Sunday, November 23, 2008

Althouse linked today to an article on the decline of the cafe in France.

It's interesting in a couple senses, as firstly, this is exactly the sort of anti-anti smoking puff piece one found in all the French papers around the first of January last year (when the ban took effect)*. Also, there is no mention of just how high prices are in a lot of cafes and just what one's getting when one decides to patronize one.

Way before the current financial crisis, prices were rising like crazy all over Europe, the first big jump being when currencies switched to the Euro (In Paris, for example, one would see things happen like a coffee going from, say, four francs to now two-two and a half euro - keep in mind that the fixed rate of exchange is +-6.2 francs/euro.).

While this was going on, many cafe and brasserie owners started serious corner-cutting on what they were serving. A lot of this occurred in the area of service and what one was being served. It was considered, for example, a better money-maker to serve bottled juice rather than fresh-squeezed at the same price. Meals, also, tended to be ordered pre-made from central (industrial, as the French call them) kitchens. Teas or tisanes? Often whatever came in the bulk order from the fournisseur one normally used (not very good. In fact, store brand from France's Target - Monoprix is of much better quality, and one can buy a box of 20 bags for about the same price as one cup of the bad cafe stuff). In the end, cafe or brasserie-going had become analogous to paying chop house prices for TGIF fare.

Now, this isn't always the case. One can still find the old-styled cafe bars/brasseries if one asks around. There are also many newer cafe-brasserie owners who are reviving the old business model of actually working harder for their money. Complain as some might about being the victims of 'nanny state*' legislation and a bad economy, there is also a fair bit of market correction going on as well.


* Would be interesting to see some data on the economic impact of this ban on cafes and bars. My impression, for what it's worth, is that many places are doing just fine, if not better, as many have expanded their terrain to the sidewalks. Technically the smoking areas are outside, as they're not in the building itself. However, I've seen some rather lavish tent-setups. The norm is a few tables under an awning with heat lamps being optional.

** Conventional wisdom dictates that the French are more sophisticated (whatever that means) than Americans regarding alcohol consumption, however, drunk driving has always been a serious problem. Hard drinking by younger people has also become a big issue - perhaps due exposure to much heavier drinkers across the Channel? I'm not really sure, though I have heard of informal bans and bar closings during soccer matches when British teams are playing on French soil. Would be interesting to see some more information regarding this.

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