Good Food Blog
Au revoir to restaurant lunches?Posted at 12:30PM, 26 September 2008 by Graham Holliday - Blogger
It's all over for the three-course French lunch. It's not work getting in the way of the long mid-day noshfest. It's not some imported California diet fad. It's cash, or lack of it. This week we've seen a rash of reports of how seriously grim things are in France.
The BBC's man in Paris got us the figures. "We are very worried," said Daniele Deleval, vice-president of the Union of Hotel and Catering Trades. "Since the start of the year the number of people going to restaurants has fallen by 20%, and we see no sign of improvement."
"Lunch customers used to order a main course, dessert, coffee and a bottle of wine. Now they're limiting themselves to a main course, tap water, and giving up the rest," says a brasserie owner in Paris.
All in all around 3,000 French eateries, cafes and bars went bankrupt in the first quarter of 2008. Salaries in France are low and the cost of food is increasing. French people simply can't afford to eat out at lunchtime as often as they used.
Why is it when I suggested to my wife the other day we nip out for lunch in Toulouse that the first five restaurants we went to were 'complet'?
This is what all the official figures say, what the rise in food prices would seem to logically suggest and what restaurateurs in the finer parts of Paris are reporting. So, why is it when I suggested to my wife the other day we nip out for lunch in Toulouse that the first five restaurants we went to were 'complet' - full?
We headed to a small modern French place - it was utterly packed. We tried a Lao restaurant - complètement chokka, not a seat in the house. An Italian round the corner - same story. The best Chinese in town - one seat left, alas we needed two. Throw a hungry eye at the waiter of the no-name brasserie on the corner, only to receive a shrug that yawned "no chance".
It's not just one hungry lunchtime hunt that leaves me sceptical as to the real story here in France. A friend, who owns a restaurant in the old town, re-opened for business this week after a two-month holiday - and just how many British restaurateurs can take a two-month break?? Hmmm... With no advertising, zero marketing, no email campaign, he doesn't even have a website and since re-opening he's been full from day one.
I don't doubt times are tough - heck even chefs are clubbing together to save French cuisine - but, I don't believe the figures tell the whole story. Those who have money in France still spend it on lunch. The countrywide trend may be downwards, but I'm finding it hard to believe it's curtains for the long French lunch. Maybe just an interlude here and there.