The idea of hiring a private chef on vacation seems like its a practice reserved for the rich and famous. Yet while it sounds super luxe and unattainable, the economics and potential value largely depend on your vacation destination and what you’re hoping to achieve. We were fortunate enough to have a private chef during our time in Kenya, and enjoyed one again with the family in Guatemala. In both situations, we were in a private villa with family (five people) where we had the chef for the entire week, prepared to cook up breakfast, lunch and dinner.
By contrast, we’ve also tested the waters with private chef services on a nightly basis at our new villa in Anguilla, which is a totally different approach to the collaboration.
And it should be a collaboration. The entire process should be somewhat consultative in nature. How many people? What’s your style? What are you looking to achieve? To work effectively with a private chef and have it wow you, both parties need to understand the other’s expectations. Based on our experiences, here’s a quick guide on how to work effectively with a private chef, whether it’s a one-off experience for a special night on vacation, or services spanning your entire getaway.
Find Your Chef
- If you’re staying at a villa, the owners or property managers will likely have recommendations to share with you. At Frangipani, we’ve been vetting chefs ourselves to find out whose style vibes best and which chefs offer the easiest experience from start to finish. We’ve had some bad eggs (a cancellation at noon the day of a proposed dinner service!), but in the process we found our keepers.
Understand the Payment Terms
2. For some people, this may be a non-issue, but for many of us, it’s important to know how this process works from a financial perspective. Chefs operate in different ways and it’s important to understand what you’re getting into so everything ends as happily as it starts. Are you paying per hour or per person? Some charge a flat rate for a fixed number of people with a cost per head beyond that. Know how they operate on this front. Once you figure out that price, dig deeper. What exactly does that price include?
For many chefs we’ve spoken with, a quoted fee doesn’t include the cost of food. You may need to provide the chef cash to shop. They should return the change and all receipts. Is service charge included in that cost? Some chefs include a fee of 10%, 15% or more on top of the final bill as a mandatory service charge. What about service? Some chefs have quoted us a price that includes a chef and a server, while some charge an additional fee for service and clean-up.
We like to bartend ourselves and choose our own wines, but if that’s something you’re hoping to add on, some chefs can bring in a bartender or sommelier to help craft cocktails or create a wine pairing menu with dinner.
Do know that the cost of hiring a private chef can vary hugely so don’t always assume it’s out of your budget. We’ve had chefs for a week priced at a very reasonable flat rate, but have also talked with average chefs that charge $550 + food costs for a single dinner for 8. Your location – luxe vs. a little more rustic – and the associated labor costs in your destination will factor into this hugely.
Ask for Inspiration
3. If you’re hiring a professional chef, they should be able to provide you with sample menus or some inspiration for your dining experience. As we’ve learned in the past: if they can’t articulate what they can offer, then you probably don’t want to be a guinea pig. The chefs we’ve had the best experiences with were able to share sample menus they’ve created in the past or were able to consult with us to craft a menu that fit our tastes and interests.
Communicate What You Want
4. Chefs work with a huge variety of diners with different tastes, dietary restrictions, and ideas about the dining experience. Communicate what you’re looking for, or at the very least communicate what you’re not looking for. Any dietary restrictions? Be sure to tell them! Do you prefer bold flavors or do you shy away from spice?
Ask if they have specialties – you can use these or modify them to fit your taste. Chat about what a typical dinner looks like for them: is it three courses? Is it family style? Dream up what you have in mind and see how that vibes with their style and their abilities. Not a dessert person? Let them know to scrap dessert and add a pre-dinner snack (e.g. shimp cocktail, ceviche, pita and hummus, etc.) or pre-dinner cheese plate instead.
If you’re looking at hiring a private chef for the week vs. a single dinner, talk to them about stocking your kitchen in advance for different meals and be prepared to provide a list. Some high-end villas will communicate with you prior to arrival to provide a checklist and pricing, but generally it’s good to come up an idea of what you want and what will make your dining – and snacking! – enjoyable.
On our recent trip to Guatemala, we had an amazing time working with a private cook in a destination that isn’t really known for its culinary scene. Admittedly, in Guatemala and in Kenya, these were private cooks more than they were private professional chefs. We had an amazing experience with both, but for the sake of transparency and a true point of comparison, our cooks weren’t trained in culinary arts. While the meals weren’t gourmet, they were inspired by the destination we were in and included table set up, service during dinner and clean up afterwards. We bought our own groceries (including fresh fruit and veg from a local farmer’s market), stocked the bar with our favorite spirits, and had our favorite wines ready for dinner. It was perfection, and actually proved to be a great value in the end, plus it allowed us some great uninterrupted family time that flowed from daytime events to dinners (as dressy or casual as we wanted – no pretense), to post-dinner games.
If you’re heading on vacation with a group, or on a romantic escape a deux, don’t discount the idea of hiring a private chef, assuming it’s totally out of reach. You may have to dig around to find the right fit for your taste and budget, but it can provide a major wow moment and an extra special memory during a getaway.
What are your thoughts on hiring a private chef? Have you ever hired a professional chef on vacation before?