How to Turn Your Love of Cooking Into Extra Cash

The food-sharing economy allows you to connect with diners in the market for everything from happy hour snacks to five-course dinners.

You know you are a great cook because people never turn down a dinner invitation and constantly press you to “go pro.” Maybe you’re a cooking professional who wants to make some extra money. Or maybe you would like to show off your excellent or unique food creations to a more general audience.

Now on the menu: techniques to share your gastronomic skills with others — and be paid to do so.

No fewer than a dozen new websites are matching people who love to cook with people who want to taste their wares. They include EatWith.com, Feastly, Eat With a Local and Cookapp (which lists by major cities), and many others are getting off the ground.

These sites are part of the emerging food-sharing economy and offer everything from simple bread and soup with locals to exquisite five-course dinners, according to Entrepreneur.

Eatwith.com is where home cook Avi Levy started his journey, and where he gets the paying customers who share his meals. As he explains:

“It’s not something I’m going to retire on, it’s not something that … I’m going to be able to do full time. But it’s something that when I do it, people leave and they’re happy, it just makes me feel really, really, really good.”

Here are some recommendations on how to serve up your new entree.

1. Learn what is legal

People looking at books.create jobs 51 / Shutterstock.com

Let’s get the legal and regulatory basics out of the way.

State and local rules and ordinances vary widely when applied to home-based businesses. In some localities, such food enterprises are verboten; in others, the health department may require food-service certification.

But, according to Entrepreneur, there are workarounds:

“In many cases, food for public consumption is not allowed to be prepared in home kitchens. Many localities and state (and/or city) departments of health require that home-based food entrepreneurs use commercial kitchens for food preparation. If this is the case in your area, you need to find a commercial kitchen to rent. Look in your local yellow pages or online for a commercial kitchen near you. (And make sure you figure the cost of kitchen leasing into your overall pricing strategy.)”

Entrepreneur also notes that you might need liability insurance in case anyone gets sick after eating one of your meals, and you should know whether any guests have food allergies or dietary restrictions.

As in any home business, you should conduct your business as a legal entity, according to “10 Tips for Starting a Home-Based Food Business,” published on the American Express website’s Open Forum.

“Whether as an LLC or corporation, the business owner should form an entity and operate the business as that company, as opposed to themselves individually,” says John Gerber, an attorney who deals with startups. “The legal entity, if properly managed, will keep the liabilities of the company separate from the assets of the individual owners.”

You might need to hire professionals to help you with things like marketing, managing your social media, doing your taxes – all tasks that take away from your main goal: Cooking.

2. Determine if there is a market for your type of food

Chef looking at food.Volodymyr Goinyk / Shutterstock.com

You could be the greatest meal-planner and cook in your neighborhood, but if there is no market for your specialties, then you don’t have a business, according to the Open Forum article.

You also need to realize that the amount you charge for a meal can make or break your enterprise. Spend time researching comparable products and determining your costs before setting prices, an Open Forum article suggests. For instance:

  • Recognize that prices for your materials will fluctuate.
  • Prices for the items that you will use on a daily basis, such as flour, butter and eggs, are not static and will change based on events in the economy and industry.
  • Buying in bulk when things are on sale can save considerable money.
  • You might also want to consider incorporating take-out food in your business plans.

3. Make your at-home culinary events a social experience

Happy women having dinner outside.Jack Frog / Shutterstock.com

According to the Penny Hoarder, most guests will be at your table for the social experience. They’ll get to meet other guests who share their passion for food, and maybe even learn some cooking tips from the chef (that’s you!).

This works particularly when you have out-of-towners in your home or, better yet, travelers from abroad who might not be familiar with your local cuisine.

EatWith founder Guy Michlin said the best experience he had on a Crete vacation was eating in the home of a local. On returning to his native Israel, he found a business partner and decided to start a website similar to Airbnb, but pairing travelers with home cooks instead of accommodations.

Airbnb is a website where you can rent places to stay from local hosts in more than 190 countries. (See “15 Steps to Profit by Renting Your Home to Visitors.”)

EatWith has set up operations in major cities around the globe, including New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Barcelona, Sao Paulo, Rome, Tel Aviv, Paris and Chicago.

Meal prices are set by the hosts, with EatWith getting a cut, and range from $30 to a few hundred dollars.

So go with your passion and make some money on the side by cooking. If you have more suggestions, please offer them below or on our Facebook page.

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