The French are known to prize good food. But almost a third of all restaurants serve dishes prepared largely or entirely elsewhere, says Synhorcat, a big group of hotel- and restaurant-owners. Xavier Denamur, a restaurateur and campaigner for openness who showers details on diners in his own establishments, says the proportion is far greater. Improbably long menus at small eateries are one giveaway.
The rising cost of raw materials and staff has put cooking from scratch beyond the reach of many restaurants. It is cheaper to buy frozen ingredients and ready-made dishes from industrial producers such as Métro, Brake or Davigel. Falling purchasing power adds to the pressure. More workers now bring sandwiches to the office, like the English they used to pity. Mobile vans peddling snacks are increasingly common. When people do eat in restaurants, they are often counting every cent.
Different studies produce different figures but all point to problems for restaurateurs. Synhorcat says that restaurant turnover fell by 5.5% in the year to March. According to Gira Conseil, a consultancy, almost three-quarters of all meals eaten outside the home are now in “super-cheap” establishments charging less than €10 ($13) a head, and fast food accounts for 54% of restaurant sales. The NPD Group, another consultancy, worries that the downturn is beginning to affect parts of the country that once seemed resistant, such as the south. Even fast-food joints, until recently growing rapidly, are beginning to feel the pinch.