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Dave Hatfield

The economy and French restaurants: 2008-9

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I wonder what effect the current economic turmoil will have on the cost of dining in a 2 to 3 star resaturant.

Not a lot I suspect. Their main trade is the corporate diner & there's enough of them to keep things going. I think anyway.

Will be interesting to see.

I completely agree that those on vacation who try to cram too many 3 star meals into a short time are being pretty silly. Think there was a whole thread about this a while back.

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As for the issue about the economy, my theory (expounded elsewhere) that the top and bottom restos were doing fine and only the midranges suffering appears totally wrong; everybody's hurting, some of the big guys are empty twice a week at dinner (unheard of a year ago), the bar/cafe's are, according to the IHT, closing like venus flytraps and yes, for the last month the tables I've been at for lunch in mid-range places has been among the few occupied (places are averaging only 4-7 other customers), again unthinkable a year ago.

I'm headed for Paris in early December. I don't make restaurant reservations more than a day in advance so your comments are of great interest. I'm staying at a hotel with a three Michelin rosette restaurant. It will be easy to glance in and check the occupancy daily..

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As for the issue about the economy, my theory (expounded elsewhere) that the top and bottom restos were doing fine and only the midranges suffering appears totally wrong; everybody's hurting, some of the big guys are empty twice a week at dinner (unheard of a year ago), the bar/cafe's are, according to the IHT, closing like venus flytraps and yes, for the last month the tables I've been at for lunch in mid-range places has been among the few occupied (places are averaging only 4-7 other customers), again unthinkable a year ago.

I'm headed for Paris in early December. I don't make restaurant reservations more than a day in advance so your comments are of great interest. I'm staying at a hotel with a three Michelin rosette restaurant. It will be easy to glance in and check the occupancy daily..

I think you'll be safe; I make them the same day and only occasionally get caught up short (as with Le Passage last week). Today, though I'm glad I didn't just walk in, because the very reasonable price place (16 E = 3 courses) I went to (Petit Panisse) was chocablock full at 12h30 and spilling out into the street by 1 PM.

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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the very reasonable price place (16 E = 3 courses) I went to (Petit Panisse) was chocablock full at 12h30 and spilling out into the street by 1 PM.

Places that have good rapport qualite/prix will do well.There are not too many of them .Fortunately thanks to John Talbot they get discovered.

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I wonder what effect the current economic turmoil will have on the cost of dining in a 2 to 3 star resaturant.

Not a lot I suspect. Their main trade is the corporate diner & there's enough of them to keep things going. I think anyway.

Will be interesting to see.

I completely agree that those on vacation who try to cram too many 3 star meals into a short time are being pretty silly. Think there was a whole thread about this a while back.

Not enough corporate diners in Italy to keep the top restaurants going. A number will fail. See my last blog in Italy Dining.

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Not a lot I suspect. Their main trade is the corporate diner & there's enough of them to keep things going. I think anyway.

I'm not so sure. I've only been to two upscale suit and tie places this month but they're not doing well. As I've recounted, the big places are suffering. But the place I've already mentioned many times that I ate at today was comprised entirely of young local folk, in ties and not, but who knew their food, and it will survive - as our 2nd less bloody national anthem sung by Gloria Gaynor says.

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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I think more expensive places that rely on corporate expense accounts everywhere will be hurt. Companies are hurting - and excess is OUT - both as a matter of finances and style. I recently read an article that said companies which used to encourage employees to double up on hotel rooms when they were on the road are now encouraging employees to skip hotels altogether and crash with family and friends.

At the highest end places - I don't think prices will fall much - if at all. Food isn't getting any cheaper - and it is hard to reduce labor costs without affecting service levels. Places lower down on the totem pole have been and will probably continue to do things like rework menus - substituting cheaper items for more expensive ones - etc. Robyn

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Well, here's another guy that's rolling with the economic punch - Gerald Vié, ring a bell?, he of the pre-Gordon Ramsay Trois Marches/Trianon Palace in Versailles, who just opened Les Terrines de Gérard Vié at 79, rue du Cherche Midi in the 6th, 01.42.22.19.18, closed Sundays and Mondays and serves a formula of two dishes plus wine at lunch for 24 €. Francois Simon, this morning called it the “adresse du mois”. I'm not sure I'd go that far with 8 days left in November but it's pretty good chow (review to follow next week).


John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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As is my habitude, I'll not be posting my reviews en bloc until the end of the month, but this morning, in the Journal du Dimanche, Benoist Simmat quoted a Crédoc study showing that restaurant custom was down 30%, business by 8-15% and that it affected small neighborhood places, brasseries, theme places mid-range and one-stars but not the “grand tables, bistrots and fast food chains.”

Well, today I ate at Le Passage and it was definately not full versus a month ago when they were complet. The main Senderens upstairs looked full tho'. But even Senderens' second cost more than my SMIC allowance. Look not here for bargains.


John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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As for the issue about the economy, mvery goody theory (expounded elsewhere) that the top and bottom restos were doing fine and only the midranges suffering appears totally wrong; everybody's hurting, some of the big guys are empty twice a week at dinner (unheard of a year ago), the bar/cafe's are, according to the IHT, closing like venus flytraps and yes, for the last month the tables I've been at for lunch in mid-range places has been among the few occupied (places are averaging only 4-7 other customers), again unthinkable a year ago.

I'm headed for Paris in early December. I don't make restaurant reservations more than a day in advance so your comments are of great interest. I'm staying at a hotel with a three Michelin rosette restaurant. It will be easy to glance in and check the occupancy daily..

I checked into the Le Meurice hotel yesterday just about lunchtime and had a late lunch at Le Dali restaurant there which is also supervised by Alleno who looked into the room a couple of times. Service poor. Food mediocre. Definitely over priced . I'm so angry that I probably won't eat at the gastronomic restaurant. . Le Dali was basically full as was the Le Meurice restaurant. I booked Le Cinq at the Four Seasons for lunch today It was half full. Lunch was uneven. Nothing stood out foodwise but a half bottle of a 2005 Santenay was very good, The manager was the sommelier a few tears ago and the wine list is large and interesting. and includes many non-French wines. I think that the economy is taking its toll and the Michelin and the other guides will need significant revision.

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I think Julot has mentioned more than a few times that there are many restaurants - including higher end ones - where dinner is a much better meal than lunch. Perhaps the restaurants you dined at fell into that category?

We had a pretty good (and reasonably priced) dinner at Le Cinq - and the service was exceptional. I can say that even in early October - most of the people dining at the restaurant weren't hotel guests. They were locals - and people staying at other hotels who couldn't afford to stay at the George V. We had similar experiences at the bar at the hotel. Perhaps most hotel guests max out on their budget simply by staying in the hotel?

OTOH - lunch at Guy Savoy was fabulous. Perhaps one reason for good lunches there is there are lots of local "business regulars". Since this is one of the most reasonably priced excellent lunches in town - I would be curious to see how its business is doing. If it is really down - then I would conclude that the malaise is just about everywhere. Robyn

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I wish no one ill, but it would be refreshing if the current economic situation brought down the price of Grand Cru wines and truffles maybe, as demand dropped (in France and the U.S.).

I wonder what percentage of overhead in high-end restaurants goes to staff and decor, as opposed to ingredients whose prices might fluctuate more elastically in a downturn.


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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I think what will happen is that restaurants will need to focus more on lesser (not quality wise but simpler)/non luxury ingredients. Not everyone will be able to have the top of the line menu and to keep people coming in, as the bread & butter of the restaurant, I think chef's will start looking at using simpler ingredients more effectively.

It will be interesting to see who shines at this and who is going to struggle. I think a place such as L'Astrance, with no set menu, is in a prime position to steal customers from restaurants that use luxury items often... I also think food will become more market/season driven in that set menu's will become less common and what is best at the market will be seen on a daily menu. At least at the lesser/poorer (money wise) restaurants.

I also wonder if the cooking/food/meals will become a lot simpler. For the average joe (not so much us, the general public I mean), eating out I think will become a big deal financially and they will want less pizzazz(?) and more consistency. With us, most of us don't mind (I know its a generalization) spending a little more at a restaurant that's pushing boundaries. Because we are really in to food!

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I think Julot has mentioned more than a few times that there are many restaurants - including higher end ones - where dinner is a much better meal than lunch.  Perhaps the restaurants you dined at fell into that category?

We had a pretty good (and reasonably priced) dinner at Le Cinq - and the service was exceptional.  I can say that even in early October - most of the people dining at the restaurant weren't hotel guests.  They were locals - and people staying at other hotels who couldn't afford to stay at the George V.  We had similar experiences at the bar at the hotel.  Perhaps most hotel guests max out on their budget simply by staying in the hotel?

OTOH - lunch at Guy Savoy was fabulous.  Perhaps one reason for good lunches there is there are lots of local "business regulars".  Since this is one of the most reasonably priced excellent lunches in town - I would be curious to see how its business is doing.  If it is really down - then I would conclude that the malaise is just about everywhere.  Robyn

The service at Le Cinq was excellent. With regard to the Le Dali, a couple from Rome sitting at an adjacent table voiced the same opinion of the food and service there. I think that a restaurant with Michelin acclaim should have the same standards of excellence for all meals and all clients. I like Guy Savoy although the quantity of food is overwhelming.

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I think what will happen is that restaurants will need to focus more on lesser (not quality wise but simpler)/non luxury ingredients. Not everyone will be able to have the top of the line menu and to keep people coming in, as the bread & butter of the restaurant,  I think chef's will start looking at using simpler ingredients more effectively.

It will be interesting to see who shines at this and who is going to struggle. I think a place such as L'Astrance, with no set menu, is in a prime position to steal customers from restaurants that use luxury items often... I also think food will become more market/season driven in that set menu's will become less common and what is best at the market will be seen on a daily menu. At least at the lesser/poorer (money wise) restaurants.

I also wonder if the cooking/food/meals will become a lot simpler. For the average joe (not so much us, the general public I mean), eating out I think will become a big deal financially and they will want less pizzazz(?) and more consistency. With us, most of us don't mind (I know its a generalization) spending a little more at a restaurant that's pushing boundaries. Because we are really in to food!

I wonder if a restaurant can keep its stars while adopting less expensive ingredients and simpler preparations. And what the trade-of would be between maintaining high quality but losing a star versus becoming a more affordable option for more diners.


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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I wonder if a restaurant can keep its stars while adopting less expensive ingredients and simpler preparations. And what the trade-of would be between maintaining high quality but losing a star versus becoming a more affordable option for more diners.

Not unless Michelin, as a star dispenser, change their criteria. Since the criteria are not very transparent to begin with, that might happen, who knows.

During the second half of the 1970s, following the first oil crisis, things changed pretty much the way Roosterchef is describing. Of course cheap restauration was still alive but it was not concerned by the crisis. Upper-end or mid-range dining was. Then Guy Savoy came along with his chef bistrots and gave new nobility to cheap fishes, petit salé aux lentilles, stuffed tomatoes and green bean salad. (Some say he was not the first and Michel Rostang was. I will not go into that.) But the late 70s were the time when an additional step was placed on the restaurant ladder, between true bistrots/brasseries and bourgeois/high-end restaurants. Truly moderately-priced at the time, these new bistrots (the term néobistrot had not been invented yet) were the first examples of the bistrot such as it is known today.

I think it likely that the times we are into now will generate similar transformations. Not only in the restaurant scene, but in home cooking as well. Cooking courses have become a craze, they are certainly a fad in some ways, but they are the answer to a need.


Edited by Ptipois (log)

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I like Guy Savoy although the quantity of food is overwhelming.

I especially liked all the dessert courses :smile: . I am Jewish - and we had lunch there the day before Yom Kippur (day of fasting - which starts in the evening). Not a bad way to start a fast :biggrin: . Robyn

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I wish no one ill, but it would be refreshing if the current economic situation brought down the price of Grand Cru wines and truffles maybe, as demand dropped (in France and the U.S.).

I wonder what percentage of overhead in high-end restaurants goes to staff and decor, as opposed to ingredients whose prices might fluctuate more elastically in a downturn.

Can't remember where I read it - WSJ? - but the recent truffle auction went badly. Prices down more than 50% from last year. Bad crop? Lousy economy? Or perhaps a combination of both. I can't remember. Robyn

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Can't remember where I read it - WSJ? - but the recent truffle auction went badly.  Prices down more than 50% from last year.  Bad crop?  Lousy economy?  Or perhaps a combination of both.  I can't remember.  Robyn

It was believed to be the economy. A concierge, one of a large corps, at my hotel called Ledoyen yesterday afternoon for a reservation for lunch today for me alone and it was made. Never on previous trips was this possible. Le Meurice restaurant is thriving as far as I can tell.

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I wonder what percentage of overhead in high-end restaurants goes to staff and decor, as opposed to ingredients whose prices might fluctuate more elastically in a downturn.

I couldn't swear to it - but I recall that on average a restaurant must charge about 3 times what its ingredients cost to make a modest profit. In many restaurants - sales of alcohol make the difference between a loss and a profit. And there are many other overhead items other than employees and decorating. How about rent (or mortgage payments if one owns instead of renting) and associated items like utility costs - numerous forms of insurance (everything from liability to workers' comp to health insurance in some places) - licenses and taxes and other fees - etc. I don't know exactly how it works in France - but - in a lot of US restaurants - the servers survive on tiny wages and tips (I know French servers earn a higher basic wage - but I don't know the details). Robyn

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Places that have good rapport qualite/prix will do well.There are not too many of them .Fortunately thanks to John Talbot they get discovered.

I think you are right, I went to Itineraires last night and it was packed. I asked the owner if the crise had made a difference in their business and she said no, not at all.


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I wish no one ill, but it would be refreshing if the current economic situation brought down the price of Grand Cru wines and truffles maybe, as demand dropped (in France and the U.S.).

I wonder what percentage of overhead in high-end restaurants goes to staff and decor, as opposed to ingredients whose prices might fluctuate more elastically in a downturn.

On the first note let me say that it is already the case. Auctions have been lucky to make the reserves (which are moving lower) and many fine older wines are changing hands now for a 30% discount from a year or two ago. This is true here in the USA. I do not know about London but I assume the same is true or else the auction houses would just sell all the wine there instead.

2005 Burgundies are selling for well below their original release prices and can be found in stores.

On the second note, food costs are around 30% for most restaurants. That is a standard in business models and of course will fluctuate depending on many other factors. If a small bistro is in a low rent district or better yet the building is owned by the chef he/she can devote more money to ingredients. The deflationary spiral the worlds economies are in now has yet to find its way to things like truffles.


David West

A.K.A. The Mushroom Man

Founder of http://finepalatefoods.com/

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Places that have good rapport qualite/prix will do well.There are not too many of them .Fortunately thanks to John Talbot they get discovered.

I think you are right, I went to Itineraires last night and it was packed. I asked the owner if the crise had made a difference in their business and she said no, not at all.

Today, Chardenoux was over-flowing for somewhat dodgy food.

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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I book dozens of restaurants per day, and I and my colleagues have really been surprised at how difficult it is to obtain tables in the top establishments lately (ie, since "la crise")- the Michelin starred establishments certainly don't seem to be lacking a clientelle.


Anti-alcoholics are unfortunates in the grip of water, that terrible poison, so corrosive that out of all substances it has been chosen for washing and scouring, and a drop of water added to a clear liquid like Absinthe, muddles it." ALFRED JARRY

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To return to the subtitle of this topic about where to eat in these economic times, Jean-Claude Ribault in this Wednesday-Thursday’s Le Monde wrote about how chefs are adapting to the economic crisis (predicting a fall of 30% in business in ’09) and finds the following:

Le Café du Commerce offering a “family menu” of familiar favorites at 19.50 €,

Les Terrines de Gérard Vié, serving lots of terrines, etc., on a formula at 24 and menu-carte at 34 €,

Le Zebra Square, serving Lebanese mezzes, 9 cold for 16 or 7 hot for 18 €,

Six New York, offering solid food on menu-cartes of 30 and 35 €,

L’Escarbille in Meudon, one star, offers a 44 € menu,

Mori Venice Bar, offering a 40 € menu, supposedly indexed to the CAC 40,

Taillevent's menu at 80 €,

Lasserre's at 75 €,

Savoy still 100 €,

And Ducasse’s places offering truffles at market cost until March 13th.


John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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