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Why James Bond's salary couldn't keep up with Michelin dining

A recent study revealed that the secret agent ‘dined often and very well’ but his purchasing power depreciated over time

Daniel Craig at the world premier of No Time To Die in London. (Photo: Henry Nicholls, Reuters)
Daniel Craig at the world premier of No Time To Die in London. (Photo: Henry Nicholls, Reuters)

James Bond’s “license to kill” is famous. His dining-account purchasing power less so, at least until a recent study released by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

“He dined often and very well,” as revealed in the series of novels and short stories launched by Ian Fleming and continued by a number of successors, economists Lee A. Craig, Julianne Treme and Thomas J. Weiss wrote in an NBER working paper.

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The economists constructed data sets for both Bond’s estimated salary and the cost of meals at French restaurants that he went to. Analysis shows that the British secret agent’s purchasing power depreciated over time -- especially since the 1999 introduction of the euro, which has climbed versus the pound.

“As measured by a luxury basket of goods that included a weekly dinner and wine for two at a French restaurant, Bond, early on in his career, i.e. during the Fleming era of the 1950s and 1960s, would have spent 18% (using current exchange rates) of his salary,” the economists said.

During the euro era, that share would have climbed to 26% on average. By about 2019, Bond “would have needed a third of his salary to dine well regularly in France,” they wrote.

To compile the estimates, the economists scoured the Bond books for names of restaurants -- 23 of which were in France, and all but two of those were included in the Michelin Guide. They then used Michelin Guide prices to cost out Bond’s meals.

The sample includes a variety of restaurant types, ranging from two of the most highly rated restaurants in France -- Oustau de Baumaniere, located in Les Baux de Provence, and Grand Vefourn in Paris, both of which had 3 stars -- to bistros like Le Galion in Menton, Chez Andre and Terminus Nord in Paris, and La Rotonde de Montparnasse as well as La Rotonde in Nice. The authors said it was possible to chart the price of a typical meal for a sample of some 18 of the French restaurants going back to 1953.

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As for Bond’s salary, Fleming revealed in “Moonraker” in 1955 that he earned 1,500 pounds a year, nearly 3.5 times the average annual earnings in the U.K. at the time. A subsequent salary was estimated “based on that of someone in the same Civil Service grade as Bond,” which would have risen 6.3% annually on average through 2019 -- roughly keeping pace with meal prices, the working paper showed.

A second series was estimated under the scenario that Bond might have earned a “risk premium,” or extra increases for his years in service.

“Even at that higher salary, he would still have had to spend 21% of his income at current exchange rates on dinner for two in the 2002-19 period,” the authors wrote.” “While that may seem a little too steep for many of us, perhaps not for a bon vivant like Bond, who, after all, was not saving for his children’s orthodontia or education.”

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