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What is an Agency Chef Business?
The hospitality and food and drink industries are showing consistent growth. Other than the understandable decline that occurred during the Covid-19 pandemic, these industries are showing great recovery and is now estimated to be worth more than £50 billion.
With a thriving industry and more and more hotels, restaurants and event spaces opening every year, it is no surprise that the industry is experiencing a skills shortage, with well-trained, skilled and experienced chefs being in high demand.
To address this shortage, many establishments are now turning to agency chefs. An agency chef, as the name suggests, is a chef that works under an agency. Rather than working in one establishment every day and managing the kitchen and the kitchen process, an agency chef may work on multiple jobs in different kitchens. They may work on one-time jobs or in short-term or long-term roles on a self-employed basis.
A chef agency connects chefs with different food businesses and food events. They help the chef find a food establishment that fits their skills and preferred type of cooking and help the food establishment find a chef that meets their needs and requirements.
Several different types of chefs can be employed by a chef agency. Each chef may have different specialities and different training and experience levels.
The types of chefs that can work under a chef agency can include:
- Executive chefs (also called head chefs).
- Sous chefs.
- Senior chefs.
- Pastry chefs (also called pâtissiers).
- Sauté chefs (also called sauciers).
- Fish chefs (also called poissoniers).
- Butcher chefs (also called bouchers).
- Meat chefs.
- Commis chefs (entry-level chefs).
- Prep chefs.
- Pantry chefs.
- Roast chefs (also called rotisseurs).
- Vegetable chefs (also called entremetiers).
- Fry chefs (also called frituriers).
Additionally, each individual chef at your agency (or the agency as a whole) could focus on a specific type of cuisine, for example, French, Japanese or Italian cuisine or a specific type of food e.g. vegetarian or vegan food or desserts.
When planning your business, one of the first considerations you will need to make is the type of business you want to set up.
There are several ways you can choose to run your agency chef business:
- Operate as a self-employed chef hired by an agency.
- Set up your own agency and hire chefs on a permanent basis.
- Set up your own agency and hire chefs on a self-employed basis.
If an employer is looking to hire a chef through an agency, they will likely send a job description and a list of skills or qualifications they require. If you own the agency, you will then search through your database to find chefs that best match the employer’s requirements.
Once the ideal chef has been identified, the agency contacts the chef to discuss the role with them and determine if they are interested. The employer may also request an interview or a food-tasting session, although this is not always the case. The agency will charge the employer a set fee for finding them a chef or charge them a percentage of the chef’s earnings.
There are many reasons why a food business may use the services of a chef agency:
- It saves time in the hiring process.
- It helps them navigate the chef shortage.
- It gives them access to a large talent pool and chefs with different levels of experience and training and different specialities.
- It allows flexible staffing, e.g. for one-off events and temporary or short-term roles.
- It allows them to find different types of chefs for different pop-up events.
- The contract terms will differ and be less strict.
There are many different responsibilities associated with a chef agency business. Your day-to-day responsibilities can vary, depending on whether you are involved in chef duties or manage the overall running of the agency.
Some of the tasks you may be responsible for include:
- Menu planning.
- Food preparation and cooking.
- Plating dishes for presentation purposes.
- Ordering ingredients and stock (if necessary or required of your role).
- Ensuring all ingredients are fresh, within the best-before or use-by date and safe to use.
- Managing and overseeing kitchen staff (if required).
- Maintaining high standards of cleanliness in the kitchen.
- Following food safety and hygiene policies.
- Complying with all legal guidelines and health and safety requirements.
- Recruiting chefs to the agency.
- Collecting chef references and evidence of their training and qualifications.
- Communicating with employers to understand their cheffing needs.
- Liaising with the employer and the chef to negotiate terms and contracts and offering professional advice.
- Searching the current database for ideal candidates.
- Distributing the job through the relevant channels.
- Arranging contracts.
- Marketing and advertising.
- Completing business and administrative tasks.
- Handling payments and commissions.
Starting up an agency chef business can be both financially lucrative and personally rewarding. As well as a strong business plan and a commitment to making your business succeed, certain personal qualities can be beneficial to successfully running an agency chef business. This can include a passion for food and a high level of knowledge about the food industry, including the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to plan your menu, implement food safety and hygiene policies and prepare and cook food to a high standard. Previous experience working as a chef or managing chefs will also be beneficial. Strong communication skills, good organisation skills and good negotiation skills are also recommended.
Types of Customers
An agency chef business can work with many different types of clients, including:
- Catering companies.
- Event organisers.
- Pop-up events.
- Cafes and bars.
- Wedding venues.
- Private households (e.g. hiring a private chef).
Although the types of clients that use the services of an agency chef can be extremely varied, defining your target market more precisely makes it easier to focus on the specific clients who are most likely to use the services of your business and determine exactly where and how to market your business.
Some of the factors that can determine your typical customer base include:
This will be the most significant factor in determining your typical customer base.
Some of the factors potential clients will consider regarding your chefs include:
- The food or cuisine they specialise in.
- Their experience level (e.g. executive chef, sous chef).
- Their training and qualifications.
- Whether they create their own menu.
- Their skills.
- Their previous cheffing experience (e.g. working in Michelin star restaurants).
Consider the chefs you have registered with your agency and the types of food businesses that will most likely be interested in their services.
This will be a key determiner of your typical customer base. The majority of chefs will prefer to work on jobs that are conveniently located to them. To maximise your customer reach, you may set up an agency that operates in a range of locations around the country with a large number of chefs on your books. Alternatively, your agency may operate in one specific location (most likely a town or city). In this situation, your customers will be food businesses that operate within your area.
The pay your chefs earn from each job will depend on multiple factors, including their skills, training and experience and the pricing of the food (e.g. the price of the menu). However, another pricing factor your potential customers will consider is the costs associated with using your agency.
Your pricing strategy could be:
- A percentage of the chef’s earnings.
- A set fee for matching the employer with a chef.
Consider how your pricing (how much you charge clients to find them a chef) could affect your typical customer base.
Equipment You Will Need
Unlike many other businesses operating in the food industry, an agency chef business has relatively few equipment requirements. This is because the majority of employers that hire your chefs will already have fully functioning kitchens with all the necessary tools and equipment that your chefs require.
However, there are still some types of equipment that are necessary to help your business function effectively, for example:
A computer or laptop
If you run your business online or plan to advertise your agency chef services online, a computer or laptop is essential. You can use your computer for creating a chef database and searching it for the perfect chef, liaising with clients, creating appointments, advertising and marketing, running your business website and handling any business and administrative tasks. If you plan to work from different locations or take your computer to in-person meetings with you, you will need a laptop, rather than a desktop. Depending on the administrative staff you hire, you may require multiple computers and/or laptops.
A website is useful for advertising and marketing your business and allows potential clients to find your services online. Your website should be aimed at potential employers looking to use your services and chefs looking to register with an agency. Your website should list the types of services you offer, showcase some of your chefs and their skills, training, experience and specialities, specify the area you operate in and display your contact information to allow potential clients or chefs to contact you.
A business phone allows you to communicate with your clients and chefs and respond to queries and emails on the go. Your business number should also be displayed on your website and any advertisements to allow potential customers to contact you. Using a business phone helps you to operate a professional business and keep your business separate from your personal life.
A headset with a microphone
You will frequently make calls as part of your business, for example, when discussing a client’s requirements or contacting chefs. If you do not use a headset with an attached microphone when making phone calls, the quality of your sound will be significantly impacted. Your phone or computer microphone can pick up background noises, which can be distracting to your clients and can create an echoing sound. A headset with a microphone results in higher-quality sound and enables you to hear your meetings and phone calls more effectively.
Reliable and high-speed Wi-Fi
Whether you are running your business from an office or from your home, you will need to ensure your Wi-Fi is reliable and high-speed. Video calls and online research require a strong and consistent connection, and you must ensure your Wi-Fi doesn’t cut out in the middle of a meeting or during another business task. Ensure your Wi-Fi has a minimum connection speed of 20 megabytes per second (Mbps).
A secure storage system
Because you will be storing your chefs’ personal information in your database, you will need to ensure you have a secure storage system to protect their confidentiality and ensure you have constant access to any necessary information (e.g. when searching for a chef for a particular job). If your laptop breaks or contracts a virus, you may lose everything you have stored on your device. Investing in secure Cloud storage that is password protected and encrypted ensures everything is backed up and protected in the event of a technological issue.
Software can have a variety of uses, including:
- Scheduling jobs (e.g. hours and length of the job).
- Organising and managing daily operations.
- Creating, tracking and sending invoices.
- Managing payments.
- Accessing client information.
- As a payroll tool.
- Scheduling appointments (e.g. meetings with your clients).
Depending on the business software you opt for, you could also have tools for increasing your revenue, including booking tools and marketing tools. Many types of business software come with a mobile application for easy access on the go.
An email service
Setting up your own email service using your own domain may be beneficial as your business grows. A business domain can make your business seem more professional and official. Using a public email domain such as @google or @hotmail can look less professional compared to using your own business domain, for example, firstname.lastname@example.org. You will need to make sure your email service is fully secure and encrypted and abides by email security policies in the UK.
A lead generation tool
An increase in leads can result in an increase in chefs and clients, increased business and higher revenue. Your leads can come from multiple sources, including visits to your website, through your marketing and advertising strategies and via recommendations. By using a lead generator tool, you can identify leads and convert a prospective customer into a real customer.
A lead generator tool can help you to:
- Create organic advertising and paid ads.
- Improve lead generation via emails and social media.
- Improve your business-to-business (B2B) marketing.
- Automatically organise prospective customers.
You will likely need to issue invoices to your clients and keep them for your own records (and for when you submit your taxes). Digital invoice software allows you to create electronic invoices, send them to your clients and store them safely.
Electronic signature tool
To create a faster and more streamlined service, you will need an electronic signature (e-sign) tool. Having this tool will save you a significant amount of time compared to physically mailing each document when a signature is required. An e-sign tool allows you to email documents that need signing to your clients and receive an electronic signature immediately. Electronic signatures are legally recognised in the UK. This tool can be beneficial for tasks such as creating contracts and signing invoices.
A Microsoft Office subscription
You can utilise Microsoft Office for a variety of tasks, such as tracking finances in Excel, preparing documents and letters in Word and accessing Teams or OneDrive. You can also share documents with your clients through Microsoft, making it easier to communicate without having to schedule a meeting.
Business cards and appointment cards
Business cards can be used for advertisement purposes and handed out to customers and potential customers. Your business cards should include your business name and logo, the services you offer, your location and your contact information.
You will need to furnish your office with sturdy, high-quality furniture and equipment. The amount of furniture you require will depend on the size of your office and the number of employees you hire (if you set up a business premises). Ensure the furniture is an appropriate height and doesn’t require you to strain your neck or back.
Some of the furniture you may require includes:
- Office desks.
- Ergonomic office chairs.
- Secure filing cabinets.
- Shelving units or storage cabinets.
- A paper shredder.
- A clock.
- Lamps and lights.
Keep in mind that even if you run your business from home, you will still likely need to purchase some office furniture.
Several pieces of stationery can be beneficial to your business and can make it easier for you to make notes and plan jobs.
Some stationery you can purchase includes:
- Pens and pencils.
- Paper and notepads.
- A diary and/or calendar.
- Post-it notes.
- Envelopes and stamps.
A CCTV system
If you operate a business premises, CCTV is recommended. Because you will be storing expensive equipment and sensitive information, CCTV can protect your business from potential break-ins and theft. CCTV can also protect your business in the event of an accident, an incident or an allegation. You can choose the specification of the equipment and how many cameras you require.
When you are creating your business plan, an important consideration you will need to make is your expected start-up costs and running costs. Calculating your expected costs allows you to determine your initial investment requirements, your pricing strategy and your profit goals.
There are multiple costs associated with setting up and running an agency chef business. Some of these costs will be one-off initial costs that you will need to pay when you are setting up your business. Other costs will be ongoing costs you will need to pay regularly – usually weekly, monthly, quarterly or annually.
Although the costs can vary depending on the type of agency chef business you set up, some of the typical costs you can expect are:
If you operate your business from an office or another business location, the cost of renting or purchasing your premises will likely be your biggest expenditure. You will need to rent your premises on a monthly or annual basis. Rental prices can vary significantly, depending on the location and the size of the premises. City centre locations and newly built premises usually have the highest rental costs. Rental costs are often calculated per square metre and can range significantly, from £500 to £15,000 per square metre annually. Your rental costs may also be higher if you are renting an already established or furnished office. Alternatively, you could opt to purchase your premises upfront or take out a mortgage. Keep in mind that this type of business doesn’t typically capitalise on passing trade so being in a prime location is less important.
Refurbishment and installation costs
Unless your premises previously operated as an office and is already perfect for your needs, you will need to refurbish or convert your premises to install the equipment you need for your business and to make your premises fit for purpose. Luckily, an office has limited layout requirements and can be set out any way you choose. You may be able to do much of the work yourself, although you may need to hire professionals for jobs such as improving the lighting, installing a bathroom and installing equipment and furniture. Refurbishment and installation costs can start at as little as £500, depending on the scale of work required.
Your equipment is an important purchase. Although equipment costs are not usually high for an agency chef business, ensuring you have the correct equipment is essential. Consult the list above to determine the type of equipment you require. The cost of your equipment can vary significantly, depending on the specification of your equipment and how much equipment you need. You may opt to purchase less equipment initially and then expand your equipment as your business grows. Equipment for an agency chef business typically costs between £1,000 and £20,000.
Maintaining, repairing and replacing equipment
Repairs, maintenance and replacements are ongoing costs you will need to factor into your budget. Although some of your equipment will come with warranties or guarantees, repairs and replacements are inevitable because much of your equipment will experience frequent usage and technology, such as laptops and phones, and generally will only have a lifespan of a couple of years. Maintaining equipment and ensuring it is used correctly can extend its life, but potential repairs and replacements should still be factored into your budget.
Monthly and annual equipment costs and subscriptions
Your monthly and annual subscription costs could include your Wi-Fi, website, email service and your secure storage. Depending on which subscriptions you require and the specifications of the ones you choose, expect to pay between £40 and £150 per month.
If you work as a chef, your job will require you to travel to the jobs you are hired for. You could choose to use your personal vehicle or purchase a specific vehicle to be used for business purposes. The cost of a vehicle can vary, depending on whether your purchase a new or second-hand vehicle. Prices typically start at £5,000 for a second-hand vehicle and £20,000 for a new vehicle. You also need to incorporate your vehicle running costs into your budget, including your vehicle insurance, petrol, MOT, services and the costs of any repairs. These costs can vary significantly, depending on the age and condition of your vehicle, the level of insurance you choose and the amount of travel you need to do. Typically, you can expect to pay between £50 and £150 per month.
These are the day-to-day costs associated with running your equipment rental business. Some running costs are paid monthly, and others are paid quarterly or annually. If you open an office or another business location, your running costs can include electricity, gas, water, council tax and insurance. To maximise your profits, try to keep your running costs as low as possible.
You may choose to run a business as the sole chef (e.g. on a self-employed basis) or hire other chefs to work for your agency. You will likely choose to hire chefs on a self-employed basis, which can reduce your expenses. However, if you hire employees on a permanent basis, you will need to pay them at least the national minimum wage and account for other expenses such as holiday pay, sick pay and maternity/paternity pay.
Your business website
A business website is an essential advertising tool, as it allows potential clients to find your business online. You should ensure your website is attractive to customers and use search engine optimisation (SEO) so that your website ranks highly on search engines, such as Google. Your website will need regular monitoring, updating and upgrading. You also need to make sure your website is secure, particularly if you will be collecting any customer information or banking details. You may choose to set up and run your website yourself or hire someone to do this for you. You can expect to pay between £20 and £100 per hour for someone to set up and run your website.
Branding is an essential expenditure for your business. It can help you to establish your business’s identity and set you apart from your competition. Branding could include creating your business’s visual identity, a logo and your business name, and creating your business website. You can hire a professional to help you with branding or do some of the work yourself. Branding can cost between £500 and £10,000, depending on the amount of branding you require.
Advertising and marketing
To ensure your agency chef business attracts clients and creates maximum profits, you will need to invest in advertising and marketing. It is recommended that you spend between 1%-3% of your annual turnover on marketing. For example, if your annual turnover (or your desired annual turnover) is £100,000, you should spend between £1,000 and £3,000 on advertising and marketing. You may need to invest more money when you initially set up your business or when you are trying to grow your business.
Insurance is recommended to help protect your business, your equipment, the chefs and your clients.
Some insurance coverage you could opt for includes:
- Public Liability Insurance.
- Professional Indemnity Insurance.
- Employers’ Liability Insurance (if relevant).
- Equipment Cover.
- Portable Equipment Cover.
- Cyber and Data Risk Insurance.
- Cyber Liability Insurance.
- Business Interruption Cover.
Insurance prices can vary significantly, depending on your insurance provider and the level of coverage you require. Prices typically start at £10 per month.
Typical Pricing for Customers
Once you have calculated the expected costs associated with setting up and running your agency chef business, you can then determine your pricing.
Your clients will pay an hourly or daily rate for hiring one of your chefs.
Multiple factors can influence the expected rate of pay for a chef including:</p
- The rank of the chef (e.g. head chef, senior chef or sous chef).
- The type of cheffing they specialise in.
- Their experience level.
- Their training and qualifications.
- Their cooking skills.
- Their reputation.
- Whether the chef is creating the menu.
- Whether the chef is expected to manage staff or oversee the kitchen.
- The type of food they specialise in.
- The employer (e.g. a high-end restaurant would pay a higher rate compared to a fast-food restaurant).
- The location of the food business.
If you are running a chef agency, you may receive payment based on the wage paid to the chef. On average, chef agencies are paid between 15% and 20% of the chef’s salary. For example, if a chef is hired on a month-long contract for £5,000 a month, the agency will be paid between £750 and £1,000.
Alternatively, agencies charge a set fee for finding the ideal candidate. This fee can vary depending on several factors, such as the length of the contract.
Safely Running an Agency Chef Business
Safe practices in your agency chef business can help to protect you, your employees, your clients and your business. The employers that hire your agency chefs will have their own health and safety requirements that the agency and the chefs must ensure they comply with. However, it is still recommended that you implement your own safe practices.
Some ways you can safely run your chef agency business include:
Protect the chefs when working in new environments
Your chefs will be frequently asked to work in new and unfamiliar environments.
To ensure the chefs are safe and comfortable at all times, the chef agency should:
- Properly vet all new clients to ensure their legitimacy.
- Create contracts to ensure staff will be paid for their work.
- Ensure the agency is aware of the location and time of each chef’s job.
- Follow up with the chefs following the completion of their first day or week in a new role.
- Put procedures in place for dealing with abusive or threatening behaviour and for situations where the chef feels unsafe or uncomfortable.
- Report any incidents through the appropriate channels.
- Ban any client from using the services of your agency in the future that demonstrates threatening behaviour or language or doesn’t adhere to the terms of your contract.
Use two-factor authentication for client records and information
All your personal and business passwords should be set up with two-factor authentication. This means you will need to prove your identity in two ways, such as with your usual password and with a code that is sent to your registered mobile number. This adds an extra layer of security to your accounts.
Install anti-virus software
If you use a computer or laptop in your business, anti-virus software can detect and remove malicious codes and intrusions on your computer or laptop. This can protect you and your business against viruses and malware. If your laptop becomes infected with a virus, this can cause irreparable damage to your equipment, can delete your computer’s data and cause you to lose contracts and business. A virus on your laptop could also be sent to your clients via email which could affect your business’s reputation. Anti-virus software should be installed on all of your devices and your Wi-Fi.
Ensure the personal hygiene of all staff
Good personal hygiene is essential when working in the food industry. Good personal hygiene should be a requisite for all chefs and could be specified in your contacts.
Good personal hygiene can include:
- Following handwashing procedures.
- Tying back hair or covering hair.
- Not wearing false nails or nail varnish on fingernails.
- Not wearing jewellery or watches when preparing or cooking food.
- Not wearing strong perfume or other chemical products that could contaminate the food.
- Wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
- Following good habits, such as not coughing or sneezing near food and refraining from touching your hair or face.
You should also be aware of staff illnesses and ensure no employee is near food if they are displaying signs of illness or have recently experienced vomiting or diarrhoea.
Be aware of food hazards
Food hazards are any contaminants that could enter food and cause harm to consumers. All chefs should be aware of food hazards, the risk associated with these hazards and how to prevent contamination.
The main food hazards are:
- Biological: These hazards are microorganisms that contaminate food, usually during the cooking, chilling or storage processes. Biological hazards can also occur through cross-contamination. Examples of biological hazards are bacteria, fungi and viruses.
- Chemical: Chemical hazards occur when naturally occurring or human-made chemical substances contaminate food. For example, chemicals from cleaning products, toxins produced by animals, plants and microorganisms or chemicals that are added to food and drink.
- Physical: This refers to foreign materials or objects that enter food or drink during preparation or handling. Physical hazards can include natural hazards, such as shells, bones and pips and unnatural hazards, such as hair, fingernails, plastic and wood.
- Allergenic: Allergenic hazards can cause an allergic reaction or anaphylaxis in people with allergies. Allergenic hazards can occur through cross-contamination, such as the foods being prepared in the same workspace.
Ensure correct cooking temperatures
All food businesses must ensure they are cooking and baking at the correct temperature. This is to reduce or eliminate the risk of food poisoning. If you are working as an agency chef, it is your responsibility to ensure your oven or other cooking equipment is set to the correct temperature and to use a food thermometer to ensure food is thoroughly cooked.
Properly maintain and set up equipment
Any equipment you use must be properly maintained, correctly set up and safe to use. You must protect yourself and your employees from accidents or injuries caused by equipment. You should also perform regular equipment inspections to ensure your equipment’s safety and help extend the lifespan of your equipment. Maintenance includes regularly checking for faults, regular cleaning and ensuring equipment is functioning correctly.
Carry out risk assessments
Risk assessments are a legal requirement for businesses with more than five employees. However, even if your business has fewer than five employees, risk assessments are still recommended to ensure the safety of you, your staff and your customers. Risk assessments can help you to identify any potential hazards and risks in your business and how these can be reduced or eliminated.
As part of your risk assessment, you should:
- Identify hazards.
- Determine who could be at risk.
- Evaluate any potential risks.
- Implement relevant safety measures.
- Record the results of the risk assessment.
- Review the risk assessment regularly.
Implement safety measures
Safety measures can help to protect your business, your employees and your equipment.
Some safety measures you should implement include:
- Install a CCTV system.
- Install an alarm system and secure and reliable locks.
- Keep a fully stocked first aid kit on site.
- Ensure that other safety equipment, such as fire extinguishers, is easily accessible.
- Wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) where necessary.
Complying with legal requirements is essential when setting up and running an agency chef business. Failure to comply with legal requirements could not only result in an accident or injury, but you could also face consequences such as a warning, a fine, the forced closure of your business or in serious circumstances, prosecution.
The legal requirements you need to comply with include the laws and regulations relating to operating a recruitment agency and food safety and hygiene laws and regulations.
Some of the legal requirements you should be aware of include:
Agency Legal Requirements
Comply with the Employment Agencies Act 1973
The Employment Agencies Act is designed to protect the interests of the candidate (the chef) and the hirer. It stipulates how recruitment agencies should operate. Under this Act, a chef agency must:
- Provide all chefs with a written contract.
- Ensure all chefs are suitable for the role.
- Not charge the chefs a fee for the work-finding service.
- Not withhold pay for any reason.
Comply with the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Business Regulations 2003
These regulations provide protection to work-seekers (the chefs who apply to your agency).
Under these regulations, your agency must:
- Pay for all work that is done.
- Pay for holidays.
- Pay at least the national minimum wage.
- Protect the chefs under health and safety regulations.
- Provide written terms of employment.
Under these regulations, your agency must not:
- Charge a fee to work-seekers to find them work.
- Make a work-seeker pay for additional services as a condition of finding work (e.g. food hygiene training).
- Prevent an individual from working elsewhere or from ending their association with your agency.
- Withhold payment or wages, even if the employer has not made a payment.
- Make unlawful deductions from pay.
- Make a chef work for more than 48 hours per week.
Comply with the Agency Workers Regulations 2010
The Agency Workers Regulations ensure the chefs have the same rights as other employees. Under these regulations, the agency must provide the worker with a written statement that includes:
- Their start date.
- How long the contract is likely to last.
- The type of work.
- Any expenses they can expect (e.g. uniform).
- The location of the job.
- The hours.
- Any health and safety risks.
- Information about the experience, training and qualifications required for the job.
The agency should also request information about pay and basic working conditions from the hirer.
Comply with the Equality Act 2010
Under the Equality Act, a chef agency must not display any form of discrimination when hiring chefs. Protected characteristics include age, sex, race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership and pregnancy and maternity. Your agency must not discriminate based on these protected characteristics. If you believe an employer is discriminating based on these characteristics, you should report them under this Act.
Chef Legal Requirements
Although agency chefs work on a self-employed basis, they are still legally required to follow regulations and guidance related to food safety and hygiene. The following regulations apply to agency chefs operating in the UK:
Comply with the Food Safety Act (1990)
The Food Safety Act applies to any business that cooks and sells food. It covers food safety, consumer protection and food information. It makes it an offence to make or sell any food which could be harmful to health and lays out hygiene practices you should follow. All chefs in the UK are required to comply with this Act.
There are several legal requirements listed in the Food Safety Act, including:
- Do not add anything to food, remove anything from food or treat food in any way which could make it damaging to the consumer.
- Ensure that all food practices are carried out in a hygienic way.
- Comply with food hygiene and safety practices when cleaning, cooking, chilling and handling food.
- Do not present or describe food in a way that is false or misleading.
Comply with the Food Safety and Hygiene Regulations
These regulations specify the standards relating to the control and management of the steps that are critical to food safety, including the cleanliness of the kitchen and equipment and temperature control in food preparation, storage and serving.
The regulations differ depending on where in the UK the food establishment is located:
- England: The Food Safety and Hygiene (England) Regulations 2013.
- Scotland: The Food Hygiene (Scotland) Regulations 2006.
- Wales: The Food Hygiene (Wales) Regulations 2006.
- Northern Ireland: The Food Hygiene Regulations (Northern Ireland).
Comply with the four steps to food safety
The four steps to food safety (known as the Four Cs) can help to reduce contamination and reduce the likelihood of food poisoning.
- Cleaning: Cleaning helps to prevent harmful bacteria from contaminating food. Clean your hands and surfaces often. You should wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water before, during and after preparing food and after handling certain foods. You should also wash surfaces, chopping boards and utensils after preparing each food item.
- Cooking: Food must be cooked thoroughly to destroy any harmful bacteria. Check all food is cooked to a safe internal temperature or reheated thoroughly and it is piping hot before serving.
- Cross-contamination: Cross-contamination can occur when harmful bacteria spreads between surfaces, equipment, hands and food. To avoid cross-confirmation, keep different types of food separate (e.g. raw meat and other foods), use different chopping boards for different food, keep cooked food separate, store foods correctly and thoroughly clean surfaces.
- Chilling: Chilling food correctly prevents bacteria from growing. Refrigerate stock as soon as it is delivered, ensure the refrigerator is set to the correct temperature and refrigerate perishable or cooked foods within two hours.
Comply with The Food Information (Amendment) Regulations 2019
These regulations set out the responsibilities of food businesses to provide information regarding the 14 allergens (celery, cereals, crustaceans, eggs, fish, lupin, cows’ milk, molluscs, mustard, nuts, peanuts, sesame seeds, soya and sulphur dioxide). The regulations were updated in 2019 to include Natasha’s Law. Although it is the responsibility of the food establishment or business to clearly state if any of these allergens are present, as the chef, you are responsible for the recipes you create and cook and must inform the relevant persons if any of the food you prepare contains allergens.
Obtain Food Hygiene training
Any individual who prepares, handles or sells food must be supervised, instructed and trained in food hygiene. Although a food hygiene certificate isn’t a legal requirement, it is the easiest way to demonstrate your compliance. Training will need to be refreshed regularly. Additionally, many businesses looking to use the services of an agency chef are unlikely to hire someone who doesn’t have food hygiene training.
Comply with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002
The COSHH regulations state that you must control any potentially hazardous substances. You should also assess, control and reduce any risks or potential hazards and protect people from harm.
Some hazardous substances you should be aware of are:
- Flour dust.
- Concentrates of flavour, citrus oils and spices.
- Cleaning substances.
General Legal Requirements
The following regulations apply to all businesses operating in the UK:
Comply with the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) 2013
RIDDOR states that you must report all injuries, diseases and dangerous events that occur in your business. Reports must be made to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) using an appropriate recording document. These regulations apply to any incidents that involve employers, employees or customers.
Comply with the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992
Manual handling regulations can help to protect you and your employees from sustaining an injury or illness as a result of manual handling tasks. The regulations apply to the lifting or moving of any objects, bending down and reaching high and repetitive movements. Regardless of whether you or your employees are working as chefs or handling an administrative role, you will likely still be performing manual handling tasks, for example, handling large or heavy equipment or items, chopping, typing and cleaning.
Comply with the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER) 1998
PUWER regulations apply to you and any employees you hire. You must ensure any equipment in your business is fit for purpose and is maintained and inspected regularly. You must also ensure that health and safety risks are minimised to an acceptable level, that you have the correct knowledge and training to use the equipment, and that protective measures are put into place. Equipment should also only be used under appropriate conditions.
Comply with the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989
The Electricity at Work Regulations state that any workplaces that use electricals must construct electrical systems in a way that prevents danger, maintain electrical systems to ensure they are safe, ensure electrical equipment is checked by a competent person annually and conduct Portable Appliance Tests (PAT). This includes any electrical equipment such as computers, laptops and phones.
Comply with gas safety regulations
If you have a gas boiler or any gas equipment on your premises, you will need to have your boiler inspected by a gas-safe engineer. If your equipment is deemed safe to use and complies with government requirements, you will be issued a Gas Safety Certificate. You will need to display your gas certificate clearly for your customers to see.
Comply with fire regulations
As the business owner, you are responsible for fire safety measures on your premises. There are multiple fire regulations you must ensure you comply with.
- Perform a fire risk assessment.
- Comply with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.
- Implement any necessary fire safety measures.
- Implement emergency procedures and ensure these are clearly displayed.
Appoint a competent person
A competent person should be appointed to help your business meet your health and safety legal duties. You can act in this role yourself or appoint another person to fulfil this role. The competent person should have the skills, knowledge and experience to identify any hazards in your business and put controls in place to protect people from harm.
Prepare a health and safety policy
The law states that every business in the UK must have a specific policy for managing health and safety. Your policy should state exactly how you will manage health and safety in your business and who is responsible for specific tasks and how and when these tasks are completed. Follow the recommended tips from the Health and Safety Executive when creating your health and safety policy. You should make your policy easily visible to any visitors to your business.
Comply with employment legislation
If you employ any staff, you must ensure you follow employment legislation, including the Employment Rights Act (1996) and the National Minimum Wage Act (1998). You must also comply with legislation relating to recruitment, working hours, sickness, discrimination, dismissals, and maternity or paternity pay.
Comply with the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) and the Data Protection Act (DPA)
You must comply with both pieces of legislation when storing or sharing personal information, such as your customers’ personal information, contact details and banking information. You must also apply for a Notification to Process Personal Data Licence. You will also need to apply for a licence with the Information Commissioner’s Office and renew your registration every year.
Register your business
You must register your business with HMRC before you begin operating. You can register as a sole trader or as a limited company. You will need to register your business name and any other relevant information.
Register for self-assessment tax
This allows you to calculate and pay your own taxes each year. You will need to track your finances every month and submit any expenses as part of your tax assessment.
As part of your tax responsibilities, you must:
- Record all forms of income and expenses.
- Complete an annual self-assessment tax return.
- Register for VAT if you earn above the threshold (currently £85,000).
- Pay National Insurance contributions.
- Keep a record of your business accounts for the previous five years.
Positives of Owning an Agency Chef Business
Setting up an agency chef business can be rewarding in many ways.
Some of the main pros associated with this type of business include:
Working as a chef traditionally comes with long working hours and a busy schedule. However, by working as an agency chef, you will enjoy greater flexibility and will be able to choose when you want to work, the number of hours you want to work and where you want to work. Having the flexibility to choose your schedule and the jobs you accept can result in a better work-life balance and can make working as a chef more enjoyable.
Experience varied working environments
You will have the opportunity to work in multiple different kitchens, with different kitchen staff, different menus and different types of cooking. Not only can this help to develop your skills and make you a better chef overall, but it can also keep your work interesting, You will constantly be working in new environments in different roles, and this can be beneficial in many ways.
Develop business relationships
Working in a variety of different kitchens allows you to expand your professional network. You will have the opportunity to build connections with other people in your industry, including chefs and food businesses. Building both professional and personal relationships within the food industry can help you to grow your business.
Avoid the stress of running a kitchen
As an agency chef, you will not be expected to run the kitchen or manage kitchen staff. This allows you to avoid kitchen politics and allows you to focus on the food and your cooking, rather than the other responsibilities and stresses a chef typically faces. You will get all the benefits of working as a chef with relatively little stress.
Choose your speciality
As a chef or a chef agency, you can choose your speciality, based on your training, skills, experience, interests and what you think is going to be most in demand or most lucrative. You could also choose to work with chefs with a variety of different specialities. You can make the best decisions for you and your business, based on what is most likely to be profitable and your business preferences.
The food industry is experiencing a skills shortage, with the number of trained and experienced chefs not matching the demand. This shortage places chef agencies in an advantageous position, as there will be a high demand for their services, and they can charge higher prices. High demand also makes it more likely that your business will succeed.
Because of the skills shortage and the high demand for agency chefs, you can typically demand higher pay. Agency chefs also earn money for every hour worked, which often doesn’t happen for regular chefs. Even if you are asked to work overtime, you will still be paid for this time and will receive additional payment for any extra work that is requested of you. All of your hours will be logged carefully, either by you or your timesheet will be approved by you. Earning a higher wage is a big motivator for many agency chefs.
Low start-up costs
Compared to many other businesses operating in the food industry, a chef agency has relatively low start-up costs. You will have few equipment requirements and can run your business yourself with no employees if you choose. Low initial investment requirements will mean you won’t require any outside investment and can begin turning a profit earlier.
Reduced running costs
Compared to other food businesses, an agency chef business will have lower running costs. You will not be responsible for paying for ingredients and stock and will likely work with your chefs on a freelance or self-employed basis, meaning you will not be responsible for their wages. Reducing your overhead costs and running costs allows you to maximise your profits.
Many of your clients will allow you to create your own recipes or make menu suggestions. You will have the opportunity to be creative with your recipes, ingredients, flavours, textures and the presentation of your dishes to create the perfect products. If you love being creative in the kitchen, working as an agency chef can be enjoyable and rewarding.
Work in an industry you are passionate about
If you are passionate about food and cooking, setting up your own chef business can be extremely rewarding. You can do something you love every day and connect with other like-minded people. Working in an industry you love can make your business feel less like work and more like a vocation.
Every day is different
Running a chef agency or working as an agency chef will never get boring. Every day you will be handling different tasks, working with different clients and handling different responsibilities. As a chef, you could also be working in a variety of different kitchens, using different skills and working with different food. A varied working week can help to keep your job interesting.
A rewarding career choice
Running an agency chef business can be rewarding in many ways. You can have a positive impact on your community, connect with other people and see your business grow and succeed. If you love food and have a passion for cooking and the food industry, running a successful business will not only be financially rewarding but also personally rewarding.
If you are an outgoing person and you enjoy speaking to people from all different walks of life, you will likely enjoy working in a business where you will be regularly interacting with different clients, chefs, kitchen staff and customers. You can get to know people working in the same industry, which can be very enjoyable for people who enjoy face-to-face interaction.
Start small and grow your business
If you don’t have an external investor or a large capital with which to start your business, you can start smaller and grow your business in time. Instead of setting up an agency with lots of chefs, you have the option to initially start small, for example, by working as a freelance agency chef yourself or setting up an agency with only a few chefs on the books. As your profits and your customer base grow, you can then expand your business by connecting with more chefs and clients. This gives you the flexibility to set up your business at your own pace and makes starting your own business more accessible.
A scalable business
A chef agency can have a simple business model, making it easy to set up this type of business. If you want to grow your business, this type of business is highly scalable, as you will already have established strong business relationships with clients, will already have created a chef database and your business set-up and operating processes will be easy to replicate. There is always demand for chefs, giving your business great opportunities for growth.
Unlimited income potential
There is no fixed income or limit on how much money your chef agency business can make. If you operate with a high number of chefs and clients, this allows you to increase your profits. As your business grows in popularity, you can also raise your prices, increase your chef database, expand your reach and even open additional franchises of your business in other areas. A chef agency business has a high-income potential and, with a solid business plan, can be extremely lucrative.
If your clients have a good experience with your business and the chefs they work with, they are more likely to use your agency again or request the chef for a longer term. Customer loyalty can help to increase your profits and grow your business reputation. Loyal clients may also recommend your agencies to other businesses in the food industry, helping you to grow your profits.
Choose your own schedule
You can choose which days your business opens, the hours you want to work and the clients you want to accept. As your business grows, you can also work fewer hours and allow your employees to handle the day-to-day running of your business. You will have the flexibility to run your business around your personal life.
Be your own boss
You can make all key decisions yourself and steer your business in whichever direction you choose. You can choose how involved you want to be, the type of chef agency you want to run, the clients and chefs you work with and how you want to run your business. You can make the best decisions for you and your business.
Negatives of Owning an Agency Chef Business
Although owning an agency chef business can be rewarding, there are some potentially negative aspects to this type of business that you should be aware of, for example:
It can be unstable
Working as an agency chef can be unstable, with no guaranteed work or guaranteed income. Things can change with little or no notice and there may be times when demand is low and there is no work available that suits your skills. This can make it difficult to predict your income. Unstable work also means you might not know where you are working from one week to the next.
Accountability and liability
The food industry is highly regulated with a large number of laws and regulations you must be aware of. You need to ensure you follow all policies and procedures, particularly those relating to health and safety. Not only can it be time-consuming and stressful to ensure compliance, but failure to comply, even unintentionally, could have serious consequences. If a customer contracts food poisoning after eating food you or one of your chefs has cooked, your business could be held liable.
Complying with legislation
There are many different pieces of legislation and legal guidelines you will need to comply with. Not only can this be complicated and time-consuming, but any non-compliance (even if this is accidental) can be punished with a fine or the forced closure of your business. Some types of legislation also require you to go through specific training and/or gain a qualification, which can be costly and arduous. An agency chef business can have high liability which can be a lot of stress and pressure on a business owner.
Working as a chef can be physically demanding. You will be spending long hours on your feet every day and will be engaged in many physically demanding tasks, such as chopping, reaching high and bending low and carrying heavy items.
This can cause multiple health concerns, such as:
- Neck or back pain or strain.
- Pain, strain or injuries to your fingers, hands and wrists.
- Pain in your feet or legs.
Long and irregular hours
Many chefs don’t work the traditional hours of 9-5, Monday to Friday. Instead, they may have to be available to work evenings and weekends, when food businesses are usually most in demand. If you work as an agency chef, this can be physically and emotionally demanding. Long, irregular hours can have a negative impact on your health and your personal life.
Difficulties attracting chefs
Although there are many pros to working as an agency chef, there are also many cons and the lack of a guaranteed income can deter many chefs from committing to work for an agency. It can be difficult to attract skilled and experienced chefs to your agency, meaning you may not always be able to fulfil your clients’ job openings.
As an agency business, your staff (i.e. the chefs) are the most important factor in your business’s success. However, in many cases, you will not be there to supervise the chefs when they are working for your clients. There are many staffing challenges you could face, such as a lack of staff motivation, complaints about staff and staff not fulfilling their expected duties. This can negatively affect your reputation and result in a loss of business. You will also have lots of responsibilities related to your staff, such as the hiring process, staff training, day-to-day management and handling contracts. While your business and your profits are growing, you may have to undertake many of these responsibilities yourself. Agencies also typically have a high staff turnover rate, which can result in a lot of time spent hiring and training staff.
A lot of skill, knowledge and experience is required
To run a successful business, you will need to be highly proficient in a variety of skills and will need to have a high level of knowledge of the industry, including regulations, health and safety guidelines and the wants and needs of chefs and food businesses. It can be time-consuming to gain the appropriate skills and experience to make your business succeed.
It can be difficult to grow your business
Many new businesses operating in the food industry fail to succeed because they find it difficult to successfully market a new business and grow their customer base. Successful chef businesses often spend years building up their client base and developing their chef database. This could mean you initially have less business and earn a lower income. Difficulties growing your business could result in your business failing.
Demand may not always be consistent, with some days and weeks likely to be busier than others. It could also be that you receive more business at certain times of the year. Demand can often be difficult to predict, meaning you don’t know what to expect from one month to the next. This can make it difficult for you to predict your profits and plan your staffing requirements.
Working in high-pressure environments
Kitchens are notorious for being stressful, high-pressure environments. This can be even more stressful when working in an unfamiliar kitchen with unfamiliar kitchen staff. Working as a chef and running a chef agency can be demanding and stressful and this can have a negative impact on you and your staff.
As the business owner, you will have a large number of responsibilities. You will be responsible for every aspect of the business, including marketing, growing your client base, creating and approving contracts and handling any issues. This can be highly stressful, especially when your business first opens.
Issues out of your control
This can be one of the most frustrating aspects of running a business, as things that are outside of your control can have a negative impact on your business and your profits. For example, the chefs turning down jobs, contract negotiations failing or a client’s business failing. Issues such as these can prevent you from properly running your business, which could not only affect your profits but also result in negative customer reviews and a bad reputation.
Your business could fail
Starting up an agency chef business can be risky. Many new businesses fail which could result in you losing money or getting into debt. Your business could fail for several reasons, such as high local competition, an ineffective business plan or if the UK encounters another recession or period of financial difficulty. Because your business requires a high initial investment, if your business fails, you will potentially lose a significant amount of money.
As you are self-employed, you won’t receive benefits such as pension contributions. You will also be responsible for doing your own taxes and organising your National Insurance contributions. You will also have a lack of job security.
Planning Your Agency Chef Business
An effective and well-designed business plan is essential to the success of your agency chef business. A business plan can help you to focus on the specific steps that will help your business succeed, plan your short-term and long-term goals, determine your financial needs and help your business to grow.
When creating your business plan, ensure it contains information such as:
- Your company information.
- Your company description.
- The services you will provide.
- Your branding, marketing and advertising plan.
- The structure of your business.
- The operational plan for your business.
- The financial plan for your business.
Some of the factors you will need to consider when creating your business plan are:
This is one of the first considerations you will need to make when planning your business. If you plan to work as an agency chef, you will need to decide the type of cooking or cuisine you plan to specialise in and your role in the kitchen (e.g. head chef, sous chef). If you are setting up an agency with multiple chefs, you may choose to specialise or create a diverse database of chefs to suit different clients’ needs. Consider your skills, training and experience, the market demand and the likely profits when considering your speciality.
Your typical client base
This is another important consideration. Determining your target market is a key step in helping your business succeed. Different types of chefs and different cooking specialities will appeal to different clients. Some other factors that can influence your target market are your location, your reputation, and your pricing. Once you have identified your target market, you can then focus on how to attract these customers to your business.
Being aware of your competition is an important step to ensuring the success of your business. Analysing your competition allows you to look at what they do well and what you think can be improved upon. Look at their chef and client database, their specialities, the services your competition offers (e.g. food hygiene training), their pricing and their target markets. Analysing your competition also identifies whether there is space in the market for your business; for example, if there is already a successful chef agency business specialising in patisserie operating in your area, you may choose to focus on a different speciality or customer base instead.
Your business location
Your location will have a significant impact on the types of customers you are likely to attract. It will also impact your premises’ rental costs. If your business is located in or supplies chefs to an area with a high volume of food businesses, the increased custom and higher profits will be extremely beneficial to your business. Consider your rental budget and your size requirements when choosing your premises. When considering your location, you should also consider how far you or your chefs are willing to travel.
Your brand and your unique selling point (USP)
Creating your brand is a key way to ensure you stand out from your competition. Branding can help you to focus your target audience, attract customers and concentrate your marketing and advertising strategies. Some ways you can create your brand are by focusing on your business’s visual identity, considering your specialities and creating a brand story. Your USP can also be part of your brand and can help your business stand out from your competitors. Consider what makes your business special and how this fits into what defines your business.
Your marketing and advertising strategies
Marketing and advertising are especially important when you first open your agency chef business. Your marketing strategy needs to be effective and budget friendly. Consider your target customers and the best way to reach them.
Some ways you can market and advertise your business are:
- Build a functional and attractive website.
- Create targeted online advertisements.
- Offer discounts to new clients.
- Contact local food businesses directly.
Your equipment requirements
Consult the list above to determine your equipment requirements. The equipment you require will depend on the type of agency chef business you set up, how big your premises is and how many administrative employees you have. Once you have determined your equipment requirements, you can then calculate the initial costs of purchasing the equipment.
Your start-up costs and running costs
Consult the list above to help you calculate the approximate costs of setting up and running your business. Determine what equipment you need and the amount of equipment, as well as the cost of your premises, to help you determine your start-up costs and what your initial investment requirements will be. You can then calculate whether you can finance your business yourself. Determining your start-up costs and running costs can also help you to create a budget and predict when you will begin to turn a profit.
Financing your business
Consult the list of start-up costs and running costs above to determine what capital you will require. Can you finance the business yourself or will you need to source outside investment? You will also need to calculate when you are likely to begin turning a profit. If you require outside investment, you could consider a bank or other financial institution, a business loan or an investment partner.
Your sales forecast
How many chefs will be on your database? How many clients can you realistically work with at one time? How long will it take you to match a chef to a job and prepare the contracts? What will the average contract length be? Are there certain times of the year that are likely to be busier than others? What are your weekly, monthly and annual sales forecasts? As your business grows, your sales forecast is likely to change.
Your strategy for growth
Your strategy for growth is the actions you will take to realise your goals for expansion and any potential challenges your business could face and how you will avoid or overcome them. This can help to make your business more successful.
Potential challenges could include:
- Difficulties building your chef database.
- No long-term contracts.
- Marketing and advertising being too time-consuming.
Some potential strategies for growth include:
- Offer introductory offers.
- Expand your marketing and advertising strategies to attract more chefs and clients.
- Create strong business relationships.
Your business summary
Your business plan should include a detailed overview of your business, including the type of business you are setting up, the type of chefs or cooking you specialise in, your typical customer base, your staffing and equipment requirements and your business goals.
Your business goals
Your business goals or objectives are an essential part of creating your business plan. Your business objectives highlight the targets and goals of your agency chef business and help you to create a one-year, three-year and five-year business plan.
Your business objectives should be SMART:
- S = Specific
- M = Measurable
- A = Achievable
- R = Realistic
- T = Time-bound
Check you have complied with all legal requirements
Consult the list of legal requirements above to check you have complied with all requirements and regulations and that all your paperwork is accurate. Failure to comply with legal requirements could have a detrimental effect on your business or could result in a fine, the forced closure of your business or, in serious cases, prosecution.