A third of all French restaurants serve dishes prepared largely or entirely elsewhere; Restaurateurs may be forced to draw up new, more honest menus

French restaurateurs may be forced to draw up new, more honest menus

Jul 6th 2013 | PARIS |From the print edition

GIVEN the state of France’s economy, its politicians ought to have bigger worries. But one of the hottest topics in parliament these days is how to force restaurants to reveal whether they make their boeuf bourguignon on the premises or rip open packets and warm up the contents.

On June 27th the lower house approved an amendment to a consumer-rights bill that will force restaurants to label the dishes they prepare from fresh ingredients in their own kitchens as “fait maison”, or “home-made”. This is tougher than the optional label the government proposed, but less stringent than the obligatory description of every dish on every menu as either home-made or based on industrial products, which some want. If the reform goes through, in 2014 the menus of every establishment, from little brasseries in the Dordogne to multi-starred restaurants in Paris, could be sporting truth-in-eating symbols instead of appetising but misleading tags such asfaçon grandmère—“just as grandma used to make it”.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.

For years most restaurateurs and politicians did not take seriously the need for menus to be honest with diners, Mr Denamur maintains. And France’s agro-industrial lobby is powerful. Recent scandals over mislabelling of meat, and consumers’ consequent suspicion of all links in the food chain, focused minds. It is not that mass-produced food is always bad, says Bernard Boutboul of Gira Conseil, but customers have the right to know whether what they are paying to eat in a restaurant is any different from what they warm up at home. Will the fait maison regime be tough enough to tell them?

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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