First it was Coke and McDonald's, then it was Starbucks and doggy bags. Now, Parisians have begun to embrace yet another mainstay of American cuisine: delivery food.
A slew of food delivery apps and startups have sprung up across the French capital in recent months, and they're impossible to miss. Bus stops and metro stations are now plastered with ads for one app or another, each promising meals from trendy restaurants within minutes. Bike couriers have become a regular sight as well, darting in and out of traffic as they ferry meals around in boxy, insulated backpacks.
For the French, and their deeply entrenched culinary traditions, this marks something of a sea change. While food delivery has long been a staple of life in cities like New York and London, Paris has been slower to embrace it — in part because the very premise of a quick-and-easy meal conflicts with what the French consider to be authentic dining. Delivery isn't an entirely new phenomenon in France — the website Allo Resto has been offering online ordering since 1998 — but it has long been relegated to lower-fare cuisine like pizza, sushi, and Chinese, and in my experience, wait times often exceeded an hour.
"There's a real war for Paris going on."
That's changed in recent months, as services like Take Eat Easy, Foodora, and Deliveroo have flooded the market with offerings from traditional bistros and upstarts alike. Even Uber has jumped into the fray, with its Uber Eats lunchtime service. The companies behind these services say they've seen tremendous growth in Paris, describing it as an untapped market that's eager for change.
"There's a real war for Paris going on," says Boris Mittermüller, CEO and founder of Foodora in France, a delivery app and website that has launched in 11 countries across the world. "Everyone is fighting for market share." Berlin-based Foodora came to Paris in June 2015, and Mittermüller says its orders have grown by between 20 and 40 percent every week since. The company has also launched in Lyon, and plans to expand to other French cities over the coming year.
The startups have each taken a slightly different approach to delivery in Paris, though they all tout their broad selection and rapid delivery times. Meals can be ordered from their mobile apps and websites, and are generally guaranteed to arrive by car, scooter, or bike within around 30 minutes. (Uber Eats, which launched in October and is smaller in scope, aims to deliver within ten minutes.) The companies handle all delivery logistics charging a fee to customers and commissions to restaurants (30 percent for Foodora, 20 to 25 percent for Deliveroo.)
The companies say their services provide restaurants with an easy way to earn extra revenue, particularly during hectic, mid-week lunch shifts. "We have partners [in Paris] that can double or triple their production for a day," says Alex Czarnecki, head of expansion for Uber Eats in Western Europe. "So if you can imagine, as a restaurant, being able to really boost your Monday, or double or triple a Monday or Tuesday, that's really impactful."
"Delivery doesn't interest me at all."
Czarnecki says Paris' dense population and high concentration of quality restaurants makes it an ideal place for delivery services to thrive, and according to the companies, they already are. The Belgium-based Take Eat Easy says it's seen "double digit" monthly revenue growth since launching in Paris in October 2014, while Uber says that on a weekly basis, one third of Uber Eats customers are first-time users.
Outside of Paris, however, the trend has yet to fully take hold. According to a 2015 report from French TV station BFM, only 6,000 out of the 150,000 restaurants across France currently offer delivery services. Cost and food quality are concerns for some restaurant owners. Others doubt whether delivery services can ever overcome ingrained cultural norms.
"Delivery doesn't interest me at all," says Philippe Lansalot, owner of the Bordeaux restaurant Crêperie Reno. Lansalot says that paying a 20 to 30 percent commission fee wouldn't be feasible for his business, and he doubts that the crepes he makes could be delivered without getting cold or tearing apart. And although delivery services have gradually swept across Bordeaux as they have Paris, he doesn't think he's at a competitive disadvantage.
Dining occupies a unique, almost ritualistic space in daily life. Unlike consumers in the US or other European countries, the French tend to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner around the same time every day, and they tend to dine together. A 2010 survey found that 80 percent of all meals in France are held in groups. Experts say that may explain why more informal, on-demand delivery options took so long to gain traction in the country.
"I would say that the key element is the idea of eating together and of conviviality," says Loïc Bienassis, a food culture historian and researcher at the European Institute of Food History and Culture. "I think the preparation plays a role in that conviviality, too, whether it's preparing a meal together at home or at a restaurant. So these types of delivery services actually remove the elements that the French would consider fundamental in a true meal."
But there are signs that eating habits are changing across France. Lunch breaks are now shorter than they used to be — 22 minutes, on average, in 2009, compared with an hour and a half 20 years earlier — and fast food consumption has risen dramatically. Some have attributed this change to harder economic times, which have made leisurely, bistro lunches less appealing. The number of workers who go home to eat lunch has also continued to decline, according to the same study from a French social welfare agency, though desk-side lunches remain relatively rare, with only 12 percent of French workers saying they regularly eat in front of their computers.
"I'm not sure it's a very good thing for French culture."
Other American tendencies have crept into French dining, as well. The doggy bag, a concept once considered anathema to French chefs and consumers, is now a required offering under a law that went into effect this year, and food trucks have only recently begun operating across Paris. For some, delivery food is just another step in the country's ongoing culinary transformation.
"This huge tradition of cooking and eating at home has changed little by little in the last 20 years," says Luc Dubanchet, founder of Omnivore, an international food festival. "And I'm not sure it's a very good thing for French culture."
Even some non-traditional restaurants have been reluctant to expand to delivery. Located in the Brooklyn-ized ninth arrondissement of Paris, Le Dépanneur Pigalle is exactly the type of trendy restaurant you'd expect to find on sites like Take Eat Easy and Deliveroo — a California-inspired eatery that serves fish tacos and burgers. But the restaurant's owner, Vincent Journo, says he lacks the staff and infrastructure needed to fulfill online orders, and he isn't convinced that his dishes would arrive in the same state after a 30-minute bike ride across Paris.
For now, Journo is focused solely on the in-restaurant experience — and he thinks that's what diners will continue to care most about, too. Lansalot, the Bordeaux crêperie owner, agrees.
"Restaurants are going to stay, that's for sure," Lansalot says. "People will always want to go out to eat."