"We are at a historical turning-point in cuisine," said food consultant Bernard Boutboul at a recent forum on trends in gastronomy. "For the past six or seven years consumers have been unhappy about the high prices practiced in certain restaurants."
So Bocuse a year ago expanded his more than 40-year three-star empire with a fast food eatery, Ouest Express, offering meals between 10 to 14 Euros (R130 – R150) as well as ham sandwiches and hamburgers at 4.30 and 5.90 Euros respectively (R56 and R78 respectively).
And now all the chefs are treading in his tracks. Guy Martin, the starred chef who runs the high-end Grand Vefour in Paris, too has opened a snack food counter called Miyou.
And Helene Darroze, another distinguished chef with two stars from the prized Michelin food bible, is offering a 25-euro tapas-style lunch "in this period of economic turbulence."
"Our clients are growing old," added Christophe Collin, who heads marketing for the restaurants of the giant Sofitel hotel chain. "We need to adapt in order to sign on new customers in the 40 to 45 year-old bracket."
We need restaurants that are different
His hotel chain, he said, was mulling how to throw the restaurant system on its head. "We need restaurants that are different," he said. "Do we need restaurants that open and shut at fixed times? Where you have to sit down?"
According to Boutboul, fast food outlets are destined to mushroom in the future, but will need to improve on atmospherics, decor and service – while more than ever offering ultra-rapid meals.
Restaurants, he added, will also need to reach out to consumers by offering take-away meals "as consumers will increasingly be demanding this type of service."
In the meantime, at the other end of the scale, one of France's lesser-ranking restaurants, the Flunch self-serve chain, has hired a top chef as consultant and is offering today's health-conscious diners unlimited servings of five to seven different vegetables a meal.