A Side Hustle for Amateur Chefs: Get Paid to Cook in Your Own Kitchen

Image: Dinner party
Elin B under Creative Commons

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to moonlight as a chef? Maybe you’re an amateur foodie always bringing creative dishes to potlucks and dinner parties. Or maybe you have some tried-and-true family recipes that your friends all rave about. You don’t want to go into business full time, but you’d like to be able to earn a bit of money for your talents.

Several new websites make this possible by connecting people who love to cook with people who want to join them for dinner. It’s essentially the Airbnb business model for food. No fewer than a dozen sites are venturing into the “foodsharing” economy, offering everything from five-course dinners to take-out menus. Here’s how you can get in on the action.

Host a Dinner Party

Sites like Feastly, EatWith and NewGusto let users create a menu, set a date and invite other food enthusiasts for dinner. As a host, you’ll decide how many people can attend, whether or not it’s BYOB, and how much to charge per plate.

Recent offerings on Feastly include a “Persian Feast” in Chicago for $40 and “Taco Tuesday” in South Miami for $12. NewGusto, meanwhile, focuses on offering meals in travel destinations so that guests can eat an authentic local meal on their trip.

When you sign up, you’ll want to create a menu and description of your meal, and upload a few photos of what your guests will be eating. Set a date for the meal and promote it on Facebook and Twitter, in case any of your friends want to come along.

Your guests will pay for their seats directly through whichever site you choose, sparing you an awkward exchange of cash at the end of dinner. (Be sure to charge enough to cover ingredients and expenses, and remember that the site itself will take a cut.)

Don’t worry about trying to replicate a fancy restaurant in your dining room. Most guests will be there for the social experience. They’ll get to meet other guests who share their passion for food, and maybe even learn some come cooking tips from the chef (that’s you!).

As with any online marketplace, rules and regulations differ from city to city, so make sure you’re following any local health codes when hosting your dinner. Your guests will have the chance to review your meal and leave you a reference afterwards.

Offer Take-Out

Not sure if hosting dinner guests in your home is right for you? Other sites allow you to share take-out portions of your meal with friends and neighbors.

On LeftoverSwap and Shareyourmeal, let your neighbors know when you’ve made too much to eat. They can drop by to pick-up a take-home dinner, and can return the favor on a night when you’re too tired to cook.

Other services like Mealku connect local cooks with small businesses in need of catering. Kitchensurfing lets people hire you as a private chef. These sites are rolling out slowly, so jump on board and see if you can apply to be a featured chef in your city.

As with any skill, how much you can earn will depend on your experience. Professional chefs charge upwards of $75 per person on Kitchensurfing. Offerings on Shareyourmeal are more in line with standard take-out fare — $10 or so for a single portion.

Start a Meal Plan

Maybe you love the idea of sharing food, but you don’t want to make a business out of it. Why not start an old-school meal plan?

Mealsharing.com lets you connect with other food aficionados, but without the price-tag. It’s essentially the same framework as Feastly, de-commodified.

Consider using it to find other foodies in your neighborhood to start a cooking rotation. Each week, a different chef gets a turn to cook, with everyone contributing to buy bulk goods and ingredients. Eat at a different house each week, or meet at a central location.

When I lived in Los Angeles, 20+ members of my community took part in a cooking rotation. We each contributed $40 per month, which was enough to cover four meals per week. A meal plan is a great way to reduce food expenses while building up a vibrant food culture in your neighborhood.

Host a Food Tour

Can you combine your love of food with a local outing? Sites like Vayable let you offer custom tours and experiences to people visiting your city.

In Oakland, Ben L. takes guests to the farmers market and then brings them back to his home to offer a cooking class featuring the ingredients they just bought.

Why not show off your city and pair it with one of your favorite dishes? A trip to the local fish market followed by a homemade seafood dinner. A winery tour followed by a make-your-own-pizza lesson. The options are as diverse as the shelves in your pantry.

If cooking is your thing, there are more ways than ever to make some side-income at it. Be creative — both in the kitchen and outside of it — and see what works for you!

Your Turn: Which of these mealsharing options sounds most appealing to you?

Saul Of-Hearts is a writer and videographer based in Portland, OR. He’s written ebooks about Burning Man, the Sharing Economy and the peer-to-peer marketplace. He loves to help people discover unconventional ways to make a living.