Cancellations: to charge, or not to charge?

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.

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