Second lockdown a “death knell” for French restaurants struggling to survive

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French restaurateurs are crying scandal over new foreclosure orders they say will deal a fatal blow to an industry that has already been brought to its knees by ever tighter coronavirus restrictions.

Restaurants and cafes across France were getting their affairs in order on Thursday as they prepared to go out of business for at least next month. Some, it is feared, may never reopen.

“It’s a death sentence for us,” famous Bordeaux chef Philippe Etchebest said in an angry interview with France Info radio. “We’re in shock. We’ve done everything that needed to be done and now we’re closed.”

A nighttime curfew in place over the past two weeks has already taken its toll on French restaurants – identified as virus hot spots – with frustrated owners complaining that ambiguous health protocols have been too difficult to follow.

As part of France’s second national lockdown, which takes effect Thursday at midnight, all non-essential restaurants, bars and shops will be closed until December 1 and residents will be asked to stay at home. Exceptions include dropouts, work, medical appointments, and grocery shopping.

Another TV chef, Michel Sarran, said he was forced to close his Toulouse restaurant soon after the 9 p.m. curfew was announced on October 16 because it was just too expensive to stay open without service of table.

“At first we opened just for lunch, then, after taking stock, we decided to shut down altogether,” Sarran told CNews TV. “It’s terrible but we are losing money by being open… this situation is very serious for the restaurant industry.”

Significant job losses

The French hotel and catering union fears that many companies will be forced to close permanently by the end of the year, putting hundreds of thousands of people out of work.

Figures from the Union of Hospitality and Industry Trades (UMIH) indicate that more than 30,000 establishments are likely to file for bankruptcy.

“All the professionals that I represent are in an extremely precarious situation”, declared Hubert Jan, president of the national catering of the UMIH, himself restaurateur in Brittany. “It is once again a forced and brutal closure, like the one we suffered in March,” he told France Bleu radio.

The historic restaurant of the Hôtel du Nord in Paris on the Canal St Martin. © Wikimedia Commons

State aid is unclear

The future of the restaurant and hotel sector will depend a lot on the level of compensation that the state decides to grant to companies, explains Guillaume Manikowski, co-owner of the historic restaurant of the Hôtel du Nord in Paris on the Canal St. Martin.

“We’re going to lose money because we’re not going to work – and we still don’t know if we’ll have to pay our rent,” Manikowski told RFI, conceding that a dreaded 7pm curfew would have left even worse restaurants. disabled.

“With our loads at maximum, it would have been more difficult because then we would be working to lose money.”

While some restaurants in other countries have managed to adapt to the conditions of confinement by offering a take-out or delivery service, in France, the traditional model of on-site catering has been more difficult to reinvent.

“With French cuisine, you have a lot of meat to cut, as well as dishes in sauce that are less suitable for take-out,” Manikowski explains. “People who want takeout tend to go for pizza, sushi, and easy-to-eat things.”

Food delivery services such as Deliveroo, although popular in cities, are not an option for struggling restaurants because the profit margin is too low after the commission fee is deducted.

“Home deliveries can complete the service offering of restaurants, but they cannot replace them,” explains Manikowski. “Once they take their 25-30%, and once you add 10% VAT, you can’t make any money with what’s left.

“People need to know that in France, the restaurateur is the very last person to make money.