Adventures in Outsourcing: Cooking with TaskRabbit

January 11, 2017

10 minute read

Overview

For the past few years, I’ve been outsourcing tasks from my daily life whenever possible. I tend to be more limited in time than money, so if paying $30 can save me an hour, I consider that a good deal.

I recently started experimenting with the keto diet, which focuses on low carbs. I’ve had good experience with the diet, but it limits what food delivery I can order, as BBQ, deli sandwiches, pizza, etc. do not fit the diet.

Fortunately, there are many sites that offer free keto recipes. My favorite is ruled.me, but I also use a recipe curation newletter to find new sources. The recipes look great online, but the road from online recipes to actual meals is paved with cooking. And I don’t like cooking.

I thought this would be a good opportunity to experiment with outsourcing — I choose the recipes and hire someone else to handle the rest.

Enter TaskRabbit

TaskRabbit is a service that allows you to hire people for small tasks. They specialize in handyman type tasks, like home repair or furniture assembly, but the range of possible tasks is pretty broad. You can hire someone to stand in line for you, run your errands, or attend birthday parties on your behalf.

TaskRabbit homepage

I’ve used TaskRabbit to find apartment cleaners and a handyman to wall-mount my TV. These were generally positive experiences, so TaskRabbit seemed like a good fit for outsourcing my home cooking.

Finding a TaskRabbit to do it all

Since I was approaching this as a way to save time, I figured the way to save the most time would be if the TaskRabbit not only did the cooking, but the shopping as well. Shopping is a common task on TaskRabbit, and the workers can invoice clients for reimbursement.

My trial recipes were Bacon Wrapped Stuffed Pork Tenderloin and Neapolitan Fat Bombs. I didn’t have many of the ingredients on hand, so it seemed like it would be simple to just say, “buy everything except for salt, olive oil, and pepper.”

Not so much…

The first person I reached out to charged $29/hr for cooking and had 100% positive reviews, including two cooking tasks. I offered her the job, and she promptly declined. This was strange. I’d never had a TaskRabbit reject a job before.

I found another that charged $22/hr with 86% positive reviews. She messaged me to say she’d do the cooking but wasn’t willing to do any shopping. Determined to find someone to handle everything, I thanked her and continued looking.

Finally, I found a third qualified canddiate, who enthusiastically… declined.

Simplifying the job

I had to simplify things.

The TaskRabbit workers seemed to dislike the idea of the combined shopping and cooking job. I eliminated the shopping aspect and reduced the job to strictly cooking.

My new problem was that TaskRabbit doesn’t allow you to re-offer the job to people who have already turned it down, so I had inadvertently eliminated my top three candidates.

Finally finding a match

The best remaining option was a young woman named Leah. She charged $26/hr with a 73% rating, which is a worryingly low score by TaskRabbit standards. She only had one cooking review, which was a thumbs-down with no explanation from the reviewer.

Leah seemed like a risky bet, but I had an ace up my sleeve: I don’t care that much about food. Or rather, I don’t have very discriminating taste in food. My standards for a satisfying meal are probably much more lenient than those of the majority of people that would hire and review a TaskRabbit chef.

I offered Leah the job, and she accepted. Within a few minutes, we had scheduled an appointment for two days later.

The first meal

Leah showed up right on time the evening she was scheduled. I showed her my kitchen, handed her the printed recipes, and she was off to work.

The process went very smoothly. She cooked for a little over two hours. I took advantage of the extra free time she afforded me and worked on my current software project. It’s awkward having a stranger in my house , but the kitchen is isolated enough from the rest of the apartment that we both had a decent amount of privacy. At times, I forgot she was there.

When she was done, she told me I could take the pork tenderloin out of the oven in ten minutes, the pepper and broccoli were finished on the stove, and that the neapolitan fat bombs were in the freezer. She had wiped down my countertops and cleaned my dishes. When the tenderloin was ready, I took it out and was delighted. It looked great and tasted fantastic.

Finished pork tenderloin and side Finished pork tenderloin on baking sheet
Bacon Wrapped Stuffed Pork Tenderloin: finished product.

The experience went pretty much exactly as I had wanted it to. I’ve hired Leah to cook three more times since then, and I’ve been pleased with the results every time.

How much does it cost?

When I tell people I’m doing this, the first thing they ask is, “How much does it cost?” Until I sat down to write this post, I wasn’t sure.

It’s easy to calculate the cost of hiring a TaskRabbit because I get a bill at the end of each session. It’s much harder to determine the cost of ingredients. I don’t buy all the ingredients for a meal at the same time, and I can’t buy the exact amount of each ingredient that a recipe calls for.

Figuring out ingredient costs

The most straightforward way to account for ingredient costs is to amortize by the amount that the recipe requires. For example, if a recipe calls for 3 oz of cream cheese, and an 8 oz package costs $3.49, the amortized cost of that ingredient is $1.31 (⅜ * $3.49).

This is a very conservative estimate because many of my of recipes call for ingredients that spoil, so I end up having to throw ingredients away when I can’t use them in other meals. There are also ingredients that don’t spoil quickly, but will be difficult to use completely, like powdered Ranch dressing. The smallest amount I could buy was $14.03 for a 16 oz container, but the recipe only called for 2 tsp, or $0.29 worth. It has a shelf life of about 5 months, but it’s going to be tough finding more recipes that call for powdered Ranch dressing. Overall, I probably lose about $3-6 per cooking session to suboptimal ingredient purchasing.

By the numbers

The tables below show my full costs for each cooking session. I bought all the ingredients from Amazon and a grocery delivery service called FreshDirect. The labor costs include the TaskRabbit’s hourly rate and all taxes and fees.

Session 1

Item Cost
Bacon Wrapped Stuffed Pork Tenderloin (4 servings) $26.69
Neapolitan Fat Bombs (24 servings) $19.30
Labor (2 hrs, 15 mins) $62.88
Total $108.87

Session 2

Item Cost
Applewood Seared Pork Chops (4 servings) $13.39
Garlic and Bacon Brussels Sprouts (4 servings) $10.11
Ultimate Keto Chocolate Brownies (16 servings) $24.14
Labor (2 hrs, 15 mins) $62.88
Total $110.51

Session 3

Item Cost
Creamy Spinach Pork Tenderloin Roulade (4 servings) $15.02
Green Beans with Olive Oil (4 servings) $4.08
Delicious Chocolate Keto Brownies (16 servings) $9.08
Neapolitan Fat Bombs (24 servings) $19.30
Labor (3 hours) $83.85
Total $131.33

Session 4

Item Cost
Simple Chicken Parmesan (4 servings) $30.11
Cheesy Creamed Spinach (4 servings) $8.86
Raspberry Cheesecake Cupcakes (12 servings) $15.03
Labor (2 hours) $55.90
Total $109.89

ProsperBot screenshot

How does this compare to restaurant delivery?

TaskRabbit cooking has taken the place of restaurant delivery for me. I still cook some of my own meals, like scrambled eggs or steak, but I’ve stopped ordering from restaurants almost entirely.

Cost: Tie

In my case, the cost for TaskRabbit home cooking is roughly equal to the cost of ordering delivery.

In Session 4, for example, the cost works out to around $20 for each entrée and $2.50 for each dessert (the cheesecake cupcakes were amazing, by the way). That cost assumes optimal use of ingredients, so in practice, it’s probably $1-2 higher per meal.

With restaurant delivery, I tend to spend around $10-20 on lunches and $15-30 on dinners, including tax, tip, and fees. Overall, I’d say it’s a wash between the two.

Time management: TaskRabbit wins

When I order food from a restaurant, it arrives anywhere from 20 to 90 minutes later. It’s difficult for me to be productive in the meantime because I can’t fully focus when I know an interruption is coming.

With a TaskRabbit chef, I get several meals that I can freeze for the week. When I want these meals later, I can just eat them as soon as I’m hungry. This eliminates unpredictable interruptions and gives me much better control of my time.

Nutritional choices: TaskRabbit wins

As discussed in the introduction, there are not many restaurant delivery options that match my preferred diet. Even among restaurants that have options that seem low carb, it’s rare for the restaurant to provide exact nutritional information. With TaskRabbit cooking, I know exactly what’s in my food, which allows me to make more informed choices about what I eat.

What I learned

This experience made me realize that I find cooking very exciting when I don’t have to do it.

I have friends who become enthusiastic just from reading recipes, and I’ve never been able to relate to that. I just think about how all the work of cooking isn’t worth the effort for me. But now that I’ve separated choosing a recipe from the effort of cooking, I find it really fun. I’ll scroll through recipes and think, “Wow, I can’t wait to schedule Leah so I can eat that!”

What’s next?

One shortcoming of this arrangement is that I burn a lot of time searching for good recipes and managing the ingredients. A friend suggested that I’m probably paying a rate close to what hourly chefs charge, so I’m investigating whether it’s feasible to hire a private chef outside of TaskRabbit who either brings their own ingredients to me or cooks in their own kitchen and delivers to me.

Tips for hiring TaskRabbit chefs

Buy your own ingredients

In my experience, asking the TaskRabbit to both cook and shop limits the workers who will be interested in the job and introduces too much complexity into the task. You’d have to communicate what to buy, how much is okay to spend, reimburse them, and figure out fair pay if the rate they charge for shopping tasks differs from their cooking rate.

Prep the kitchen

I make sure to have everything prepared to go by the time my TaskRabbit arrives. Recipes are printed, counters are clear, ingredients are ready.

One thing I find easy to forget is clearing space in my fridge or freezer for recipes that need to be chilled or frozen. Leah has kindly rearranged my refrigerator space for me when I’ve forgotten, but I’d rather let her focus on cooking.

Give a tour

After the first session, I found that some of the kitchen tools I expected Leah to need (e.g. measuring spoons, spatula) were unused. I realized that she probably didn’t notice that I had them and decided to make do without.

After that, I organized my kitchen so that all of my cooking tools were in more obvious places. The next time Leah came to cook, I walked her through what I had available and showed her where to find everything.

Check in after to solicit feedback

Related to the above, I realized that Leah was probably uncomfortable telling me that I was missing kitchen equipment that she needed. If I wanted to find out about problems, I’d need to ask her. Aside from that, she’s in my home working for me, so I wanted to make sure I was treating her with respect and fostering a good work environment.

After the first session, I reached out to Leah to ask if there were any changes I could make to the process or to my kitchen setup to improve the work experience for her. Interestingly, she brought up my Magic Bullet, a small blender I use for its ease of cleaning. She told me that it works great for liquids, but not so well for mixing dry ingredients. She recommended an immersion blender, so I ordered a basic one from Amazon for $50. Easy peasy.

I’ve made this feedback check a regular practice, and it continues to bring forth useful suggestions from Leah. Many of her recommendations have come in handy even when I’m just cooking for myself.

Don’t add a tip

This one’s not so much a recommendation, just what I choose to do.

TaskRabbit allows you to add tip, but from what I’ve read online, adding a tip is not the norm. I think tipping culture is net negative, so I don’t tip for things unless it’s a strongly implied part of the cost, such as restaurants or taxis. Each TaskRabbit worker chooses their own rate for the services they offer, so it doesn’t make sense to add a tip on top of that.

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