Five Gig Economy Apps to Consider for Chef Work
Here's how to navigate gig opportunities for private cheffing, catering events, meal prepping and culinary instruction.
In the wake of COVID-19, many chefs and chefs-to-be may be wondering about the future of restaurant work. When restaurants that have closed because of the pandemic are permitted to get back to business, doubtlessly the landscape will look very different. Whether or not restaurant jobs for chefs will be limited for some time following the crisis, chefs and culinary students can perhaps look to income-generating opportunities in the gig economy.
The term “gig economy” was coined in 2009 by journalist Tina Brown to describe a growing economic shift, whereby many workers were opting out of full-time employment with a single employer, instead patching together a series of freelance projects or “gigs” to earn a living. In a related interview on NPR, Freelancers Union Founder Sara Horowitz estimates that about a third of the American workforce operates in this way, including those in the food service industry.
Over time this practice of workers seeking gigs over jobs, patching together a freelance or self-employed existence, has given rise to a number of websites and corresponding mobile apps aiming to connect freelancers and gig workers with opportunities for work. Many of these apps offer specific opportunities to chefs, whether as full-time freelancers or in addition to permanent work.
Matt Kelly, founder and CEO of one such app called My Table, recognized a specific need to create freelance opportunities for chefs, along with his culinary school-trained business partner, citing the often intense atmosphere of full-time restaurant employment: “As My Table has grown it has become apparent that chefs have an even larger need for such a platform that provides a more rewarding and convenient career,” he says. “I think personal chef opportunities are excellent choices for culinary school graduates or even those who are still in their academic programs. It offers so much freedom and choice which is important when you are beginning your career.”
ICE alum and MyTable chef Katy Ottomanelli (Health-Supportive, '20) agrees: “MyTable provides young culinary school graduates with the tools for success, right from the start. For someone like me who is not necessarily drawn to work in a restaurant setting, MyTable lets me cook comfortably in my own kitchen for my clients, make money and have a blast at the same time. I knew starting my own private chef business right out of school was going to be a challenge and to have an app specifically for this purpose has truly helped me to learn and grow as a chef.”
Chef Russell Moss, a career changer, was recruited for a private chef app right out of culinary school and has built a full-time career out of work sourced this way, most recently working through Thumbtack. He especially echoes Kelly’s point about the element of freedom in the work. “Oh absolutely, you can do whatever you want,” he says, in terms of offering private cooking classes, catering or group dinners, as well as what kind of schedule you adhere to.
Gig economy apps allow for an easy interface between chefs and clients, with a lot of information available on the app about both parties before a relationship is forged: what the chef’s style is, often with sample dishes, as well as the client’s interests for their event. “I get to choose the clients, and I’m able to be very picky,” says Moss. “The clients are the best part, and the thing I do really enjoy the most.”
Along with My Table and Thumbtack, here’s a look at five gig economy apps, and the opportunities they offer chefs.
My Table connects chefs with potential clients who are looking for someone for meal preparation or execution, to cater an event or to offer in-home cooking classes. Chefs set their own hourly rates and menus, with profiles on the app through which clients can select a particular chef directly. And participation in the platform is extremely flexible: “You can cook for one customer a day, one customer a week, one customer a month, or just cook enough to pay the rent and have some spending money. You set your own hourly rate, cook the dishes you love and interact with caring customers on your schedule,” says Kelly.
Table at Home
Table at Home is also an app that specifically connects private chefs with clients, with the mission of providing authentic, home-cooked meals and experiences. On this platform, clients propose an event, desired menu style and budget. An “event” in this case can be anything from a dinner for two, to a family-style Thanksgiving feast, to a large dinner party and beyond. Chefs in the Table at Home platform can then bid with a proposed menu for the given event. This allows chefs to adjust their rates accordingly, depending on how strongly they’d like to work a particular event, while clients can also request specific chefs to be included in the bid.
Thumbtack’s welcome statement on its website is: “Find local professionals for pretty much anything.” Accordingly, Thumbtack is a broader gig economy platform that serves a variety of fields, covering everything from landscaping to coding to dog grooming. Opportunities for chefs similar to those available in My Table are also in demand on the platform: private chef services, catering and cooking instruction. The site allows potential clients to set filters in their searches to come up with a list of freelancers who fit their needs.
You may think of Airbnb only as a place to find a vacation rental, but since November 2016, Airbnb Experiences became a platform for locals all over the world to host authentic experiences in their hometowns for interested travelers (and sometimes other locals!) “Cooking” is the No. 1 type of experience on the platform, with over 3,000 opportunities worldwide. Chefs can offer classes in their own homes, from complete dinner parties to teaching specific techniques such as dumplings, truffles or fresh mozzarella. Hosts can also plan group dinners in restaurants or offer thematic food or specialty market tours in their neighborhoods, where having chef expertise makes someone a particularly enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide. Hosts set their own prices, as well as the ongoing frequency of the event.
Food knowledge is useful in many fields, not only for hands-on cooking. And just as there are many permanent positions for culinary school graduates outside of restaurant kitchens, there are also relevant gigs available. Like Thumbtack, Upwork is a freelance platform that covers a broad range of industries but is particularly rooted in digital work. That being said, there are still many opportunities for those with culinary credentials to find projects who are so inclined. Chefs with interest in recipe development and editing, food writing, food styling and photography, or cookbook editing may find opportunities on Upwork. Once you build a profile on the site indicating your rates and areas of interest, you can bid for available jobs posted by clients. Whether your interests as a chef are solely in cooking or are broad enough to include other aspects of the culinary arts and related fields, gig economy apps provide many opportunities for current or aspiring chefs.