Will €10 Coffee Be the Death of French Café Culture?

Bonnus wanted to encourage the sale of alcohol at his brasserie after 5 PM, so he hiked the price of a cup of coffee way up, and now he says he is being insulted and bullied on social media.

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Jul 8 2016, 10:00pm

A brasserie owner in Toulon, France is sick and tired of people coming to his establishment in the evening, ordering an inexpensive coffee, and sitting on the terrace for hours.

What to do?

He thought about refusing to serve coffee at all. Then he considered charging €50 per cup. Finally, he settled on what he believed was a prohibitively high—but not outrageous or illegal—price for an espresso: €10 per cup.

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That's when the shit hit the fan.

Jean-Michel Bonnus owns Brasserie La Reale in the southern city of Toulon, right on the Mediterranean coast. In Toulon, a cup of coffee usually costs a euro or two, even in an upscale restaurant. Bonnus wanted to encourage the sale of alcohol at his brasserie after 5 PM, so he hiked the price of a cup of coffee way up, and now he says he is being insulted and bullied on social media. Debates over the limits of the law, the definition of a brasserie, and the history of French café culture have all ensued on his restaurant's Facebook page. His actions have sparked a cultural debate about the right to linger over a coffee in a café. Some are saying the French pastime of idling over a coffee may no longer be sacrosanct.

Bonnus told Var-Matin that he doesn't understand why he can't charge what he wants to for a cup of coffee at his own restaurant. He says his desire to transform the terrace of his restaurant from a café-like atmosphere into more of a drinking establishment is his choice.

Some commenters applaud his entrepreneurial spirit. Others say he is aiding and abetting the downfall of the French way of life.

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A handwritten note in the window of the brasserie displays the new pricing. "People walking past think it's a joke when they see the sign plastered in my window," Bonnus said. "Now I don't sell coffee in the late afternoon, but if a customer wants to take one at the price offered then I will happily serve it up."

Americans and other visitors from abroad are often flummoxed by the intricate, unwritten rules of the French café terrace, where moving a chair from another table, taking a seat without a nod from the waiter, and ordering a drink at a table set with cutlery can all be faux pas.

Will Americans be the only ones willing to pay €10 for a coffee in Toulon? It's possible. After all, some of our fellow countrymen are making a sport of attempting to order the most expensive Starbucks drinks ever. Caffeine Informer says the winner to date is the $102.04 White Mocca Frappucino with 112 shots, a morass of extra drizzles, and bonus pumps-a-plenty.

How's that for café culture, France?