Basics:

Shef connects home cooks with customers interested in buying meals for home delivery

Expected pay: You set it

Husl$core: $$$$

Commissions & fees: 15%

Where:Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, New York, Chicago and select other U.S. cities

Requirements: Any licenses (such as food handling and business) required in your jurisdiction. Pass food safety certification

What is Shef?

Shef is a commercial home-cooking site that enlists both professional and amateur chefs to make meals for local clients.

How it works

Cooks sign up with the site and submit a sample of their favorite dishes. They also must certify that they meet all the requirements to be a home cook in their area, including passing a food safety certification course.

Once you’re approved on the site, you determine what days you’ll cook and present your menus for sale.

Shef meals are designed to be delivered cold and heated up by the final consumer. So cooking is done in advance; cooled; and then packed in meal-sized containers for delivery.

Shef review

Shef is one of a handful of sites that allow home cooks to make meals for sale and have them marketed — and delivered — through the site.

And the site is set up to make the prospect attractive. Chefs decide what to cook; how much to charge for it; and what days their meals are available. They do not need to deliver the meals. The site uses meal delivery services to take care of that.

Additionally, customers must order at least one day in advance so that chefs know how many people they need to cook for with enough time to purchase the appropriate ingredients. Cooks also are instructed to make the meals with enough advance preparation time so that they cool them before they’re packed up for delivery.

Meanwhile, the site will market your meals to customers and collect from buyers, remitting the proceeds to you minus a modest site fee. For anyone considering whether to start their own restaurant or food service business, Shef can provide a low-cost training ground to determine demand and price points.

Notably, too, the site allows you to offer discounts on your meals to help build your business. Discounts initiated by you will come out of your pay. But, Shef also sometimes offers discounts to draw new customers. Those discounts come out of Shef’s pocket, not yours.

Pay, fees and commissions

There is no cost to upload meals for sale on the Shef site. However, the site takes a 15% fee from the cook’s revenue when meals sell. That pays for Shef’s marketing, payment processing and customer support.

Cooks are paid within hours of the customers receiving their food.

But….

However, making money as a home cook is harder than you might imagine. There are several reasons why:

  • Home cooks are subject to state and regional food service requirements that can sometimes be onerous
  • You are truly your own boss, which means you need to keep close tabs on the cost of goods sold, including containers and shipping materials, as well as all of the ingredients in the food you’re making and selling.
  • You are also your own labor, so you should factor in an appropriate value for your time — including the time it takes to shop for ingredients, cook and package your meals.
  • But, both the site and the competition might tempt you to list your meals for low prices to build business. This can cause you to effectively lose money — or make significantly less than minimum wage.

Your costs

You determine the price of your meals on Shef. And because you are an independent contractor, you pay the cost of all ingredients and the cost of packaging. The site has an agreement with Restaurant Depot that can allow you to get supplies at a discount, however.

Advice

The biggest complaint we see from home chefs is a practical one. It’s tough to price your meals high enough to make a decent profit, particularly in the early months when you may have a limited number of clients. As your popularity grows, you can make better hourly wages, since making dinners for 20 is only slightly more time consuming than making the same meal for 2.

However, seasoned Shefs say you’d be wise to:

  • Limit your meal selection. You can have a variety of meals that you offer over the course of a week or month. But, if you limit your entree menu to one item per day, it streamlines shopping and prep time. For instance, you might make BBQ ribs on Mondays; Risotto on Wednesdays; and Pizzas on Fridays.
  • Offer sides and extras. One way to boost your order revenue is to offer side dishes and desserts that you can have on hand at any time. Cookies, cakes, salads and breads can be prepared in advance or thrown together quickly and can be offered at a higher profit margin to boost your per-order revenue.
  • Update pricing. You are ultimately responsible for creating the meals and delivering them for the amount you charge on the site. If inflation has boosted your cost of goods, make sure you update your pricing so you’re not cooking for free. (Obviously, you can’t surcharge customers after the fact. So, do regular grocery price-checks to make sure your pricing is sufficient for upcoming weeks.)
  • Consider packaging. The main cost of your packaging is going to be the plastic containers. However, it may make sense to add unique, branded labels. These can encourage your diners to review you on the site. And they can create a brand that you might decide to expand elsewhere. And, labels cost practically nothing.

One catch

The only downside to Shef’s advance ordering process is that it eliminates the chance for spontaneous orders that you might not mind accommodating, since you’re cooking anyway. But this is a pretty minor complaint.

Recommendations

We like this site for home cooks. You can sign up with Shef here.

You may also want to sign up with Shef competitor, DishDivvy, if you happen to live in the Los Angeles area.

Other sites that can help you sell your food or cooking classes include Tastemade, CozyMeal and EatWith.

What their users say (from Reddit)

One of the reasons I tried shef is because it was the easiest and lowest cost way to try my hand at food business. You can lose a LOT of money trying to go into food business. It has a lot of upstart costs and permitting, and takes a lot of time and effort. If you think of it that way, shef is a VERY low cost way to try out a food business, although it’s kind of a narrow trial method with limited things you can learn from it.

Also, for your sanity, price things in a way that makes sense. Yeah, shef tells you to try and price a meal under 9.99, but packaged cold food at The grocery store basically costs that much, okay? Some people are always going to complain about price, but if you have to try and be “competitive” by taking a loss, it’s NEVER going to be worth it. You either have too unattractive of a product, or it’s not the right platform for you. And it’s delivered to them. DoorDash prices are high too, alright?

After a year on Shef and being more than slightly disappointed. It definitely feels like you’re working for someone else’s plan and goals…with minimal support from Shef.com. I’ve dropped down to weekends only and a very tight menu of only the most popular and successful items I’ve had over the past year. Doing other things with the expertise gained is my next step.

Updated 5/6/2024

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