions! And in this way, you can educate yourself about the industry while avoiding some of the unfortunate pitfalls.
As both Co-Owner of a private chef service company and someone who has hired many private chef companies for my special events [read: market research], let me share my experiences with you!
Part 1: The Four Private Chef Company Models
Let's start with the basics! There are four types of businesses within the private chef world:
1. Small Private Chef Companies usually have one chef and possibly several cooks. In some companies, the head chef who built the company under their reputation will send cooks on their behalf to execute their vision - they won't be present! In other companies, the head chef will always be at your event.
Hidden Truth: Some companies are intentionally vague when asked who will be cooking at your event, and the chances of a completely different chef showing up are high!
TIP: Read through each company's Google reviews to see if their past clients always refer to a singular chef or if multiple chefs are mentioned when rating their experience.
2. Catering Companies offer banquet-sized catering services [weddings, showers, funerals, cooking classes] and in-home private chef services. But their focus is on the big catering events because they draw the most revenue! These companies often have a kitchen facility where the products are delivered and cooked in mass to be warmed up at your event later. They usually employ a variety of cooks and chefs, all of whom they send to events.
TIP: If a catering company is named after a famous chef, ask if that chef will be at your event before paying a premium fee!
Hidden Truth: If a company "specializes" in catering and private chef services, will the private chef menu/ingredients differ from their large-scale catering menus/ingredients? In other words, will you receive a meal worth $250.00 (the average price of a private chef/person)? Or will you receive a meal worth $75.00 (the average cost of a catering plate)?
Will you receive pre-made and re-heated food? Will the chef use an array of ingredients or just the ones purchased for their [read: less expensive] wedding plates?
TIP: When it comes to a difference in price tags, ask yourself what level of execution you expect to receive from a private chef!
3. Recruiting Companies also have an arsenal of chefs they know personally or receive resumes from. However, these companies do not have kitchen facilities and do not know very much about the cooks they send to clients beyond what is written on their resumes.
Hidden Truth: I frequently see these companies online in the local chef's forums, searching for cooks! The company does not know the chef they send to you, more often than not, which leaves the door open for surprises - and not the fun kind.
4. Websites & Private Chef Apps are corporate, Uber-style services that present you with a list of various chefs in the area to choose from, all offering their different menus for your choosing.
Hidden Truth: There's no fact-checking process for the application, and anyone can create a profile to offer their "services" to clients - yes, even you can!
Also, the company is often not located within Canada, which begets questions such as how they could have vetted their cooks and chefs beyond simply sending them to your event as a test run? Furthermore, what happens if the cook does not show up? Will you receive a quick solution from a company that operates in a different time zone? When these corporations exist outside of our timezone and country, the question must arise if there are any issues with your event whatsoever, who do you call in a timely manner to find resolutions?
Part 2: How to Ask the Right Questions
Let me help you ask questions that the average person would not know because asking the right questions is the only way to fully understand what you will receive for each price tag!
Furthermore, it will ensure that no additional [read: hidden] fees appear on your bill after signing the initial agreement.
1. QUESTIONS ABOUT THE CHEF
A. What is the full name of the chef that will arrive at your doorstep?
Check who will be arriving at your event ahead of time with the company! You might be surprised to hear this, but the chef cooking the menu matters way more than the written menu! The difference between a disappointing dinner and an outstanding dinner is a well-trained, experienced chef with good technique. Of course, a good chef has experience and techniques that bring out exquisite flavours. Still, an exceptional chef will go even further than a well-plated, well-executed dish, additionally providing an artistic experience.
Don't let it fool you if a company's name is after a famous chef; this renowned person will probably not be at your event. However, they won't share this information with you until the day of the event - unless you ask!
After all, when the price tag is the same, would you rather receive a specific chef's experience, technique, personality, and level of plating? Or a cook executing the chef's menu for them?
The difference between the two cooks is between a 'wow experience' and an underwhelming experience!