Even Paul Bocuse, the celebrity chef known as the "pope" of French cuisine, is making sandwiches these days.
"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 practised in certain restaurants. Add to that the current financial crisis and the fact that lifestyles are changing and people want to eat more and more quickly."
In response to these trends, Bocuse a year ago expanded his more than 40-year-old three-star empire with a fast food eatery, Ouest Express, offering meals between 10 to 14 euros (13.5 to 18.9 dollars) as well as ham sandwiches and hamburgers at 4.30 and 5.90 respectively (5.8 and 8 dollars respectively).
A movement is born
Now, all the chefs are treading in his tracks. Guy Martin, the starred chef who runs the high-end Grand Vefour in Paris, has also 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 (33.9 dollar) tapas-style lunch "in this period of economic turbulence."
It features the likes of baby broccoli soup, lobster ravioli and scallops "a la plancha.”
Paul Bocuse's sandwiches
Darroze currently is at the helm of the Connaught’s kitchens in London.
"Who would ever have thought," said Boutboul, "that the likes of these would go into sandwiches?"
But for the specialists, cheap, quick and easy is the way ahead.
"The three key words in today's restaurant business are 'quick', 'good' and 'not too expensive'" said Yves Pinard, the chef of the busy restaurant located inside the equally-busy Louvre museum, Le Grand Louvre.
And there are less and less diners nowadays willing to pay 300 euros (407 dollars) or so for a good meal, said Yves Camdeborde, who runs one of Paris' most noted foodie bistros, the Comptoir du Relais.
Times are a changin’
"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."
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 a consultant and is offering today's health-conscious diners servings of five to seven different vegetables a meal.
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