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A French food paradox

While idly surfing around the net thanks to the marvels of Google (what a wonderful thing Google is!) I had a look at a few stories about the worrying state of French cuisine, like this one.

I yield to no man in my love of French food, or indeed food generally. I love French food as much as I loathe the French political establishment. And it will surely be a tragedy of Napoleonic proportions if France, wedded to such economic absurdities as the 35-hour work week, were to drive many of its finest restaurants out of business or lead them to cut corners in their work. The irony, of course, is that if France does crush its wonderful restaurants through such nonsense, it will encourage the very fast-food big chains that the French intellectuals despise, since such chains have the economies of scale to shoulder red tape more easily than a small bistro. It would be a cruel irony indeed if MacDonalds spread its grip on the market thanks to French socialism. I guess the great French classical liberal economics writer Frederic Bastiat would have savoured the irony.

There is a silver lining to all this. Some of the best French cuisine is now being made in grey old London, which means I can indulge my tastebuds without making the trip across the Channel. The Law of Unintended Consequences strikes again.

8 comments to A French food paradox

  • Pete_London

    And a lot of French entrepreneurs say it is a perfect illustration of why it is so difficult to create a business and build wealth in France.

    Maybe some of these entrepreneurs need to be taken outside and educated so they can better appreciate the finer points of European socio economic policy.

  • Sylvain Galineau

    Actually, McDonald’s is doing exceedingly well in France. It’s one of the top country, profitability-wise. It wouldn’t piss off the self-appointed ayatollahs of proper taste otherwise…Success must be crushed.

  • Verity

    Pete – As President Bush so said so memorably, “the French don’t have a word for entrepreneur”. (Between gritted teeth: He said it on purpose! The British do not hold the copyright on ironic!)

    When I lived in France, in my region, there were no entrepreneurs per se. There are hairdressing salons, of course. And builders, electricians, plumbers and so on, and most of them very able. But they stay family businesses, with the wife answering the phone and the man, and eventually his son, going out to do the jobs. And that’s where it stalls.

    Because, the French government has made it almost impossible for these small family businesses to hire anyone. Once hired, the government does not want them back on unemployment so, essentially, unless they are convicted of mass murder, you’re stuck with them. (This is why most French doctors and dentists answer their own phones, even during consultations, make their own appointments and write up their own notes. The hiring of a wrong secretary could drive their patients away, and they couldn’t fire her. So they don’t hire anyone.)

    Then there’s this monument to lunacy, the 35-hour week. And one month’s annual holiday, plus around 15 annual public holidays a year with “bridge days” privileges if the holiday falls on a Thursday or a Tuesday.

    And retirement on a generous pension at 55.

    No. For good reason, there is no such thing as entrepreneurship in France.

  • llamas

    I agree on the food. During our recent visit to the UK, I warned my (American) wife that the cuisine might be – spotty. How wrong I was, how much things have changed. When we ate out French, we ate simply divine food, as good as any I have ever enjoyed in France, and made all the sweeter by decent service. Not cheap, mind you, but no more expensive than prices in France. Quality, flavour, presentation, all every bit as good as what one would find in a comparable establishment in France. And it is everywhere.

    And it seemed like virtually all of the help was from Eastern Europe – why is that?

    It wasn’t just French cuisine, either – it was the same whenever we ate out. I felt kind of nostalgic for the good old days of scampi-and-chips and boot-sole steak with HP sauce.




  • Julian Taylor

    One thing in the UK we still do not have the faintest inkling of is that elusive concept known as ‘customer service’. Try eating in a place like The Ivy, where East European waiters do their best to impersonate 1930’s French Maitre D’s – think Mirabelle Restaurant scene from Monty Python’s Meaning of Life. Their golden rule appears to be formulated along the lines of “it might well be your money, but it sure as hell is our food so we’ll serve you whatever we like, whenever we like, however we like and you had better not complain about the arrogant lousy inept service”.

    And all this for the, no doubt to them, miniscule sum of £135 per head …

  • llamas

    Julian Taylor – funny, I didn’t find that to be at all the case.

    Maybe I need to start eating in a better class of restaurant.

    In the £40-£60 a head places where we were eating, I found the service to be adequate at worst and frequently better than that, with the very best service being in the smallest and most out-of-the-way places.

    Our best experience, hands-down, was at a restaurant in Ambleside, where we ate ravishing food, perfectly served, and walked away for £125 including wine. The wait staff were courteous, prompt, efficient, and knowledgeable of both food and wine. But we had similar experiences, at similar prices, in Peterborough, Maidstone, Berwick-on-Tweed and Dunstable. Maybe we were just lucky, or we had good recommendations, but I certainly had to revise my memories of eating out in the UK.

    I submit that poor service is endemic in ‘high-class’ restaurants the world around – the kinds of places where people go for reasons other than the food or the service. The worst service I ever had was at a world-renowned restaurant in San Francisco, where the waiter would not take the hint that neither I nor my companion found him even remotely amusing. When I addressed the situation by paying close attention in the matter of his tip, he followed me out into the street and took a swing at me . . . . And this in the land where customer service can be the most highly developed.



  • Verity

    Julian Taylor – I have always found service at The Ivy to be very agreeable and absolutely fair minded. I have sat next to a table with a well-known face hosting it, and been accorded exactly the same service and attention at my table. In fact, I have found The Ivy to be the least snobbish of restaurants in London.

  • mike


    “As President Bush so said so memorably, “the French don’t have a word for entrepreneur”. (Between gritted teeth: He said it on purpose! The British do not hold the copyright on ironic!)”

    Verity: if I were a priniciple contributor to Samizdata, I would hold this up as quote of the day. In the brief half-second before reading the second half of your comment about the British not having copyright on irony, it struck me as ironic that an American President, esp Bush, would use the favourite conversational device of the British to insult the French! My resulting joyous laughter on reading that second comment was truly involuntary!!

    A_t and Julius (should either of you be lurking) – come on, that was a great little snippet from Verity was it not?!