PARIS (Reuters Life!) - Michelin-starred and other gourmet eateries across France will slash prices for a week in September in a campaign to bring in a less well-heeled clientele and rid "haute cuisine" of its stuffy, pretentious image.
"Tous au Restaurant" or "Everyone to the Restaurant" is the brainchild of Alain Ducasse, the French-born celebrity chef who boasts 19 Michelin stars and exclusive restaurants in New York, Tokyo and Paris.
From September 19 to 25, restaurants such as his one-starred Paris bistrot "Benoit" will offer two gastronomic menus for the price of one, in the hope the familiar "two-for-one" formula will attract more cash-conscious and mainstream clients.
"People are often scared to come in, not just because of the price, but because they don't know what they'll find, because they have a certain image of gastronomy," said Laurent Plantier, head of Alain Ducasse Entreprise, the chef's business empire.
"It's a lot easier to go to your local high-street chain restaurant, because you know you'll get a warm welcome, you're not scared of the menu, and you don't feel ridiculous," he told Reuters.
At Bistrot 7 in Valence in southern France, Michelin-starred chef Anne-Sophie Pic will offer a stylish but recognizable menu of farm-grown tomatoes and creamed mozzarella, ravioli of lamb confit and mint, and pungent cheeses all for the mouth-watering price of 57 euros ($82) for two, excluding wine.
More intrepid diners can opt for her slightly less pronounceable dish of salmon marinated in Voatsiperifery pepper, or the perplexing "spirit of a finger" dessert with "iced cream of mint."
Also joining Ducasse in the campaign will be Regis Marcon, whose three-starred restaurant "Jacques et Regis Marcon" in the town of Saint-Bonnet-le-Froid, south-central France, is planning an elaborate three-course menu for 80 euros a head rather than the usual price of 140-175 euros each.
Ducasse's bistrot Benoit, meanwhile, aims to serve four courses of veal tongue, chicken fricasse, cheese and profiteroles, all for an affordable 70 euros for two.
"Gastronomy in France probably only concerns about 5 percent of the restaurant-going population," Ducasse told reporters at a finger buffet at Paris's opulent town hall. "Really, it should interest everybody: that's what this operation is about."
If the price and atmosphere are shedding their exclusive image, however, competition for a table could remain as difficult as ever when bookings open at 0800 GMT on September 7.
In a first run of "Tous au Restaurant" last year, 82,000 eaters crammed into the available spaces at the 1,000 participating restaurants.
Editing by Steve Addison