Dinner parties can be a great way to connect with friends and family by opening up your home and sharing a meal together. Often more intimate and relaxed than eating at a restaurant, the dinner party is a time-honored tradition of hospitality. The only problem is that it can be too much work, which is where a dinner party chef might step in.
But first, some of the benefits of hosting a dinner party versus the most common alternative (eating out at a restaurant together):
Hosting a dinner party means opening up your home to your guests, giving them a chance to get to know you in a different and more intimate/ vulnerable context. They are more likely to get a sense of your lifestyle, your family and friends, and what’s important to you. Just inviting them over to your home is a signal of trust and can go a long way in building up or affirming a friendship
Having a dinner party in your home also allows you and your guests more flexibility in timing. There’s less rush to make a certain reservation time and no pressure even if the conversation lingers long past when the table is normally supposed to turn for the next restaurant guests.
Hosting a dinner party can be overall less expensive than having a bigger group go out to a nice restaurant. On the flip side, the host typically covers the cost of most of the food (with guests sometimes bringing a side dish, dessert or a drink) and cooking, but for many hosts this allows them to show greater hospitality than going to a restaurant
So what are the downsides of throwing a dinner party?
You let people… into your personal space
You are responsible for the cost and work of preparing the food and the clean up afterwards
This is where hiring a dinner party chef can help you have the benefits of throwing a dinner party with less of the work. Private and personal chefs like those listed on our website, can work with you as the host to create a customized menu, shop for ingredients, cook at your home, serve the food to your guests and help clean up afterwards. Often, they can do a subset of these steps for you – for example, if you want someone to cook before your guests arrive but serve and clean up afterwards yourself. The benefits of hiring a dinner party chef is not only in saving yourself the substantial work of cooking a nice meal for many people – dinner party chefs can often do it better and faster than many home chefs can. Moreover, hiring a dinner party chef means that you won’t be as tired when your guests arrive, allowing you to focus on what is really the point of the evening – focusing on connecting with your guests in your home over a great meal.
Through the process of building this website, the Soma team has had the privilege of trying out many chefs in our homes. Since having a chef in your home is something that more people dream about than people have actually tried, we thought we would share here what it is like to have a chef in your home. Most of the chefs we tried were for weekday meals – that is, they would come to our kitchens on a pre-set ‘cook day’ and over the course of several hours, would cook up 3-5 meals with several servings each that would be packaged up in Tupperware or Pyrex dishes and stored for later reheating and eating.
Here are our top five observations about having a chef in your home:
Chefs who come to your home really love to cook – There are those who argue that food is really a sixth love language– that is, it’s a primary way that some people in the world express and receive affection. Our experience is that personal and private chefs are almost universally those people where food is not only a livelihood but a way they express care for others and their creativity. They are the type of people who wouldn’t eat a baloney sandwich every day and wouldn’t let their loved ones do so either. It doesn’t always mean that the food that they cook is fancy, but it does mean that they often have intrinsic motivation to cook great food. It’s a joy to interact with these types of folks and have them cook in your home.
Often, chefs who have turned to private or personal cheffing have done so because of lifestyle reasons – Private and personal chefs can come from all types of backgrounds. Some have attended culinary school and/or worked at a high end restaurant; others may just be great home cooks. Those who cooked in a restaurant often have transitioned to private/ personal cheffing because it allows them to work better hours (rather than work late nights and weekends in a high-pressure restaurant environment) and it gives them a bit more flexibility in what to cook. Those who come from a more informal background – having cooked for several years to raise a large family for example – may have children who are older, and they are seeking a way to earn extra income from their cooking talents while the children are at school.
Chefs come from a wide range of backgrounds and it can be surprising who is ‘good’ – The lesson from our anecdotal experience is don’t judge a potential personal chef by their cover (or resume). We have enjoyed wonderful meals from those who lack professional training and restaurant experience almost as often as those who have extensive experience cooking professionally or having culinary training. Customers would be wise to ask for references from those without any training or professional experience but our experience was that a few solid references was a reliable indicator of the chef’s talents.
Chefs can be surprisingly flexible – Many of these chefs in your home will be willing to follow your lead, or at least be inspired by the types of meals and recipes that you suggest. Many see the opportunity to cook for another person or family as a way to learn about a new set of dishes or try out a different cooking style. If you have specific allergies or food preferences, most of the chefs we worked with were happy to accommodate.
Having a chef in your home is wonderful- After the personal chef left, we feasted on delicious food for days. The best thing was, when we finished the day’s work, we knew that getting dinner on the table would be 15 minutes max of reheating time. No stress about deciding what to eat, grabbing ingredients last minute, or even waiting hungrily for unhealthy take-out.
Individuals and families may have multiple reasons and occasions for hiring a private chef at home. While one may accomplish some of the same goals of hiring a private chef at home as ordering from a restaurants, here are some advantages that private chefs at home typically have over restaurant alternatives:
Menu can be more customized, since the private chef is cooking exclusively for you
Customers can control the quality of the ingredients, as customers can usually request where the chef shops and what quality of ingredients they buy (e.g., organic and free-range/ wild vs conventional)
Customers have more transparency into costs because labor costs and ingredient costs are typically billed separately by private chefs
Customers know the environment that the food is cooked in since most often the cooking is done in the customer’s kitchen
Customers can enjoy their food in a more flexible environment, whether that’s lingering for extra hours around the dining room table with friends (something that is hard to do in a restaurant) or packing away dishes in the refrigerator to heat up and eat at a later date
If there are young children involved, they can have more freedom to play or sleep in the next room while dinner is being served
Often, the cost of having a private chef at home is comparable with going to a mid-tier restaurant in most cities
One might consider a private chef at home for a number of occasions including:
A one-time large group party such as a BBQ or buffet-style meal for a graduation, retirement, or large birthday gathering
A more intimate, multi-course meal for 2-8 people for a special event such as an anniversary, birthday, or an intimate gathering of friends
A regular service of meals for an individual or family (from 3 meals per week all the way up to every meal for every day)
How to get a private chef at home
You can find a private chef to cook at your house in a number of ways. We believe that one of the easiest is using our website to find a private chef who is the right fit for you, by browsing through the hundreds of profiles of private and personal chefs and checking out their sample menus, backgrounds, and cost estimates where available. Other ways of locating a private chef for your home may include reaching out to your personal networks and posting through general sites like Craigslist. You may want to consider what type of profile and skills you need – if you are looking for someone to create a top-tier, multi-course restaurant meal for you and a small group of friends, you probably need someone with formal culinary training and/or experience working in a fine restaurant, or at minimum, a large set of positive references. On the other hand, if you are seeking someone to come to your home and make several casseroles and soups each week, formal culinary training or restaurant experience might not be necessary and a handful of positive references may suffice.
Do you love the idea of throwing a party for your friends and family but often end up feeling burnt-out the day of the event, even before it starts? I know I’ve encountered this multiple times – my husband and I like to entertain, but too often, between the grocery shopping, food preparation, set up and clean up, we end up tired to fully enjoy the event. Even during the party, we spent a lot of time getting stuff for guests (napkins, water, etc), taking their coats, and directing them to the bathroom. One way to allow yourself to enjoy your own party more is to hire a chef for the party. Over the years, we’ve learned and adopted a couple of different ways to make it easier on ourselves to gather friends and family in our home.
Hiring a chef for your party
One of the best things you can do to avoid burn-out even before the party starts is to hire a chef for your party. A private chef hired for a party can help with a lot of different tasks, including menu planning, grocery shopping, washing and prepping of ingredients, of course cooking, as well as clean-up of the kitchen. This will easily save you several hours of work with likely better results in terms of food. Hired chefs can also arrive earlier in the day or the day before to do all the cooking and be gone by the time the guests arrive, if you feel that would work better with the tone of your gathering. The cost of hiring a chef for your party will depend on several factors, including which tasks you need them to do (e.g., some clients may prefer to do the menu planning, grocery shopping and clean up themselves and only ask the hired chef to do the prepping and cooking), the number of people to feed, and the type of food prepared (a multi-course meal will take a lot more time to prep per guest than a BBQ). In my experience, hiring a chef to shop and prepare for a BBQ for about 25-30 people takes about 4-5 hours or at a rate of about $30 per hour, about $120-$150. This allocates about 1.5 hours for grocery shopping, 2 hours for prep of meats and side dishes, and about 1 hour of grilling once the guests arrive. The grocery bill is typically handled separately – the chef will usually bring the receipt to the client for reimbursement.
You may ask how hiring a chef for a party is different from getting a big takeout order from a restaurant. In one important way it’s similar – someone else prepares the food for you. However, the advantages of hiring a private chef for your party are many, including having a more customized menu, having more transparency into quality of ingredients and costs (since you are paying separately for ingredients and labor), and flexibility (if you need the chef to put aside a portion of the dip without cheese for vegan guests you can ask them to do so).
At times, I still feel some guilt in hiring a chef – both because it seems like I should do the work to make it an enjoyable event for my family and friends and also because hiring a chef for the party feels like an optional expense. But what I have found is it’s worth it to throw somewhat fewer gatherings, each at a slightly higher cost, where I can enjoy myself with my guests rather than more gatherings where I am tired (and frankly sometimes a bit irritable even).
Put out extras of everything
Another lesson that we’ve learned over the years is to put out extras of everything when you are setting up for your event. This includes silverware, plates, cups, drinks, and napkins. It’s much less work to put back the extras after the party is done, rather than having to make multiple trips around the house to refill these types of items throughout the party. In the same vein, invest in a big cooler for drinks, a big water dispenser, and extra trash receptacles/ bags – these are also common questions that guests will see out the host for if something runs out/ gets too full.
Make it easy for the guests to help themselves
Is your party in your backyard? Then post a sign on your front door that directs guests to come out to the back so that you don’t have to continuously answer the door and giving everyone the same information over and over again. Mark with big signs where the bathroom is located and where guests should leave their coats and bags. Especially with a bigger gathering, most guests are happy to be able to help themselves rather than look for the host and wait around to receive help.
Don’t be shy about having guests help out
During some of our regular annual gatherings, we have friends who have manned the BBQ, helped us set up beforehand, or clean up afterwards. Some friends like to have a defined job/role during gatherings, and others may like to do something that they don’t normally get to do. Don’t feel shy about including a line in the invite that says “If you are interested in helping man the BBQ or help us setup/ clean up afterwards, please let us know!”. Even 30 minutes of an extra pair of hands could be a huge help and many friends and family appreciate the opportunity to help out.
However, do make sure that you set expectations clearly for how people can help out so it doesn’t end up being extra work for you. If you invite guests to bring a side dish, dessert or a drink, don’t be afraid to ask that the dish be fully assembled beforehand and brought with serving utensils so that you don’t have several people in your kitchen washing and cutting up whole fruit that they picked up at the grocery store on the way over to create their master fruit cocktail.
In sum, parties are fun but only if you are also enjoying yourself as the host/ hostess. Hire a chef for that party, put out extras of everything, make it easy for guests to help themselves and don’t be shy about having some guests help out and you will most likely enjoy your friends and family way more at your next big gathering.
You hire cleaners to vacuum, dust and wipe down your house on a regular basis. You hire dry cleaners to launder your work clothes and iron them. You hire babysitters, nannies, daycares and tutors to watch and help develop your child. You hire accountants to do your taxes. Is it then so crazy to hire a chef to cook in your home? According to this article from the Economic Research Service of the USDA, Americans spend on average 37 minutes per day on preparing, serving, and cleaning up food. However, this figure varies significantly between demographic groups. For example, 75% of American women report being the main meal preparer in their household and among these women who report themselves being the main meal preparer, they spend 60 minutes per day on average preparing food. This figure may be even higher among women in households with children. Over the course of a year, this translates into more than 15 days spent on food-related activities (that is 24 hours – day and night). If put into the number of 8-hour working days, that is 45 work days that American women on average put in over the course of a year to feed their families. Assuming that this work is valued at an hourly rate of $20 per hour, that work alone is worth $7,300 per year. And I’m not sure if this measurement even includes the time spent shopping for food or meal planning.
So, in the light of the above, I don’t think it’s crazy to hire a chef to cook in your home. In contrast to eating out at a restaurant, getting fast food to go, or food delivered, hiring someone to come cook in your house offers many of the same advantages as doing it yourself: customized menu, knowing what ingredients are going into the dishes and the quality of those ingredients, knowing what environment the food is being cooked in. You can, for example, choose to increase the amount of vegetables relative to meat and carbs, or omit certain ingredients due to allergies or personal preferences, or substitute in organic/ free range for certain ingredients. In some aspects, it may be even more convenient than food from a restaurant since the dishes are often cooked in one day and chilled in the refrigerator – all your family has to do to eat is heat it up, set the table and eat rather than decide what to order, wait for it to arrive/ go pick it up, etc.
Often, hiring a chef to cook in your home is pretty cost-competitive with eating out at a mid-tier restaurant on a consistent basis, with a per-serving cost of around $12-$21, depending on where you live according to Soma’s best-guess estimates. If you are interested in exploring the possibility of hiring a chef to cook in your home, check out our private and personal chef profiles here – you can search by location and cuisine type, and browse sample menus, cost estimates and chef backgrounds where available.
For many people, the possibility of trying to hire a private chef doesn’t even cross their mind, even if a situation would be well-suited for one. The term ‘private chef’ may connote a luxury that’s out of reach for most people, except for the extremely affluent. The fact is that hiring a private chef or a personal chef, especially for specific occasions, doesn’t have to be outrageously expensive and can be the most practical solution for many situations.
Some common scenarios or needs for which a private chef may be well-suited for include:
A party or a special dinner for which you would like to plan a customized menu (but have someone else cook it!)
Preparing food for family or guests with specific dietary needs (e.g., severe or hard-to-accommodate allergies)
A ‘nicer’ dinner with your significant other and/or other adults with restaurant-quality food but at home (so that parents can keep an eye on their children or just be around if a reliable babysitter is not available, or you want to have the luxury of hanging out after dinner without the pressure of having to leave the restaurant)
Private chefs may vary in experience and training, but with a little research, you’ll be able to find someone whose background and sample menu fits in with what you are looking for. Pricing structure may depend on the chef and what type of service you are looking for. If you are comfortable ordering off a of set menu already put forward by the private chef, he/she may already have a per-head price that he/she typically charges for that menu (includes ingredient costs and the cooking service). If you want to work on the menu with the chef, he/she may want to charge you for the ingredients separately and then charge you an hourly fee for the cooking (with the agreement that it won’t go over X hours). Private chef services of this type typically includes menu planning, ingredients shopping, washing and prepping ingredients, cooking, plating, serving (serving style depending on number of diners), and clean-up. If you start adding up the cost to go to a nice restaurant, tips, drinks, and parking (not to mention babysitting costs!), hiring a private chef may start looking like a bargain in comparison.
Of course, for some, they may want to hire a private chef for more than just a special dinner or an occasion. Private chefs often also serve clients on an ongoing basis, whether it’s as a full-time employee of the household, or to batch-cook several meals once a week or on some other regular schedule. The benefits are similar – customized menus and ingredients and easy access to healthy and tasty food (ready to be heated up and served in the case of a batch-cooking service). At SomaPersonalChefs.com, users can search through hundreds of listings of private and personal chefs in their geography as well as browse chef backgrounds and sample menus where available. Once you’ve found someone who looks like they might be a good fit, you can even send a direct message or request a booking directly on the site.
For some of us, having a special night with our significant other or a group of close friends might mean going out to a nice restaurant for dinner. However, sometimes, that is just not practical – there might be small children who cannot be left home alone or with a sitter, someone might be sick and can’t leave the house, or the group might simply want a relaxed environment where they can speak freely and linger longer than they may be able to in a regular restaurant setting. So can the answer be to bring the restaurant to you – or hire a chef for the night?
I recently heard from a friend with three young children (all under the age of six) who told me that she and her husband ended up doing this on a recent vacation. They were in Florida with some friends, many of whom also had young children. While they thought about hiring a sitter, they didn’t feel comfortable getting someone they didn’t know in a city that they were just visiting. Plus, there were many kids and they ranged in age – they weren’t confident that they could find a sitter who could potentially manage all of that and that they would feel comfortable with. Still, they wanted to have one ‘adult’ night, with real silverware and dishes, with nice food, wine and maybe even candles. So they ended up hiring a chef for a night – someone who had worked in several of the nicer restaurants in the area and who was now freelancing as a private/ personal chef.
Here’s the run-down of their experience.
What they liked about hiring a chef for the night:
It was convenient: They just worked with the chef to set the menu, and then he did all the ingredients shopping, prep, cooking, cleaning and even the serving for the party of eight adults. The private chef cooked in the kitchen of their vacation rental and brought some of his own cooking tools.
It allowed them to have the best of both worlds: They had set the dinner time later, so that the kids would be sleeping by the time dinner got started, but they had peace of mind knowing that they were all in the same house. When a kid woke up or needed a parent, it wasn’t a big deal to step away from the table for a couple of minutes.
It was more affordable than they thought it would be: The cost of ingredients and the chef’s time ended up being pretty close to going to a nice restaurant on a per-person basis, even a little less. And when one of their friends produced a few bottles of nice wine, there wasn’t any corkage fee or the high restaurant markups. It also helped that they didn’t need to pay for a valet or parking.
After the chef finished serving dessert, he cleaned up the kitchen and left, leaving the group to continue to linger and enjoy their wine and chocolate cakes late into the evening. My friend said that she had never considered hiring a chef just for a night before, but she really found the evening enjoyable and relaxing.
Nearly everyone is familiar with the idea of catering and many people will use the service at least a couple of times in their lives – but not as many people are as familiar with private chef catering. Most people think of catering when they need to very occasionally feed a very large crowd – typically for a wedding or some other big group occasion. Some other folks may use catering services much more often, especially if they are in charge of organizing group meals in their office (like an office lunch or an office party) or they like to regularly host a larger meal in their home.
Catering services can vary in scope of services, but the basic idea is that the caterer will cook the food for your guests. The food may be cooked on premise (e.g., in your kitchen or a kitchen at the event space) or off-premise and brought to the designated location. Caterers might only provide the food or also provide other services such as waitstaff to help serve the food, bar staff to serve drinks, and even decorations and table settings. They may set up a buffet where guests can serve themselves or have their staff provide individual table service to guests. Clearly, the cost of caterers will vary by the type of food and service provided. While the simplest ‘catering’ service can be thought of us as takeout from a restaurant, often many if not most caterers do not operate a restaurant at the same time, and specialize in creating more customized meals to larger groups of people than most restaurant takeout services are designed to handle.
Private chef catering is a loose term that can refer to a lot of different types of arrangements. Often, private chefs hired for catering are feeding a group that can be served by 1-3 chefs – typically a larger dinner party of up to 25 people or a limited menu served buffet-style for up to 40-60 people. Hiring a private chef for catering may imply that the menu is more customized and the food is cooked to order (or at least much closer to the time it is served). In contrast, while one might argue that any type of catering – including hiring a catering company for a 250-person wedding – is ‘private chef catering’ since the menu is customized to some extent and the chef is private to that event – for many people, the term connotes a somewhat more intimate and customized affair where the diners are in closer proximity to the private chef.
Many private and personal chefs will take on catering jobs of various sizes, whether it’s helping a client cook for a dinner party of six guests or a lunch gathering of dozens of people. The private and personal chefs profiled on SomaPersonalChefs.com are often are operating their business on their own or a small team, so they may be best suited for smaller events (i.e., under 75 guests and likely smaller than that depending on the complexity of the meal and services required), while businesses that call themselves caterers are likely better equipped to handle very large events. However, the private and personal chefs featured on our website can bring supreme culinary talent to your next event at a reasonable price – leaving you to host and enjoy the gathering or event.
While many of us enjoy going out to restaurants, sometimes it would be more convenient if we could enjoy the services of a skilled chef without having to leave the house. In house chefs can help with many occasions that might be hard for a traditional restaurant to accommodate. Benefits over eating out at a restaurant include:
Having a dinner in your home, which allows you to have all the benefits of going out to eat (delicious food cooked by someone else) but avoid having to feel rushed to make space for the next party, pay high markups on drinks, parking, tips or a babysitter, and the anxiety of leaving small children at home while you enjoy a nice meal
Hosting a small party in your home and being able to focus on spending time with your guests rather than rushing around cooking and cleaning up
Enjoying homemade weekday meals with your family while you and your spouse are juggling work and other family responsibilities
Being able to craft a custom menu with the in home chef, and knowing what exactly is going into your food and what environment it is being cooked in
In home chefs, also often called private chefs or personal chefs, can help in a wide variety of ways. They typically charge either by the hour plus ingredients cost (receipts returned to client for reimbursement) or by number of people at dinner (usually this is more common for a dinner party or group event). Prices may also vary by the types of services they provide, but they can include all or some of the following, usually subject to the client’s request:
Helping the client set a menu, subject to allergies and other dietary requirements/ preferences
Shopping for ingredients
Washing, prepping, and chopping ingredients
Cooking and assembling the dishes
Plating and serving (or storing for later reheating and eating)
Cleaning the kitchen to the initial state
Finding an in home chef is easy using a website like SomaPersonalChefs.com. It allows you to search chef profiles by geographical location, type of food and estimated price range. Users can also view sample menus and chef backgrounds where available. Lastly, once you’ve found a set of chefs that seem to be a good fit for your needs, a user can send direct messages to personal chefs on the platform on the website and request bookings for the times that they are interested in. Otherwise, you may be able to find a chef to cook in your home through posting an ad on a general list such as Craigslist.com, reach out to your local culinary academy for contacts, or ask your personal network for leads.
Keep in mind that in home chefs can come with a variety of backgrounds and experiences, ranging from formal culinary training at a top cooking school to being a skilled home cook with limited professional cooking experience. In our experience, cooking talent can come from a wide range of backgrounds so we would encourage users to consider carefully what their needs are when vetting potential candidates. For example, if you are looking for someone to prepare home-style foods on a regular basis, your needs may be well-fulfilled by someone without a formal culinary education or professional cooking experience. However, if you need someone who will deliver a multi-course meal for many people for an important dinner, you may want to go with someone who has the culinary education and/or experience to deliver in that type of high-pressure, higher-stakes environment.
The next time your friend or family member compliments you on a lovely home-cooked meal, you may be able to say that “the personal chef made this”. Personal and private chefs, once set aside only for the upstairs-crowd of the Downton Abbey set, are now much more available to help with regular weekday cooking as well as special occasions cooking, than ever. Sites like somapersonalchefs.com make it easy to find personal chefs near you who can finally give you a break from day-in, day-out cooking and the never-ending parade of takeout.
How the personal chef can help you
In a departure from the days when the only way you can get a dedicated chef cooking for you and your family was to hire someone full-time to take care of all of your family’s culinary needs, now it’s much easier to find someone who can provide much of the same benefits at a fraction of the cost. Referred to as ‘personal chefs’ by some in the industry, these are folks who typically serve multiple clients in any given week or month, and will provide many of the same services as a full-time private chef but will batch their cooking to make it easier for you to hire a fraction of their time rather than the whole thing – making it more affordable for you. Both private and personal chefs can help their clients with the following:
Cooking for a ‘regular’ weeknight meal or a special event up to 20-25 guests (e.g.,a small catered party)
Menu planning, taking into account your suggestions, preferences and dietary requirements
Washing, chopping and preparing ingredients
Cooking the dishes
Plating and potentially storing the dishes if needed
Cleaning the kitchen back to its initial state
How you might find the personal chef
SomaPersonalChefs.com is one of the easiest way to find a talented personal or private chef near you. The site lists hundreds of profiles of talented chefs with their sample menu, the geography that they serve and an estimate of their prices. Users can directly message a chef that they are interested in to ask questions about the menu and request a booking directly on the website. In the past, people who were looking for a personal chef may have had to rely on word of mouth or an anonymous listing site like Craigslist and take their chances. Now, sites like SomaPersonalChefs.com make it easier to find someone who is a good fit for specific needs.
How much the personal chef may cost
We have written extensively on how much personal chef services cost, broken out by some of the largest metro areas in the US. While you can refer to the article for more details, in general, the cost is roughly equivalent to eating out at your local mid-priced restaurant on a per-serving basis, once you include the cost of the labor of the personal chef and ingredients cost. There is a good amount of variation around this amount, and you may be able to find a great chef who is able to deliver his/ her cooking prices below the average in your local market. The benefits of hiring a personal chef over eating out at a restaurant every day include: 1) you have more control over what goes into your food, 2) you don’t have to pay for tips, parking and drinks which can add up to a significant portion of your bill, 3) you may have a wider range of food that you enjoy, especially if the restaurants in your area tend to have very fixed menus and 4) you can eat in the comfort of your home, which can be a big plus if you have young children.