When it comes to making fine food, very few countries have a reputation as solid as France. France is allegedly the birthplace of the modern restaurant, not to mention one of the top gastronomic tourism destinations in the world. The recipes take a notorious amount of skills to make, and taste downright decadent. It’s the motherland of fine dining.
France’s reputation for food should make French restaurants incredibly popular in the United States, but they’re not. They are actually shuttering their doors at a breakneck pace due to a lack of interest. As a fan of French cuisine, it broke my heart to hear this.
I didn’t get it. It didn’t make sense! I had to know why French restaurants are vanishing from America’s streets. Here’s what my research revealed…
Price Point Problems
The United States is all about enjoying great food, in large quantities, at a decent price. We pay for the food and want a bargain. French restaurants are notoriously expensive, with much of the pricing coming from sourcing rare ingredients that take days of expert preparation to create.
The food’s hefty price tag is necessary if you want quality. It pays for labor that takes far longer than typical dinner prep. It pays for sourcing and importing. It’s a quality over quantity position French chefs take. Americans typically look for quantity first, then ask about quality.
Sadly, most people don’t want to pay large prices for small platters.
Lost In Translation
There’s definitely an element of culture clash to this puzzle, especially when it comes to ambiance and traditions. French fine dining is codified when it comes to service and presentation. Americans aren’t about codified etiquette or minor details.
In France, a dining experience takes several hours when you hit a restaurant. This is not because of slow service issues. It’s because people in France want to spend time savoring food, ambiance, and the company they keep. Dining there is an experience, not just a meal.
A lot of Americans can’t handle the idea of a three-hour meal. Americans want it all in a fast pace, including food and service. This flies in the face of what French restaurants want to offer, and it ends up irritating many diners.
There’s a serious culture clash between the two countries’ approach to food, dining, and ambiance. This makes many Americans view French restaurants as snooty and pretentious, when it’s really more about tradition than anything else.
It’s Not Trendy
French cuisine was once the gold standard of fine dining, but that’s no longer the case. People are opening up their eyes and mouths to new cuisine styles. With the high price of French fare and the increasingly visible cultural divide between our eating styles, it’s not surprising that French restaurants are falling out of favor.
If you read expat reports of living in France, you will find even more reason to avoid French fare. Many of them claim that the quality of restaurant fare has plummeted in recent years, leaving expats wondering what went wrong. The bad press isn’t helping French cuisine’s ailing reputation.
As for this foodie, I’ll always be a fan of French dining. So, forget the haters. It’s an experience to enjoy. Raise your wine glass and have some foie gras with me. Vive la France!
The quantity over quality conundrum has also had a negative impact on Chinese cuisine in the US. Family style Chinese restaurants with atmosphere that specialize in a specific region (Cantonese, Szechuan, etc.) are all but gone. They have been replaced by enormous buffets with 101 varieties of soggy breaded chicken in gooey sauces. There is no nuance. What they serve is not Chinese. It’s not even Chinese-American. It’s a hodgepodge of muted pan-Asian flavors and inauthentic ingredients served trough style, plate-after-plate to customers.