In the past, concierge services were available only to guests at posh hotels. Today, just about anyone can pick up the phone and have their personal concierge buy tickets to the theater, shop for and send gifts to a long list of valued clients, or plan an elaborate party. With the results of a recent survey by The Families and Work Institute showing the average worker spends 44 hours a week on the job (an increase of 3.5 hours from 1977), the concept of a personal assistant begins to look very attractive for those who can afford it. "Downsizing has really put pressure on the white-collar work force in terms of longer hours and less free time," says Jim Proser, founder and president of Los Angeles-based Elite Concierges. "And these individuals are truly feeling the need for daily assistance."
While there is little information on the growth of this industry as a whole (the National Concierge Association was founded only last year), several concierge companies, including Capitol Concierge in Washington, DC, and LesConcierges in San Francisco, are now doing more than $1 million in sales per year.
Fast food, takeout or TV dinner? Busy families, working couples and culinarily-challenged singles-with stomachs turning at the thought of eating one more hamburger or slice of pizza-are paying personal chefs to come into their homes to prepare gourmet dinners that can be frozen and reheated for quick, easily prepared meals.
"People are just too tired to cook when they come home from a long day at work," says Becky Trowbridge, 38, who started Marvelous Meals, a personal chef service in Dana Point, California, in 1996.
"When we do all the planning, shopping, preparation and cleanup, clients don't have to do anything except approve the menu, come home and heat it up," says David MacKay, founder of the U.S. Personal Chef Association (USPCA). There are currently about 1,800 personal chefs nationwide, and the USPCA projects their ranks will grow to more than 5,000 over the next five years. Chefs most often work alone, serving between 15 and 20 clients, but some bring in additional help to increase sales. With the USPCA predicting industry sales to reach $100 million by 2000, it smells like something is really cooking in this industry.