It appears that freedom fries have liberated the French from their historically good taste.
The French, who have long held high culinary standards, aren’t afraid to flaunt their commitment to quality. But even the world’s first foodies have their limits, if a new study is to be believed. That’s because new data says the French have surrendered to fast food, which has supplanted restaurants to become the nation’s top dining choice.
NPR reports that fast-food chains are now responsible for 54 percent of all restaurant sales in France. And the number of fast-food sales has increased by 14 percent just in the past year.
"In previous years, we could see fast food was gaining ground, but this is the first time it has overtaken restaurants where you are served at the table," Julien Janneau of food consultancy firm Gira Conseil, whose company provided the data, told the French newspaper Nouvel Observateur.
In addition, Gira Conseil found that the number of French cafes, where more sophisticated and slower-paced dining prevails, has dwindled from more than 200,000 in the 1940s to around 32,000 today.
Global fast-food leaders McDonald’s, Subway and Burger King have all found a strong footing in France. McDonald’s now has more than 1,200 restaurants in the country, and Burger King, which had shuttered all of its French outlets in 1997, made a triumphant return to the country in 2012.
For context, there are more than 34,000 McDonald’s stores worldwide, with about 14,000 of those found in the U.S. If you compare the number of people in the U.S. (about 300 million) and France (about 65 million), there are still about twice as many McDonald's per person in the U.S. as in France.
So, why has haute cuisine given way to the Big Mac?
Experts say it could be a combination of factors, including busier workdays and a desire by younger French citizens to break with their country’s more traditional dining standards. And some French food writers admit that the more polite customer service enforced by corporate food chains is sometimes a welcome alternative to a less predictable experience at independent restaurants or cafes.
In other words, "mangez bien" (eat well) may have given way to, "well, eat."
"The offer has not changed, but the consumer is different," Gira Conseil's Devanne Julien told the French paper.
Of course, as NPR notes, French McDonald’s often offer different menu items from you might find in American outlets, including the McBaguette and the McCamembert, along with healthier and locally produced options.