Paris — As restaurants around the world remain shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic, some of France’s top eateries have been forced to adapt in ways they never imagined.
The magic that happens in a Michelin-starred kitchen is a big reason that people will pay high prices to eat out. But it’s not just the food: A restaurant with great food can fail if it doesn’t also offer a warm welcome, impeccable service, and manage to make diners feel special.
With COVID-19 lockdown rules keeping thousands of restaurants empty that fine dining experience has simply vanished for many patrons, and they’re not the only ones struggling.
In an attempt to survive, even some of France’s top chefs are doing the unthinkable: takeout.
For Chef David Toutain, whose restaurant in the French capital has two Michelin stars, it was a tough call, and one he resisted for about two months of lockdown. But as he told CBS News, there comes a moment when “you need to reopen,- because life continues, the rent continues.”
“This is something new, you know that? Takeaway food is a job, it’s something very different,” he said of the adaptation. It’s more than a psychological adjustment: The takeout service comes with a more affordable price tag than dining in.
But adapting the dishes so they can easily be reheated at home — while retaining their wow factor — has been one of the most significant challenges.
“We just decided to do it our way… It’s like we keep, like, fine dining: We use the same purveyor, the same herbs, the same cook,” Toutain said.
So while there’s no white linen tablecloth, no flawless service, no knowledgeable wine waiter hovering nearby, he and other proprietors are trying to make sure the core of a top-class meal, the food, is still there.
“I love cooking. I love to be in a restaurant. I love to be in the kitchen. It’s like something you have inside you,” Toutain said. “So I’m just very happy to come back here. If we just need to find new solutions or something new, bah, we will do it.”
And offering takeout can even have an upside.
Restaurant owner Charles de Saint Vincent said he’s “had a number of new customers that discovered the restaurants thanks to the takeout menu… It’s maybe a combination of price and of opportunity.”
One of their two restaurants, the Petit Boutary, is now doing takeout three days a week. He went so far as to call it “a good opportunity for us to shine a little bit more throughout the neighborhood, and even in Paris in general.”
It’s still not clear when France will allow restaurants to re-open for dine-in service, or how much social distancing guidelines will limit the number of tables they can safely serve.
For now, many restaurateurs agree that takeout is a promising start, at least, to getting back to business — and a much-needed boost for Parisian foodies.