Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Sign in to follow this  
Dave Hatfield

The economy and French restaurants: 2008-9

Recommended Posts

John, what about the notion that if there is deflation and slackening demand, the price of raw materials will fall. Maybe even the Caspian Sea will become nicely restocked with Beluga and Osetra sturgeon eggs.

It's not just the classic equation of supply and demand within a closed economy, but of a drastically reduced supply of food on a global scale which is already hitting the third world and which is beginning to reach us as well. My paper for the Oxford Symposium, "Eating the Earth", goes into this in exhaustive detail, but you can skip to Gwynne Dyer's brilliant wrap-up which I quote at length as a postscript.

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Friday, Jean Claude Ribaut wrote an article about now being the time to go out to eat due to the following:

- Pierre Borgen of La Cabane in Guérande (Loire-Atlantique), letting customers pay what they think the meal is worth,

- Guy Savoy, letting 12-17 yo adolescents eat for free with two paying adults at Chiberta, L'Atelier Maître Albert + Les Bouquinistes and 15-17 yo’s at the mother ship,

- More menus "à prix fixe" with the Michelin getting 900 places in all of France which until April 5th will offer reduced price meals if you have the pass in the ’09 Guide,

- Alain Ducasse, with the 100 chefs of the Châteaux - Hôtels de France Group, offering a 28 € lunch menu from now til May 15th; he commends that at l’Assiette as an example,

- Antoine Heerah’s Chamarré Montmartre which had a jerky start, tightening up it’s menu with a lunch formula at 17 € and menu at 25 €, a “windfall,”

- In Paris as well, L'Aventure offering lunch for 50 €; Alain Senderens’ Mama Shelter, offering a lunch formula at 25 €; Ivano at Le R-ital, {don’t ask}, offering a lunch formula at 18,50 € and dinner at about 35 €; the chic Montalembert offering a less pricey meal; L'Alcazar, a lunch menu at 26 € (midi) and daily special at night for 25 € and Olympe, a lunch menu at 33 €.


John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Mathilde Visseyrias in Figaro wrote today that coffee sitting down now costs on average 1,73 € (with a min-max of 1-6 €), the plat du jour averages 9,67 € (2-39,90 €) and menus 12,95 € on average (5-48 €.)


John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Good quality (though not luxe) ingredients and creativity are more important than ever. Anyone with skill can make a tasty dish from luxe ingredients, but creativity is important to make interesting dishes with mundane ingredients, thus the rise of the bistronomic phenomenon.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Here's the reason why I am spending more time in Italy chasing honesty, impeccable produce and time-honored and time-tested local and regional traditions. It's also unfortunate that it's happening everywhere, just more so with ego-centered cuisine.

Comments? Traction, I hope.

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=206...id=a3v3g_nzVhYQ

I read the article, which seems to be just a silly repeat of similar articles talking about how the « crise » has affected the restaurant business, with depressed Parisians opting for bargain prices and buying nearly expired food at rock bottom prices. Nothing profound, nor very interesting. I have to say, luckily I don’t recognize the Paris he writes about. My Sunday market, where I do most of my shopping, is still packed and I need to go early if I want to beat the long lines at my favorite stand whose prices are pretty steep but products impeccable, with homemade butter, fresh eggs, and some of the best pork chops that can be had. The restaurants I have been to don’t seem to be suffering either, with tables in some of my favorite places hard to get. And my friends don’t seem any more depressed than usual, and I don’t hear much talk about the crise. So, please don’t think the author is describing France as it is, in my opinion, they were just trying to sell a story, and a bad one at that.


www.parisnotebook.wordpress.com

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Went to Sormani yesterday, and the way Pascal Fayet responded to the crisis is by creating a Robuchon-like all included 60€ lunch menu (ie with wine, water, coffee -- 60€ is the bill). Now this may not sound like a great deal (given as it is, after all, mostly pasta) but keep in mind that this was always a ridiculously expensive restaurant and that they are spectacularly generous (they typically offer at least one extra course if you'd like, would serve off-menu items in the menu, almost always adds some drinks).

I always thought that this was a place I'd love if only it wasn't that expensive. Sometimes, dream come true, and sometimes there's some upside to tough economic times.

Some pics here: http://picasaweb.google.fr/ZeJulot/Sormani#


Edited by julot-les-pinceaux (log)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As usual, Robert Brown has got it right. Anyone who’s been paying attention to the financial markets knows that the prognosis for the food markets is equally unrosy.

Meanwhile, we’re off to Lyon, where Jean-Paul Lacombe has seen the handwriting on the ledger and relaunched his Michelin-starred Leon de Lyon as an up-market brasserie. We look forward to being able to afford it.


John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Phyllis, you do right to mention the silver lining, which is the establishments with integrity and of retained culinary will survive. A good shakeout is beneficial in the long run. I feel like I'm reliving the late 1970s and early 1990s where the greedy people--those who thought the good times would never-end got their comeuppance. Unfortunately sometimes the people who deserve to stay on don't or can't, which is always sad.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As someone who lives in a relatively low cost area of the US - I have to shake my head. The basic problem in France is that everything costs too much (including government health care - ask the cab driver who took us to CDG) and people don't make enough money to compensate for the high costs. We had an ok time in Paris - but - although I am far from a poor or value-oriented traveler - I thought the prices were ridiculous. 60 euros for lunch at a place I never heard of before a good deal? There's hardly a restaurant where I live where one could possibly spend that much for dinner.

So now that the Russian billionaires are gone - and the US hedge fund types are gone - etc. - where does Paris go from here? Robyn

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
The basic problem in France is that everything costs too much (including government health care - ask the cab driver who took us to CDG)

You might check this statement with any fellow-American who has recently lost health insurance along with employment.

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
All I meant to say was that I don’t think that everyone in France is eating 1€ sandwiches and are going to forgo fresh produce and shop at Noz or “discount plus” because of the economy.  The restaurants I have been to which were packed were all very good ratio/qualité prix and were the kind of places you are talking about, places which offer honest cooking, good products, and reasonable prices (the only kind of places I like to go to anyway).  It is my hope that these places will excel during these hard times, and that the crappy places that offer junk for the same price or higher won’t.  If I can only afford to eat out once a month, I want to make sure it is good.  This is my experience crise or no crise as I have a pretty limited budget and hate to waste a dinner on something mediocre.

And of course people are talking about the economy, I just don’t think it’s the only topic when people go out to dinner with friends.  I was comparing my experience to the woman the author quotes who says “her outings with friends now are more depressing than entertaining… All we talk about is the crisis”.  Thankfully I haven’t had this experience (yet!), but certainly didn’t mean to say that people aren’t talking about it at all.

I totally agree with Phyllis, and I wonder when journalists who write that sort of articles will ever get it right. Never, I suppose, for I believe they know the contents even before they have started writing.

I gather with friends sometimes, neither among us is particularly privileged, things are tougher this year than the year before, but we never talk about "la crise", mostly because there isn't much to say about it that bears any interest. Whatever "la crise" is actually. Perhaps the lady quoted in the article should stop gathering with friends altogether if doing so proves so depressing.

Recession or not, I see no sign of depression at street markets, and I believe that many people confronted with a shortage of money do just as I do there: keep buying good products because they are more nutritive and a little goes a long way. You save nothing by purchasing low-quality products. And since it is important that the current economy crisis does not destroy small producers, I insist on buying from them more than ever before.

And Paris bistrots and middle-range restaurants are fuller than ever. High-end dining is suffering, but even in that case, not all of it is. It would be interesting to know why L'Ambroisie is doing badly and L'Astrance and L'Arpège are full. Last night I was at Le Châteaubriand and it was packed as usual. One chef of another one of these medium-priced, good-quality Paris bistrots was telling me the other day that he just got a visit from his neighbor, a famous three-star chef, lamenting that his restaurant had lost most of its customers. "Of course, you fool, said my friend. They're all at my place."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
As someone who lives in a relatively low cost area of the US - I have to shake my head.  The basic problem in France is that everything costs too much (including government health care - ask the cab driver who took us to CDG) and people don't make enough money to compensate for the high costs.  We had an ok time in Paris - but - although I am far from a poor or value-oriented traveler - I thought the prices were ridiculous.  60 euros for lunch at a place I never heard of before a good deal?  There's hardly a restaurant where I live where one could possibly spend that much for dinner.

So now that the Russian billionaires are gone - and the US hedge fund types are gone - etc. - where does Paris go from here?  Robyn

Judging France by Paris is like judging the USA by New York city.

We live in the country and find that costs are no higher than in the states overall.

Come down to our area and I'll take you to a one star Michelin restaurant for lunch. 27 Euro's. Want something cheaper try 11 Euro's for a full 3 course lunch with wine.

As to health care look at how much of France's GNP is spent on health care compared to the states; its much lower. And, believe me because I've had occasion to use it recently, the quality of care can't be faulted.

This recession is worldwide and everybody is suffering to some degree, but I don't see the French nearly as badly off as many other places. Paris will continue to be Paris & will survive quite nicely thank you very much.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

That L'Ambroisie is suffering along with the restaurant of some unnamed three-star chef is rather telling anecdotal evidence of what the recession is doing to the rewards of dining. No one calls today’s world economy a depression, but some of you offer unintentionally evidence of the distressing culinary one currently unfolding. Just because a restaurant is fully booked is not in and of itself a clear-cut sign that nothing is really amiss. I don't know about the reservation book of L’Astrance, but what I suspect what’s happening there (and at other “hot” boutique restaurants) is what you see at its Manhattan counterpart Momofuko Ko, which is that while the restaurant is full every night, it is now a snap to book a dinner reservation for two on its web site every day after midnight, a marked change from when people spent hours at their computer hoping to capture the fleeting moment of a rare cancellation.

I’m afraid that what one has to hope for is that a turnaround begins now because if it doesn’t the 11 euro-dictated meal will be what defines dining out, while highly-civilized dining will be in the past the same way that the orgiastic, no-holds-barred, client-is-king kind of dining of the later 20th century is now. The argument that because one’s favorite restaurant is full every day means that the crisis is not a meaningful factor vis a vis dining out doesn’t strike me as meaningful-- not when your favorite restaurant is trimming its choices and offering you mostly a lot of starches, vegetables, various types of filets and cheap cuts of meat.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think all of you have hit on various important points. With regard to high end restaurants - some are trendy - some aren't. L'Ambroisie isn't trendy - it was hideously expensive when we dined there - and - although it was very good - it wasn't worth the money IMO. And I got the impression we were treated like "poor relations". No positive vibes at all. I wonder how Guy Savoy is doing. When we ate lunch there - about 80% of the diners were "regulars" - and we were treated like old friends even though it was the first time we dined there. A restaurant cannot survive without regulars - because trends are fleeting. And it cannot survive without treating its customers well - because word gets around. Frankly - if I am treated not so great in a restaurant - whether times are good or bad - or the restaurant is high end or low - I will say so. And I don't care how trendy the restaurant is.

I understand the difference between Paris and places in France outside Paris (having spent weeks outside Paris on various trips - doing - in terms of food - high end - low end - and everything in between). We sometimes take similar trips in the United States. One of the most fun trips we have taken in recent years like that was a Texas BBQ trip :smile: .

As for middle of the road restaurants being crowded - how many people ever ate in high end restaurants to start with - locals or visitors/tourists? So you have all the people who always ate there - and lots of people who are moving down the scale. I am sure there will be lots of tourists during tourist season this year who will go to this and similar chatboards to find the newest "shabby chic" places (or just plain cheap places).

Unless your life situation has really changed - there is no reason to change your grocery buying habits. You can probably save more by skipping a restaurant meal once or twice a month than you'd save on groceries by buying inferior products - and you'd be a lot worse off in terms of most of the meals you eat.

Robert and I are similar in terms in ages and backgrounds - and I agree with him. I see no reason to go to a bistro type restaurant which is serving the types of things he describes at low/medium prices and getting by by turning tables over 2-3 times a night. Whether in France - or at home (and yes - we do have some decent restaurants along those lines where I live). When I go out to eat - I either want something excellent - or I'm just interested in having someone else cook because I'm too tired to do it myself. I would rather have a burger or a plain broiled fish at my golf club (they do serve fancier stuff but I tend to prefer simple) in relaxed surroundings than go to one of our noisy no-reservations/never on time reservations 2-3 seatings a night bistros. And since I don't like doing the latter at home - well I certainly didn't have any interest in doing it in Paris. Perhaps that is a difference between being 20 or 30 something dining out with friends - and being a lot older. And perhaps it is a difference between knowing how to cook basic things at home - and not knowing. I made a "boneless short rib" pot roast for Passover which is better than about 90% of similar dishes I have ever eaten at middle of the road restaurants. Enough for a week's worth of meals.

Regarding economic conditions in France versus elsewhere. The countries that are suffering the most are those with real estate booms that went bust. Including the US - UK - Ireland - Spain - etc. Countries where home ownership levels were never high - and buyers weren't overextended - haven't and won't go bust as badly as the countries that had booms. As for health care - I didn't mean to imply that the US health care system is great. Only that health care is very expensive in general in western countries. And that - best I can figure - there is no great solution anywhere when dealing with aging populations that require larger and larger amounts of health care. Robyn

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think that some of the differing perceptions and insights we are getting in this thread are rooted in the ages and experiences of peole like Robyn and myself and those who are much younger. If you're too young to have ever experienced restaurants with 20-30 chefs in the kitchen, menus offering eight choices in each of the categories of warm appetizers, cold appetizers, fish, and beef and dessert "chariots" laden with every kind of dessert you could wish for and cheese carts with a few dozen varieties and no limit to the number you could point to and chose, then your concept of special dining is something different; i.e. along the lines of not having to have lengthy discussions with maitres d'hotel trying to chose the most harmonious and rewarding meal; sampling many dishes in small portions; and generally putting your trust in the chef who you assume will give you his best shot of the moment. Our generation of diners has different expectations than the younger one. We lament certain practices and the absence of various products and preparations. The new generation doesn't, so long as a restaurateur or chef keeps the new generation of diners engaged. Pacaud at L'Ambroisie will throw in the towel before the owner of a chamber restaurant does because Pacaud's roots and standards are less likely to survive a sustained downturn, and rather make changes in the kinds of produce he could theoretically buy (more humble) and reduce his operation to a handful of workers, he'll close his restaurant and retire while his son goes elsewhere and opens up a new style restaurant.

As for the economic outlook, I'll go along with my nephew who is a Princetonian and a very well-read stock trader who says we have hit bottom, but will have to wait several years before we see again the 14,000 level in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. In other words, we'll bump along at a rather reduced level for longer than people hope. Be ready, then, to say goodbye to some of the great names in restaurants and many others that are badly managed and ill-conceived.


Edited by robert brown (log)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Did Phyllis or I ever hinted that we were not going through an economy crisis? I do not see that.

As ladies (and I am not that young) who live in France on a daily basis, do not belong to the fortunate classes and have some opportunities to travel to the regions, we were only pointing out that the article, like many others, was sloppily documented and hastily written. Which any French person can see at a glance.

There is no knowing in advance what will come out of this crisis though no one needs to be a prophet to figure out that there will be hard times for some, bountiful times for others as usual, but one thing seems certain to me and I can already see it applied, in restaurant cooking and dining styles: superficiality and artificiality in cooking are suffering a fatal blow (and this is not a matter of tradition or modernity, it transcends the duality), this may well be the end (my friend) of "cuisine narcissique" (quoting my friend Julot on this), self-conscious cooking.

Besides, the reasons why there no longer are in France restaurants of the type Robert describes (20 to 30 in kitchen, a plethora of menus, etc.) are taking us way back into the past, long before the present crisis and even before the spreading of its root system (which roughly began about 17 years ago), are due to many different factors that include food culture, intellectual culture, health culture and economy, and these reasons would be far too complex to recall here. At least they have very little to do with the hard times we are now experiencing.


Edited by Ptipois (log)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Since this has turned into a very economic discussion, I would like to point out that it wrong to assume that the restaurant business in France is representative of the general trend in the economy. When Robyn rightly points out the ridiculous prices (and the ridiculous prices are in bistrots and mid-range much more than in fine dining), she's reminding us that restaurants in France, at all levels, are not for everyone, but only for some higher-revenue class. The mass of French people don't go to restaurants or bistrots. Bistrots are for very well-off people. And most of the fine dining establishments, especially the ones in palaces but not only, are only addressing jetsetters (see l'Ambroisie, Le Meurice, etc). So what is at stake in the problems of fancy restaurants is not the economic crisis, it is the financial turmoil, because those restaurants rely prioritarily on bonuses, dividends, expense accounts and anticipated profits. And for the bistrots that are most talked about around here, clientele is the same people, plus higher middle class.


Edited by julot-les-pinceaux (log)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Be ready, then, to say goodbye to some of the great names in restaurants and many others that are badly managed and ill-conceived.

I am so ready for that. In fact, I have been waiting for that for too long.

By the way, about the Dow -- it has predicted successfully nine of the last two recoveries.

And about l'Ambroisie: one thing that Pacaud's cooking is is humble. In fact, that's probably the single best way to describe it. That might not, however, describe his customers best.


Edited by julot-les-pinceaux (log)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Ptipois - I am not sure what you (and Julot) mean by "self-conscious cooking". Could you explain and perhaps give me an example or two?

I disagree that the type of restaurant Robert and I are talking about is gone. Many (but certainly not all) of the type may not be "alive and well" - but places like that still exist. Not only in France - but elsewhere (take a look at L'Osier - one of the most famous French restaurants in Japan). Perhaps they will all die out eventually - along with the notion that it's proper to "dress for dinner" at a nice place - but I'll probably be dead by then.

Julot - I agree that the prices are more of a problem (at least for me) when it comes to mid-range restaurants than high-end ones (at least if the latter are really good restaurants). I can't speak for France - but it is a very real problem in the United States. Paying $100-200 for 2 people for a very mediocre meal (of course - there are places in this category that serve pretty good food - but they are more the exception than the rule IMO). On my part - I have a tendency to eat at pretty cheap places - or very expensive places. Frequently very cheap places - chains like Golden Corral (all you can eat buffet specializing in southern food here in the south) or Waffle House (breakfast all day). These are $5-10 meals (including tax and tips).

I agree that "financial turmoil" is a factor when it comes to more expensive dining at the "old guard" places - but another factor is the concept of going to trendy casual places - as opposed to excellent places (although the 2 aren't mutually exclusive). Places where you can spend lots of money dressed in jeans. Once - when I recommended lunch at Guy Savoy to a younger person - he said he didn't mind spending the money - but refused to pack or wear a sports jacket. Wasn't his style. I even recall reading an etiquette column where someone said he didn't understand why people were upset when he showed up at a funeral in blue jeans!

Anyway - we won't be coming back to France soon (no offense to France - we just like to "mix things up" in terms of the places we visit) - but we will be going to New York next month (for the first time in 5 years). We'll see how things are doing there. Robyn

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

  Not only in France - but elsewhere (take a look at L'Osier - one of the most famous French restaurants in Japan).  Perhaps they will all die out eventually - along with the notion that it's proper to "dress for dinner" at a nice place - but I'll probably be dead by then.

L'Osier in Tokyo is my absolute favorite three Michelin starred restaurant. Thanks robyn for mentioning it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
As for the economic outlook, I'll go along with my nephew who is a Princetonian and a very well-read stock trader who says we have hit bottom, but will have to wait  several years before we see again the 14,000 level in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. In other words, we'll bump along at a rather reduced level for longer than people hope.

I can think of at least three Nobel Prize economists who are not so sanguine, partly because they are prepared to factor peak oil, soil depetion and global warming into their economic prognoses.

As for the top-end restaurants, the market will produce new billionaires to replace the old -- there will just be fewer of them and therefore fewer surviving venues to take their money. In the depths of the Great Depression, Maxim's, the Ritz and the Stork Club were still doing nicely, thank you.


John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Sign in to follow this  

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...