Overcoming the Summer Hiatus Jitters

Filed under: Business Strategies , Tags: , , — Author: Caron Golden , May 26, 2014

Ah, the lazy days of summer! Boogie boarding at the beach. Sprawling in a hammock next to the cabin by the lake. Dipping toes in the pool while sipping lemonade or an icy margarita. It’s a dreamy scenario–except that it’s not your scenario. Instead, it’s your clients’. You’ve lined up a great schedule this year. You’ve finally got the workload you can manage and the income you need. And then June rolls around and your clients start telling you of their great vacay plans–and you’re not included.

We’ve all been there. Come summer and the winter holidays you may find that some of your clients may want to temporarily suspend services. This came up recently in one of our forums. Jennifer Zirkle of The Ginger Chef in Belmont, Michigan, was just hit with this by two of her clients and asked for advice from colleagues on how to go forward. She launched her business in 2012 and it’s taken her a year to get a regular client base. This development shook her up.

Jennifer Zirkle Cheese Board

“Wondering if I just go with the flow, or do I try to fill their spot with new clients? This is a huge hit to my income,” she said.

Summer vacation time can cause some downturn in the business of a personal chef, but it’s something you need to plan for so you can take it in stride. If you are in the habit of scheduling your regular clients in three-month cycles as I do, you’ll know in advance which of your clients will be traveling or taking the summer off from using their regular personal chef and fill that slot with a new client. As several of the chefs responded to Jennifer, go ahead and move forward to fill those slots and let clients know that you’ll try to fit them back in when they return.

But there are plan B options as well. As many of you know, we conducted a member survey earlier this year. One of our questions addressed what income streams you have under your personal chef business. We found that 75 percent of you also do catering/special events while 62 percent of you teach cooking classes. Another 37 percent of you are demo chefs. Some are writers. Some teach fitness nutrition or are nutritionists/dieticians. There are restaurant consultants and recipe testers, menu developers and on-call corporate chefs.

How do people get these gigs? Networking, of course, is key. You may need to advertise or market your services to get new clients or fill your free dates with casual business as a contract cook. Do you have a Facebook page for your business? Start letting people know your availability and your various skill sets.

And, even if you’re not doing regular meals for your current clients, you can let them know you’re available to facilitate their entertaining needs. Picnics, family reunions, graduations or birthday celebrations, 4th of July parties, and Labor Day cookouts all could use your expertise.

This issue can also come up at the end of the year. Figure out how to turn it into a professional advantage. We’re talking holiday receptions, dinners, brunches, and parties. How about sending a note to each of your clients in October, thanking them for allowing you to serve them over the course of the past year and then mention that you’re available to accommodate their holiday entertaining needs?

Some personal chefs develop a set of holiday menu offerings–both apps and entrees–that can be ordered in advance by the client by a predetermined order date. You can prepare the dishes in a commercial or incubator kitchen and deliver them to your client. You could also offer preset holiday dinners, prepared offsite and delivered to multiple clients on the holiday.

Or, hey, perhaps you want to take some pressure off and enjoy the holiday season with your own family and resume your regular schedule after New Year’s.

So, how is Jennifer dealing with the summer hiatus gap? Well, on June 4 at noon, she’s appearing on WZZM Channel 13 to do a healthy cooking segment. She’s gotten a gig doing cooking demos at Old World Olive Press, a local olive oil company. She’s picking up some seasonal vacationers as clients, and baking birthday and wedding cakes for clients.

Jennifer Zirkle cake2

So, no summertime blues. One of the joys of being a personal chef is being able to choose what works best for you.

Are client summer hiatus plans something you’re facing? How are you addressing this? How can we help you?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

Photos courtesy of Jennifer Zirkle.

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Caron Golden


Founder of premier organization of personal chefs inspires students to follow their dreams of culinary entrepreneurship.

Candy Wallace, executive director of the American Personal & Private Chef Association (APPCA), today was recognized by Sullivan University’s National Center for Hospitality Studies as its 33rd Distinguished Guest Chef.

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