Thursday, May 27, 2010

For What It's Worth...

Well Hallelujah! Turns out, cooking all of those dinners for my son’s volleyball team was a good bet after all. Don't get me wrong, I really wanted to cook for the boys and enjoyed the process---mostly. There were times when I'd gotten so caught up in reading thru recipes and testing variations that would travel well, I'd forgotten appointments made weeks, sometimes months earlier. And of course, there are mornings and afternoons of tasting involved, which can lead to regret when you're suddenly reminded of that special girlfriends only birthday dinner taking place that night. Fortunately, the team parents generously contributed to the cost of food, but what was I thinking when I didn't even consider charging them a wee bit more to pay for my time and all that running back and forth with a carful of hot food? And carrying heavy cases of bottled water?

As hoped, the exposure my cooking received from those wonderfully sweet and appreciative boys, led to acquiring my very first client for No Reservations. She's not even family! Nor is she a close friend, in fact I don't really even know her. But her son likes my food and she is hiring me to cook for a wedding shower this summer and I'm delighted.

But get this---after spending time wondering why we women have a tendency to short change ourselves when putting a dollar amount to the services we provide, and asserting I would not become a victim of my own insecurity, I quoted a very low figure to this woman. As a result, I lay awake half the night asking WHY did I do the very thing I declared I would never do?

And it dawned on me. Yes, part of the reason is that I'm still not convinced that anyone would actually PAY for my food. Don't they know I'm just a wanna-be chef? Okay, maybe others don't enjoy cooking with the passion that I have, but still.

The other part of the equation, at least for me, is that I really want to make people happy. I have this urge to take care of others, to rescue them, to give them sustenance. And I really want to make this lovely lady happy. And I don't even know her! Is this an inherently female thing?

When I look at the businesses my girlfriends, strong women all, are running, they share a common trait. They all make people feel happy or safe or secure or taken care of. In fact, my own career history reflects this too--executive assistant, child and family therapist, stay-at-home mom, budding home chef.

So I'd love to hear from you on this topic. Are character traits, like self-confidence, ambition, empathy & a need to nurture, to some extent ingrained in our genetic DNA? Is there really such a thing as "a feminine or masculine side"? Do you think it's nature or nurture that brings out these qualities? There was a time I thought I knew the answer to this, but now I’m not so sure. What do you think?


  1. Raising boy/girl twins is a daily lesson in nature/nurture and gender tendencies!! Dalia has always made sure that Ben receives whatever treat or snack she has....whereas Ben will usually just try to snatch hers away-- hiding it or gobbling it down as quickly as possible. However, she has now learned to model him at times--using whatever force her tiny body has to grab something of his, and chuck it as far into the bushes as she can, while she laughs....LOL! He, in turn, has learned from her to "be gentle" and when he wants to connect with her he switches into a very distinctive "cuddle" mode with her, hugging her and mewing like a little baby kitty.......

  2. Hey Suzanne,
    I'm having fun reading about your adventure. You write very personably and engagingly and it's fun to keep abreast of your project and your progress.
    I think your thesis that it's particularly women who undervalue themselves is, in my experience, not really the case. There may be some kind of gender differences but I think that the inclination to not charge enough transcends genders and industries. Pricing is one of the most difficult things to do correctly. ("If I charge too much, will I be turning away potential business? If I'm charging too little, in addition to not making enough money, am I somehow sending a message that my product is less valuable than the other offerings in the mktplace?")
    The real difference, I think, lies in people starting up a new business vs. people who've been out in the marketplace a while. When you're starting out, there's more of a tendency to undervalue the services you provide. You need to draw some attention to yourself and you, consequently put your products out there at a very attractive price. The more you're out there, the more you realize what the marketplace will bear, the more you have the confidence to recognize that your product is every bit as good and valuable as your competitor's and, in time, if you have a product that truly has value, your prices will likely catch up to what your customers will pay.
    Most important, however, I'm writing because of an observation I've made. It seems that you have a lots of female friends who are followers/tasters. Half of the people eating your food are likely to be men. I think it's time to widen your circle of taste testers. You let us know what's on the menu. We'll provide the appetites.
    Thanks again for sharing......

  3. Hey Andy, Your comments are all well-taken and I know them to be mostly true. But I have spoken to a couple of professional women who've been successful in their careers for quite some time, who've told me they still have moments in which they "feel badly" charging their full fee. What's that about? Also, thank you so much for reminding me to send my soon-to-be No Reservations homepage & menu to MEN. Fer cryin out loud, a man's gotta eat too! Thank you for reading/commenting and reminding me EVERYone's gotta eat! xx

  4. In my most recent career, as a writer, I find that being underpaid goes with the territory! Not a whole lot you can do about it, except maybe write "Harry Potter"...!
    I think those who are hesitant to ask to be paid what they're worth are often reluctant to ask for other things too, like kindness, or respect. And I also think this is not limited to us chicks...I know dudes who have the same issues.....

  5. As a newcomer to your blog, I must say I am very impressed. I always thought you were funny and charming but never knew you had such a talent as a writer. You definitely translate your personality well into the written language. I must say that I feel a lot like you do with feeling like there are inequities in the way woman are compensated or not vs. men. I recently read a great book that surprised me with how little things have changed for women since the early 1900's. The book is called "Loving Frank." In any case I think it's always hard to judge what we are worth. I am constantly thinking about what various people charge hourly that I pay (tutors, coaches, housekeepers/nannies, plumbers, gardeners, etc) against the fee I charge for legal work when it's not on a percentage. I also end up doing favors for friends who plead poverty and need a contract to be reviewed that always turns out to take much longer than the friend thought. Nevertheless, I'm sure you know this but look at the outrageous prices that Gelson's, Whole Foods and gourmet shops like Joan's on 3rd or La Brea Bakery charge and go from there. I haven't had the pleasure of indulging in one of your meals (no I am not inviting myself over!!!) but from the sounds of your descriptions and the beautiful pictures, you are worth just as much. Don't undersell yourself because once you do it's hard to raise the prices. It's much easier to lower prices than it is to raise them.
    Looking forward to more posts and congratulations on finding the next and hardest chapter (in my opinion as it's much easier to reinvent at 30 or 40 than at 50).