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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Decline in Standards in Restaurants in Paris?

A few weeks back, a friend of mine sent me the story below, which asks if restaurants are starting to cut corners here in Paris, which is leading to lower quality food in Parisian restaurants:

I thought this to be an interesting argument, and especially pertinent since I have recently started a culinary tour company here in Paris. One of my goals is to show the opposite of this claim, that if you know what to look for here, the food industry in Paris is perfectly fine and in many cases, getting better.

First, why might there be an argument that restaurant standards are not as high as they once were in France? The argument I seem to hear quite often is that the cost of business here is going up, so owners need to cut back on costs, and in some cases, spend less money on the acquisition of food for their kitchen. Whether or not costs for restaurant owners have indeed increased is a question for which I don't know the answer, but it seems to be cited fairly often, not just in the restaurant industry but in regards to life in general in France.

As in many cities that receive a lot of tourists, there are those that own restaurants that know they can get away with serving food and drink of lesser quality. In Paris, many tourists have never eaten real French food, so they might head to a restaurant that is mediocre in quality (and perhaps a rip-off price-wise as well), and if they try to complain about the food, the restaurant and waiters can suddenly pretend that they do not speak English. The Rue de la Huchette in the Latin Quarter is well known for having many restaurants of this caliber. Unfortunately, the vast majority of restaurants in Paris that are of this sub-standard quality happen to be situated close to the big tourist attractions (Notre Dame, the Louvre and Eiffel Tower to an extent, Sacré Coeur). If these happen to be the only places that a certain tourist visits on their trip to Paris, then there is a good chance that they won't be eating the best of what Paris has to offer.

Fortunately for those that inhabit or visit Paris, you do not have to be stuck eating in the tourist traps. Good food does exist here, and people do stick to their principles about using whatever is good and standing behind their product. For example, when I first got my company running, I was working with one of my restaurants on what to serve my clients for my tour. Initially, I suggested the idea of having just one small menu item being brought out, so that we wouldn't be too full from just one restaurant. The owner disagreed, saying that it would hurt the reputation of her restaurant by doing so. I was confused by her rationale and asked why, if her food was good, would serving it alone hurt her reputation?

She said that in France, all meals must be served with the proper accompagnements. For example, if she was to serve a meat dish, it would have to be served with a vegetable and some sort of starch, such as potatoes or pasta on the side. If she was to move away from doing this, word would get around that she was moving away from tradition, and would hurt her business with her regular clients. I thought that was a damn good response.

What made me even happier was that she said that the menu changed each week, based on what they find at the Marché de Rungis (the Paris area's biggest market). If they were not happy with the quality of a certain fruit, vegetable, or meat, then they have no obligation to use it. Thus, they create their menu each week based on what is fresh and what looks good.

While this may seem a rarity in today's culture, this type of food preparation is gaining popularity in Paris. Anthony Bourdain, host of No Reservations on the Travel Channel in the U.S., hosted his 100th episode in Paris, where he was shown from restaurant to restaurant, finding that cooks are getting away from fancier haute cuisine and getting back to using very simple ingredients and simple recipes to make some outstanding food. Many cooks are taking more time to select their products each day (some even go as far as to run across the street to get food items from the markets just after the customer has ordered), making sure that their food is fresh. Another finding is that several cooks are getting away from working at more exclusive restaurants to open places that are more approachable, and much more affordable. I have found as well that many of the most popular and most difficult to reserve restaurants in Paris are surprisingly affordable.

I have cited this in a previous blog, but it is worth noting again. If you want to avoid the touristy restaurants of Paris, there are two things to look for. First avoid the places where the menu is in more than French and English. Second, avoid the restaurants where someone is standing outside begging you to come in and eat, or where the food is displayed under plastic wrap in the window. People that have traveled around Europe might have noticed similar tactics in more touristy areas of Brussels, Rome, Venice, and Prague, among many others.

Hopefully I've shown that one can eat very well in Paris, and as long as you know what to avoid, finding a good meal at a reasonable price is fairly easy.

If you are traveling to Paris and looking to see (and eat) what French people really eat and take a walk around some cool neighborhoods of Paris, look into my tours at

1 comment:

  1. I'm with you, I'll take a restaurant in France over a restaurant in Texas any day of the week (except possibly Taco Tuesday). People just need to know where to go...they need to follow you!