The needs of restaurant owners also vary worldwide, and even in a country which is a byword for culinary refinement, the reality behind the scenes is one of bustle and lack of space. Suppliers need to think in these terms. And this is why Rochus Winkler at concept m is taking us into the world of the French food service industry.
French cuisine, with its regional specialities, is part of French culture. Its influence on European and even global epicurean culture is immense, and this applies particularly to its wines. For many connoisseurs, Bordeaux wines, white burgundies and champagnes are the best in the world. Even UNESCO treasures French cuisine, and has protected it since 2010 as a “world intangible heritage”. French enjoyment of life has become legendary, as shown by the saying found in many European countries, “living like the gods in France”.
Eating out as a small social celebration
For many French, eating and eating out mean much more than a quick meal. People meet, talk, stay in touch and enjoy the personal get-together as a social occasion. Business meetings can also take the form of a meal, which can last for hours. Particularly in times where reflection and calm are rare commodities, eating together like this can be a feast for all the senses. Famous chef Paul Bocuse even compares a good meal with an opera, which can take people to the very pinnacle of their deepest longings. Eating can satisfy all the senses, to the point of being orgiastic and erotic. “La Grande Bouffe” (“The Big Feast”) can only be a French film. In France, a meal is often an experience in dining, where you eat not just to satisfy your hunger, but to meet refined aesthetic demands.
Quick production, individual hospitality
Central to understanding the specific restaurant culture in France, and ultimately for successful marketing of products such as napkins, cutlery or foods, is insight into the internal operating processes, the restaurant owner’s needs and worries. We have to tried to explore these in 76 morphological in-depth interviews with restaurant owners and executive chefs.
The survey was located away from the tourist centres, in restaurants with smaller menus and a focus on convivial hospitality. This rural segment of the food service industry generally had simpler equipment and furnishings. Something peculiar to France is that the area for storage, cooking and preparation is incredibly small. This is also due to the astronomical rents, which can be as much as EUR 8,000 a month for a restaurant in a major city. In our ethnographic in-depth interviews with chefs and restaurant owners,we learned that a lot of improvisation is needed behind the scenes. Storage areas in particular are often only a few square metres in size.
The tension between beautiful food and service and pressure to produce
Behind the scenes we often find hectic production in the tightest of spaces, under price pressure and time pressure, and with poor pay for employees and narrow profit margins. Physical stress and nervous tension develop, which the guests must not be aware of. The goal at the table is a sense of well-being, with quality and cleanliness. Owners and chefs want to display confidence in good, fresh food and hygiene, express their individual restaurant philosophy in an individual ambiance. In this tension between the pressure of efficiency and the experience of pleasure, the French show their strength in family solidarity and unorthodox management
While German establishments are famous for their love of order and hierarchical breakdown of processes to ensure everything runs smoothly, every employee in France shoulders responsibility and lends a hand wherever needed. The waiter might help out briefly in the kitchen before they return to the dining room. This may seem chaotic to an outsider, but it works. In the absence of clear structures, practised intuitive procedures lead to ideal results.
This small restaurant culture, with its diversity and value for money and its colourful colonial elements, owes its existence to another particularly French feature. After WW II, enterprises avoided construction of large canteens, preferring instead to issue lncheon vouchers, which employees could take to the restaurant of their choice to exchange. Although luncheon vouchers are relatively rare today, the food service industry has retained its colourful diversity.
Demands on gastro marketing
Products and services for this very diverse restaurant segment need to take into account the specific local cultural features and areas of tension.
Cash & carry only in emergencies Wholesalers have decisive influence on the listing of products in the food service industry, and have often developed personal ties to the large number of smaller restaurant owners. Prominent French wholesalers are Solier and Foodex. They look for geographical proximity to the restaurants, to avoid congestion. The food service industry expects wholesalers to deliver, supplying them with all the goods they need, with innovations, all brought to their door. French caterers tend to use cash & carry only for emergency purchases. The success of a product’s marketing and distribution in cash & carry depends essentially on its placement in the market.
The challenge of hygiene While America has large stickers showing immediately the level of hygiene of the individual restaurant, the standard in French establishments is largely hidden from customers. In 2015 a “homemade” certificate was introduced, which restaurants can apply for as a quality seal. However, this has come under criticism because many establishments heated up homemade dishes in a microwave. While this is not necessarily unhygienic, it does not meet French ideas of quality. For many small restaurants, hygiene is a challenge, not least because of the lack of space described earlier. Cleaning and maintenance products which improve hygiene are accordingly in strong demand.
Efficiency in packaging size Small storage areas and generally smaller rooms lead to a desire in the food service industry for smaller packaging sizes. While they use large quantities, big boxes have virtually no chance in reality of finding a place in the small. secondary storage areas or basements. The packaging materials should also be simple to break down, so that they don’t take up a lot of space as refuse. Internal packaging should act as a dispenser, so that the product can be directly used.
Individuality and pleasure Pleasure in design as well Restaurant philosophies differ widely. The Duni napkin brand, for example, succeeds in matching many individual restaurant decorating styles with different quality stages and handle (from paper to soft as fabric) and a colourful range. Simple napkins allow guests to indulge in a sense of slumming it, while quality products convey refinement.
Manufacturers of products for the food service industry can use the results of the study to adapt to the particular features of the French market.