Empty tables at a cafe in Paris
Empty tables at a cafe in Paris - 
Listen To The Story


They might be in a recession, but one thing you can count on: the French never lose their joie de vivre. But maybe they do eat their joie at home. Mmmm, homecooked joie. From Paris, Eleanor Beardsley reports.

Eleanor Beardsley: Ahh, Paris on a Sunday afternoon in St Germain des Pres. It's the perfect spot to join the French in their favorite pastime: eating.

But these days, the cafes and bistros seem half empty or they're filled with tourists. Many French are cutting back, replacing three-course dining with a sandwich or a picnic in the park. Restaurants and cafe owners in some areas of the country say they've lost as much as 20 percent of their business.

Inside the working class Cafe Le Danton just off the Boulevard St Germain, manager Alex Maubin surveys his scant afternoon clientele. While lunches have been hardest hit, Maubin says his dinnertime crowd has thinned, too. And the French are changing their traditional eating habits.

Alex Maubin (voice of interpreter): People are just ordering one-course meals now and they've cut out aperitifs altogether. Clients get a glass of wine or maybe two, but not a full bottle. And they skip dessert or share one. People are making choices to bring the bill down.

In many places, it's tourists who are keeping things afloat, as businesses have cut back on expense accounts.

But in high-end establishments like the Brasserie Atlas, nothing much has changed. Parisian retiree Muguette Davau and her husband have just enjoyed a platter of oysters on the half shell followed by veal smothered in cream sauce. Accompanied by a full bottle of wine, bien sur! Davau says times are hard for some.

Muguette Davau: Yes, many people change because now restaurants are very expensive. It's completely different. We see some people with a sandwich. But myself, I don't change, haha, I don't change.

But Davau admits that nowadays, it's only the well-off who can afford not to.

In Paris, I'm Eleanor Beardsley for Marketplace.