Private Chef or Personal Chef: What’s in a Title?

Clarifying the difference between a private chef and a personal chef

I’m a recruiter. In my business terminology matters. Incorrect terminology can lead me down a faulty path as I look to fill positions. Correct terminology provides me with a road map to help my clients achieve their goals.

The recruitment issues aside, I also think that clarifying the difference between a Private and Personal Chef is important for the individuals in the field. Knowing who you are, what you do, and how to categorize yourself provides tremendous marketing and branding advantages. One never wants to leave a potential client scratching their head wondering “what is it again that this person does and what do they want?” If that’s the result after an interview or meeting, it should be categorized as a “FAIL.”

The private chef vs personal chef debate on social media

Recently I followed a social media thread where the question was posed: “if someone were to ask you the difference between ‘Private Chef’ and ‘Personal Chef,’ what would your answer be?” I followed the thread from beginning to end since I’m a guy who likes clarity and questions that prompt clarity. It is a good question.

The surprising thing to me was that there was very little in the way of consensus among respondents. I suppose it is understandable if the individual works outside of the field, but the surprising thing was that even Chefs did not agree on whether the positions were the same or if there were critical differences. When differences were identified, few agreed on what they were.

So, as a guy who thrives on clarity, the thread was interesting. My mind immediately went to the question… “if you can’t decide on the correct terminology to describe what you do, how then do you successfully market yourself and your services?”

The question is still nagging at me. And yes, I need to find a hobby. Until I find said hobby, I will endeavour to point out some differences that come to my mind. I will leave it to the professionals to decide into which camp they fall.

In my opinion, that there are differences between the two positions is a given. Of course, generalizations are always subject to exceptions. If the shoe doesn’t fit, you might fall into the “exception category.” Here is my take on what some of those differences are:

Private Chef

  • You are an employee 
  • You work exclusively for a single family
  • You are on payroll
  • You earn a salary
  • You are eligible for benefits packages
  • You are eligible for an annual performance bonus
  • Your taxes are deducted at source
  • You use tools and equipment that belong to your employers
  • You work in your employer’s kitchen
  • You cook meals for a single family “à la minute”
  • You often travel with your employers
  • You may be live-in or live-out (or a combination of both)
  • You prepare grocery lists 
  • You buy groceries by either using petty cash or a household credit card (but almost never with your own money)
  • Your work with your employer is steady and reliable
  • You do not need to market your services once you have been hired
  • You do most meals, ranging from a basic breakfast to preparing and executing menus for entertaining
  • As opposed to preparing refrigerator and freezer ready food items (although you do that as well), you prepare meals while the family is at home
  • You don’t have to worry about business bookkeeping, although you do follow kitchen budgets as required
  • If you use your own vehicle, you are compensated for mileage
  • You cook while the family is at home. You are very much integrated into the patterns of the family and household.
  • You cook for UHNW families

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Personal Chef

  • You are a contractor/vendor
  • You work for multiple clients (note the client/employer distinction)
  • You bill for your services
  • You earn your living through invoices that get paid
  • You are not eligible for a benefits package because you are not an employee
  • You are responsible for looking after your own healthcare and retirement needs
  • You might receive gratuities, but you never receive an annual bonus
  • You bill your clients for applicable taxes. You pay the government taxes as a contractor/business owner. Your taxes are never deducted at source.
  • You might bring your own tools and equipment in to a job
  • Depending on jurisdictional laws, you either work out of your own kitchen or your client’s kitchen or a mixture of the two
  • You prepare meals for multiple families that are labelled and stored in a freezer or refrigerator so that they can be re-heated at a later time
  • You rarely travel with your clients. If you do, you will negotiate a rate, since you do not receive a salary.
  • You are almost always live-out, unless travelling with your client
  • You purchase groceries based on what you will be preparing
  • Money spent on groceries will either be directly reimbursed or rolled into an hourly rate
  • Your work is based on the whims of the market and seasonal fluctuations. It is not steady or reliable. If it is, consider yourself to be amongst the fortunate few.
  • You are constantly marketing yourself and your services. You likely have a website and an active Instagram account that is heavily branded.
  • You generally prepare family-friendly food that is easy to reheat and freezer/refrigerator ready. That said, you might be hired to do the odd event by your client. 
  • As a business owner, you do your bookkeeping or have someone do it for you
  • You use your own vehicle and claim it as a business expense
  • More often than not, you cook while your clients are at work
  • You cook for families who might not require a full-time Private Chef or are not able to afford the considerable costs associated with hiring one

Okay, so I mentioned exceptions. There will be exceptions… there always are. In my experience, however, the above delineates some critical differences between Private and Personal Chefs. The differences have nothing to do with skill level. I’ve met fantastic Personal Chefs and some god-awful Private Chefs. The reverse is also true.

I do think that the Private Service industry needs to do a better job at consistency and clarity when it comes to categorizing roles within a home. It matters… and for all kinds of reasons. If you are a Personal Chef, embrace the title with pride. There are skills and attributes associated with the role that cannot be produced by many. Same goes for Private Chefs. Know who you are. Brand yourself accordingly. Seek out professional clarity whenever you can. You are professionals, but you are also educators. The market place needs a helpful lesson or two.

What do the rest of you think? Personal or Private… Is there a difference?

Written by Scott Munden, who is the CEO of Portico Inc

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