A personal chef will meet with a client and customize a meal plan by determining how often the service will be provided and the number of meals cooked each time. The client will typically choose various meals and sides from the chef's menu, then the chef will shop for all groceries, prepare the meal(s) on a designated "cook date" in the client's home, package the meals for the refrigerator or freezer, clean the kitchen and leave detailed reheating instructions. Some personal chefs also provide the same services for one-time events such as dinner parties, or special events. Many personal chefs also offer personalized cooking instruction in the privacy of the client's home, either one-on-one or in groups. According to health-department guidelines, all food must either be prepared in the home of the client or in a kitchen that has passed an official health inspection.
Note that a personal chef is distinct from a private chef, which refers to a chef who is employed exclusively by one client, and in some cases lives in the client's home.
When hiring a personal chef to provide either a packaged meal service or to cook for a dinner party, there is usually collaboration between the client and the chef to determine the menu, based on individual tastes and preferences as well as dietary restrictions. An estimate is then provided by the chef. Some chefs charge a fee based on the number of meals and servings prepared each time, and some charge an hourly fee plus the cost of food. Typically, the chef is given approval, a deposit, or (if familiar with the guest/frequent client) an expense account for the menu. The number of personal chef businesses in North America has rose from around 5,000 in 2007 to around 10,000 in 2017.
In terms of experience, personal chefs tend to be chefs who have worked in restaurants, hotels, catering or all three, though many culinary students become personal chefs directly out of school. Some personal chefs don't have a culinary background, but are passionate home cooks with years of experience and knowledge. It is not uncommon for some personal chefs — particularly those who cook for dinner parties and special occasions — to be employed in a restaurant or catering job full-time and work as a personal chef in their spare time for extra income. Potential clients can research personal chefs in their area via online membership registries, or use a personal chef staffing agency.
Various training programs are also offered by the United States Personal Chef Association and the American Personal & Private Chef Association. The United States Personal Chef Association is currently the largest association for personal chefs in North America.