How restaurants are reinventing themselves in the face of customer desertion

Inflation, decline in purchasing power, explosion in energy bills, widespread teleworking, anxiety-provoking geopolitical climate… This makes you want to stay at home watching “Top Chef”. In times of crisis, the first instinct is to ignore non-essential costs, including lifestyle expenses. 61% of French people further reduced their leisure spending during the first quarter of 2024, according to Revenue Management Solutions (RMS) which analyzes consumption patterns in the hotel and catering (CHR) coffee sector. For 43% of respondents, the first budget sacrificed is that of the restaurant, ahead of the cinema (41%), the concert and the theater (20%). No more Saturday brasserie, no more cool canteen in the neighborhood.

Stéphane Manigold, president of the Éclore group (eight restaurants in Paris), explains: “In March 2020, the closure of non-essential establishments put a stop to restaurants. But once this almost dystopian period passed, there was not the famous return to normal expected. People have maintained their confinement habits by eating at home and have developed a sort of distrust towards restaurateurs. » For the businessman, paranoia about health risks during Covid has taken root to the point of dissuading consumers from eating out, without a guarantee of homemade food or traceability on the food. “We no longer want to go to a brewery to find frozen products at exorbitant prices. »

The price surge has had a devastating psychological effect on a population

The surge in prices intended to make up for lost revenue from the pandemic had a devastating psychological effect on an already hostile population. Result, widespread disaffection for traditional restaurants and direction plan B with home delivery. For Jean-Pierre Poulain, food sociologist: “The pandemic has impoverished an entire segment of the population who have turned to affordable junk food delivery. Let us also remember that a lot of restaurant traffic in France comes from businesses. However, post-Covid, companies have restarted slowly and extended teleworking. Goodbye to the brasserie with colleagues. » And the craze for delivery has taken hold for the long term. Today, according to the consultancy firm Food Service Vision, 60% of French people have integrated it into their habits.

© Mathilde Ragot

In addition to the lack of customers, traditional catering must face irreducible structural economic and social constraints. Paul Crespin, manager of Harakina, in Bayonne, testifies. For this veteran of the world of finance, opening a bistro in 2023 proved to be an obstacle course. “Between the reluctance of the banks, the amounts of commercial leases, the soaring prices of raw materials, the lack of staff and the rogue restaurant ticket, you have to be psychologically strong to get started these days. » Not to mention the heaviness of health and safety laws, another hobbyhorse of Stéphane Manigold. “France has suffocated artisans with standards of hygiene, traceability, labor law… a whole range that only manufacturers can respect. » If we add to this an anxiety-provoking international geopolitical climate, the circle is closed. A feeling of worry weighs on the morale of consumers who are more willing to venture into a new establishment. Unless it promises to be festive.

The big winners of this culinary evolution are the food court and street food.

The big winners from this evolution of culinary customs are the food court and street food. Marianne Barbier, director of Grand Scène, in Lille, analyzes the phenomenon: “The number 1 challenge for catering is to fight against the decline in purchasing power. It must constantly reinvent itself to adapt to changes in consumption patterns. When we go out, we look for a global experience. » The food court model fits perfectly with these new desires: grandiose decor, multiple choices for dining, affordable prices, welcoming all audiences. “You can come with your children to eat maroilles fries from chef Florent Ladeyn, take a voguing class or see a drag queen show,” she explains. Because the event part is the other advantage of this formula. The trend is spreading. In Lyon, where Food Traboule attracts thousands of customers every week, in Marseille, where Les Grandes Halles du Vieux-Port welcomes half a million people every year since 2022, in Paris, Pau…

Good products, polished Instagram videos, smiling welcome, full box

Benoît Laplanche-Servigne, founder of the Min agency specializing in catering consulting, detects another underlying trend. “More and more chefs are directly launching street food stalls, which require small premises, few staff and normal hours, without even thinking about a traditional room. » Among the most appetizing examples, Hugo Riboulet (Top Chef 2023) opened Groot, a counter dedicated to pies, in Paris in January. Good products, polished Instagram videos, smiling welcome, full box. Same fight for the Troisgros brothers with their Petite cuisine in a Citroën Tube, in Roanne, in which they send “street sandwiches” with prime rib, or Alexandre Mazzia, Michelin-starred chef from Marseille, and his croquemonsieur and kebabs food truck top of the line. Benoît Laplanche-Servigne continues: “The Covid era has confirmed a popular desire to eat good food, accessible and to take away. This is how gastro street food was born. Today, we pay 20 euros for a sandwich without eating there. Paradoxical, but it no longer shocks anyone. »


© JB Gautier

Nevertheless, the communicator wants to be reassuring towards traditional brands. For him, this evolution in eating habits does not signal their end: “Many large groups continue to open high-end establishments and neo-breweries. » Just look at the broth madness in France. Stéphane Manigold agrees: “The French are attached to this chic old lady that is French gastronomy. » When asked if he would continue to open restaurants, he replied: “Of course! We always have projects on the go. » Just like Olivia Grégoire, the Minister Delegate in charge of Business, Tourism and Consumption, who launched on March 22 an international support program for French haute cuisine. Proof once again that the chic old lady is far from being a has-been!

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