It’s inevitable that at some point during your relationship with your client(s), either you or the client will need to cancel a cook date on short notice. Like all aspects of personal cheffing, there are many different ways of dealing with it. Some chefs have a firm cancellation policy; if a client cancels with less than x days notice – a week, 48 hours, etc – the client pays either a fixed fee or a portion of the cookdate fee (or heck, even the whole fee.) Similar to when you cancel a massage or a nail appointment on short notice. I agree with this in theory, and I’ve paid a cancellation fee a time or two myself, when I’ve had to bail on appointments. It happens, it sucks, you try not to do it too often.
However. As a PC, I don’t generally charge my clients a cancellation fee, although I do have language to that effect in the service agreement I have all clients sign. (It’s there for me to enact when I feel I need to, which I think would be if a client abused my easy-going nature and cancelled on me constantly.) If a client calls me and says shoot, I just found out, we both have business trips next week and we just won’t need the meals…I say ok; see you next time. If they call and say ack! everyone here is sick, don’t come this week; I say thanks for the heads up; see you next time. Things happen; I don’t penalize them for it.
The main reason for this is because of something that happened recently. I needed to cancel, on short notice, for clients whom I know depend on my meals. There was nothing I could do about it; it was a family situation, and after all, we work for ourselves so we can work for ourselves, right? (And that’s no fun if the boss is a tightass). So I had to call cancel several clients’ cookdates (the downside of a full schedule: no place to move people when you want to reschedule). I expected them to say something to the effect “Ok, that sucks, see you next time,” which they did. But they wouldn’t very likely do that if I had charged them for canceling when they had a similar last-minute situation.
Now, if you get calls or emails the night before your cook date saying “You know, we kind of have a lot of food left from last time, we really don’t need you to come…”well, that’s a little different. You need to educate the client that you’ve reserved that slot for them; that a lot of work goes into preparing for their cookdate before you show up at their door; that it’s necessary for all clients to commit to a schedule. Maybe you’ll give a client a freebie – just one – before you gently remind them of the cancellation fee in your agreement. Maybe not – maybe you’ll say hey, this is my business, and I need to rely on that income. That is definitely a good way to go too. Whatever you do, just remember – it’s your business, and you should run it the way that suits you best. Ideally, you’ll find a sweet spot that’s both good for you and good for your clients.