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The Private Chef Handbook - our tips, tricks and insights from over 700 customers.

We spoke to over 700 customers to work out what they expected from the perfect private chef experience. Here are our main takeaways and tips.

Jojo Kelly
July 13, 2021

We'll cover the all the steps involved with private chef work; from client contact to tips.

Working as a freelance private chef is the dream job for those who want to have ownership of their menus, time and earnings. You have the freedom to cook the dishes you love, choose when and where you want to work, and are often able to set your own terms for payment.

I've built the Nomad Cooks platform with chefs in mind: you can create your own profile, design a signature sample menu and set your own availability. FAIR CHEF PAY! I've been a victim of extortionate agency fees and I'm proud to say too that we don't charge any fees or commission to be on the platform - it's about time the middlemen are cut out!

Happy customers

We've managed over 300 bookings and had feedback from over 700 customers.

It is safe to say we are pretty clued up on what customers expect and what will really impress them.

Personally, I have been a private chef for 4 years and pride myself on customer service. I've included some of my top tips here from my experience as well as chatting with our community of over fifty chefs.

This blog is work-in-progres and we will continue to update it. I want it to be a valuable resource for the freelance chef community.


What we'll cover:

  1. Contact with the clients 
  2. Refund policy and deposits
  3. Hiring help
  4. What to wear
  5. What to bring
  6. Ingredients and food prep
  7. Surprise gift
  8. Getting there
  9. Welcome – hellos and first impression
  10. (Unfortunate) surprises 
  11. Laying the table
  12. Cooking
  13. The dishes
  14. Service
  15. Course introductions
  16. Chatting with customers
  17. The clean down
  18. Breakages  
  19. Leftovers
  20. Goodbyes and tips 


1. Contact with the client 

Congratulations! Someone has booked you and you're getting ready for the event. To save stress on the day, here are the key things you need to be 100% clear on:

  • The menu 
  • Pricing
  • Dietary requirements and allergies
  • Travel costs and parking
  • The address and exact directions
  • Check the customer has the kitchen equipment and tableware you need for the menu and event.

Top tips 🎩

  • Try to have a phone call early on with the customer to answer these questions
  • Create some text templates for your regular email responses - you can save loads of time and answer customers queries better.


2. Refund policy and deposits

When organising booking you need protection in case the customer cancels on you. Before confirming the booking, and BEFORE BUYING INGREDIENTS you need the customer to have sent you written confirmation of your refund policy. 

You can have added protection by requesting a deposit too before the event.

Here’s how we structure our at Nomad Cooks, customers have to agree to these before booking a chef with us

  • Cancelled more than ten days before the event = full refund
  • Cancelled more than three days before the event  = 70% refund 
  • Cancelled more than one day before the event = 50% refund 
  • Cancelled less than one day before the event = 0% refund

Additionally, we take a 30% deposit of the menu cost as soon as the booking is confirmed - this ensures customers don’t carelessly make bookings then cancel. 

The same policy applies if the number of guests reduces before the event.

You can view our refund policy here. Feel free to duplicate it and use it yourself!

Top tips 🎩

  • Have your policy saved as a PDF and ask customers to agree over email to it


3. Hiring help

More guests = more work so you may need to hire a kitchen helper. Particularly useful at ‘time bottlenecks’ like plating up, service and washing up.

At Nomad Cooks our chefs set limits on guest numbers where they then require one helper and then two helpers. We recommend paying a minimum of £12.50 per hour for at least five hours.

Top tips 🎩

  • We have a public Facebook group where you can post looking for service staff. Join here.

4. What to wear

  • Smart with an apron or chef’s whites
  • A folded dishcloth tucked into the side of the apron is a good tip to avoid wiping hands on your apron
  • A mask when interacting with clients inside or from short distances. Clients may say it is fine to remove it, but do so only at their discretion.

Top tips 🎩

  • Make sure your kit is clean and ironed.


5. What to bring

As much as possible - it is best to assume that the client only has pots, pans and oven dishes. The clients would also prefer it if you were not to use their things.

  • Chef knives
  • Your favourite kitchen accessories
  • Oils, herbs, spices and salt
  • Any technical equipment 
  • Cleaning kit (you can't rely on the customer having the correct things.) The essentials are: Washing up cloth, scourer, surface cleaner spray, two dishcloths) 

Top tips 🎩

  • If you are doing multiple bookings a week then a good way to maximise profit is to buy wholesale and keep a supply at home. You can also reuse leftover ingredients from previous bookings.
  • Use supermarket crates to bring ingredients to the booking - it’s really easy to see what you’ve got with you.
  • Bring some bin bags too so you can access them easily while prepping.

6. Ingredients and food prep

  • If your home kitchen is registered as a food business then do as much as possible in your home and transport it to the booking but make sure it travels well. 
  • Lots of suppliers do overnight deliveries for fresh fruit and veg.

7. Surprise gift

A small extra surprise for the customer goes a long long way and changes the tone of the night. Putting a little extra effort into a creative extra dish will charm your clients and set a positive note to start the evening on.

Here are some of recommendations:

  • Look to see if you have any surplus ingredients that you could use as an amuse-bouche/petit four.
  • Fresh bread (with butter/dips)
  • Between-course sorbet
  • Chocolates
  • Infused shot of a spirit/liquor

If you know the type of event then this is also a great opportunity. E.g. For birthdays you could bring a surprise cake/cupcakes.

Any surprise you add in will eclipse minor mistakes you could make during the booking.

8. Getting there

  • Check Google Maps and make 100% sure you know where you are going
  • We advise our chefs to arrive at least two hours before service - you're never sure what the situation is going to be like on site so need as much buffer time as possible. We think two hours is sensible.

9. Welcome – hellos and first impression

⚠️ Warning - this can be awkward! Private chefs cooking in people's homes is yet to be an experience people are used to.

We recommend the following to start the relationship on 5* form:

  • Say hello at the door (smile!)
  • A good way to start the relationship is to ask for a tour of the kitchen (make sure you work out how the oven works
  • Ask how they would want the table set up and which plates or cutlery to use.
  • Confirm you know all the guests’ allergies or dietary requirements
  • Ask where a bathroom you can use is. You can change into chef whites here too.
  • We recommend you decline an offer of a drink

Here is a word cloud from our data of the main characteristics of what customers expect private chefs to be like. There is no wrong answer here as everyone is unique, but it is worth noting how easy some of these are (e.g. smiling 🙂).

Top tips 🎩

  • Try to wash your hands in front of the customer to emphasise your hygienic skills!
  • If wearing a mask, try to greet the customer outside at a safe distance with your mask off so they can see your lovely face.


10. (Unfortunate) surprises 

Sadly not the good type too! Occasionally you will be met with an unexpected problem at the event: an out-the-blue dietary requirement, a kid’s early supper that the parent wants to cook next to you in the kitchen, a change of start time.

What’s done is done - view this is a chance to impress and show your skills at being adaptable in the kitchen.


11. Laying the table

We recommend to lay the table early-doors at a booking - you never know when the guests are going to start congregating and you want to be out of the way by then. Also, it's a great way to keep on chatting to the host(s) while doing a non-thought intensive task.

  • Turn the oven on and start anything what takes a long time to cook beforehand
  • Wipe finger marks off cutlery and glasses with a cloth


Top tips 🎩

  • Add lemons/cucumber to the water jug on the table


12. Cooking

I find that the best way is to work backwards and prepare the pudding first, then main, then starters etc. - each menu is different though.

  • If you have forgotten an ingredient, run to the shops or substitute. Avoid asking the customer to use their ingredients unless it's essential to the meal AND you can see it in the kitchen (don't reduce their expectations of the meal if they don't have the ingredient). You could also use ‘instant’ delivery services like Weezy, Gorillas or Getir.
  • Remember you are in someone's house, always be respectful and ensure work surfaces are clean.

Top tips 🎩

  • Have a notebook with the menu written down to keep track!
  • Bring your own bin bag and tuck it into a cupboard so you can quickly dispose of prep waste. 


13. The dishes

The main event!

  • Don't rush the presentation, make sure you're proud of each plate.
  • GARNISH EVERY DISH.
  • Hot plates.

Top tips 🎩

  • No space to warm plates? Use the microwave. Make sure you check they are microwave safe and you can sprinkle some water in between to help then heat up. However, preferably use the oven or even a warming draw.
  • To keep the dish heat up, make sure you’re gravy/sauce/jus is piping hot when it goes on.


14. Service

Dishes ready, now put your (metaphorical) front-of-house hat on.

  • Serve the women around the table first, starting with the hostess
  • Serve from the left (think 'avoid right-handed movement')
  • Only clear when everyone has finished.
  • Leave minimum 5 mins, (very) maximum 15 mins between courses.
  • Clear from the right
  • The guest might start stacking their plates, this is fine but don't ask them to.

Top tips 🎩

  • Guests often come through and clear plates themselves - make sure you're working cleanly in the kitchen.
  • We estimate these are the rough timings that guests get through courses: ~15 mins starter, ~35 mins main, ~15 mins pudding.

15. Course introductions

Seems cringeworthy and disruptive to the night but, customers actually LOVE it to be made into an experience - it is a form of mid-meal entertainment. This exaggerates the uniqueness and excitement of having a chef cooking you and your friends at home. You should try and aim for a 30 second course introduction.

This was one of the strongest elements of feedback from customers for us - it surprised me and I'm guilty of skipping over it myself! Here are some tips:

  • Serve the last plate and stand and address the table confidently (they are so impressed by you already making the meal!)
  • Introduce each course with its name
  • Describe ingredient provenance, cooking techniques.
  • "Let me know if you have any questions about the dish"

16. Chatting with customers

This is one that only you will be able to decide at the time. Here is some good advice though if you are looking to develop more of a relationship with them:

  • Invite the guests into the kitchen to explain techniques / give tips
  • Invite them to watch you for exciting/technical moments when cooking
  • If invited to the table for a drink, you can accept but be very wary of the difference between a real invitation & just polite manners. Make sure you don’t get too suck in… the clean down is more urgent than relaxation at this point

17. The clean down

ALWAYS LEAVE THE KITCHEN AS TIDY AS YOU FOUND IT IF NOT TIDIER!

One of the toughest and most frustrating bits of the job but if you do it well you’ll have a very happy customer.

Here is our checklist for what we think is required to be cleaned in the kitchen:

  • All crockery + cutlery loaded into the dishwasher (don't turn on since glasses and - maybe - pudding still on the table)
  • All cooking equipment washed, dried and put away to where you found it
  • All surfaces wiped down
  • Crystal clean sink with cloth hanging from faucet
  • Clean hobs
  • Sweep + dustpan and brush the floor 
  • Take out the bins with you as you leave and replace the bag

18. Breakages  

If you ever break anything, apologise and own up to it. If you are a Nomad then you are insured for all accidental breakages and incidents. If you are not working with us then look into catering insurance.

19. Leftovers

With your leftovers, either take away with your home in a Tupperware or leave in the customer's fridge (extra brownie points).


20. Goodbyes + tips 

If the customers are still having pudding when you’re done, let them know you have finished in the kitchen & ask if they need anything else. If not, ask if it is fine for you to leave. Try not to be too invasive whilst they are busy chatting/eating

Often you get tipped in cash when leaving a booking - don't make it obvious but be aware this is common! Be gracious, thank them for their generosity.

Work with us

At Nomad Cooks, we're changing the private chef industry. No more relying on agencies, paying commission and lengthy menu debates with clients.

Once you set up a profile with us you can create your menu which you price yourself. Customers can find your online profile and book you based on your availability. We're making the admin involved with being a private chef as easy as possible so you can focus on the cooking.


🎗 Fair chef pay

You receive 100% of what a customer pays for your menu (the industry standard is 60%). We make money by charging the customer a 10% service fee.


⭐️ Creative and financial independence

You design and price your own menu.


🦦 Freedom to work when, where and how you want

You choose when you are available and what type of jobs you want to be available for.

👥 Community

We know that being a freelance chefs feels lonely - join an active community who look out for each other and share advice.


🌈 The other bits

Nomads are eligible for equipment and learning course discounts as well as a free professional photographer photoshoot.

We have access to volunteering projects in London which our chefs take part in.

Additionally, all Nomads are insured for public and private liability for up to £5 million under our policy with Zurich. 


Click here to apply.




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