French restaurants struggle to fill jobs lost during lockdown

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Paris (AFP)

As restaurants across France prepare to light stoves after months of lockdowns, owners face an unexpected challenge – many of their employees don’t return to the long, difficult hours of food service.

Félix Dumant, co-owner of Aux Crus de Bourgogne in central Paris, needs to quickly find a chef after leaving for a kitchen job in a retirement home.

“We understand why he left, he’s a young father with two small children,” Dumant told AFP as he and his sister Margot interviewed candidates this week for a position starting at 2,500 euros ( $ 3,000) per month after tax.

“Now he has much easier hours for him, for a little less pay but still quite good,” he said.

The chic brasserie is also looking to replace a chef who has resigned. This work brings in 3,500 euros per month.

After a first two-month Covid lockdown last spring, France has maintained the closure of restaurants, bars and cafes since October in a lockdown that will be lifted in stages from May 19.

The forced leave gave restaurant workers ample time to reconsider a profession where working nights and weekends in a pressure cooker environment is the norm, leaving little time for their own families and friends.

Generous unemployment benefits have also allowed many to explore other areas as well – a waiter well versed in the art of hospitality can often thrive in retail.

Dozens of former chefs, sommeliers and chefs have expressed their relief to finally take off their aprons for good.

“I asked myself, besides my job, what have I done with my life? Not much really. Actually, I was 56 when I discovered the pleasure of eating in family, ”said Thierry, who left a head. chief’s position in December, Le Parisien explained on Thursday.

“We work while everyone is having fun,” confirms Margot Dumant.

– ‘This is not a life’ –

While the demand for good help is still high in restaurants, from fast food outlets to Michelin-starred restaurants, experts say the Covid crisis has made the shortage worse.

“We have all taken advantage of 2020 to reflect on what we really expect from our lives and our work,” said Bernard Boutboul, a former restaurant manager who now advises owners around the world at his Parisian consultancy firm Gira.

“And undoubtedly, people who work in restaurants said ‘Stop, I can’t go on like this, it’s not a life,'” he told AFP.

Of the 350,000 restaurant jobs normally in France, he expects about a third to have disappeared over the past year on the basis of customer surveys.

This figure corresponds roughly to the 100,000 lost according to the restaurant and the lobby of the UMIH hotel.

Chefs in particular are also drawn to “dark kitchens” that only prepare meals for delivery, which have seen increased demand during shutdowns.

“They really hurt us,” said Félix Dumant. “They can generate significant income with fewer employees, and they can pay the chefs what we do, but with much easier hours.”

– ‘Problem’ –

With the French gourmets eager to rediscover their favorite places, many owners will scramble to accommodate all those who ask for a table.

“After the health crisis, restaurants will experience a growth crisis,” said Boutboul. “There is going to be a huge demand that they cannot meet because they will not have enough staff.”

Young people in particular seem increasingly reluctant to pursue careers in a very stressful industry where only a minority of people manage to get well-paying jobs above minimum wage.

Marc-Antoine Surand said that even the departure of a single employee during lockdown would make it difficult to reopen his bistro Quedubon, in a northeast corner of the capital.

“He said he wanted to stop working in the restaurant business and go back to school and try something else,” Surand told AFP.

“It won’t be a problem at first but very quickly when we fully open it’s going to be problematic,” he said.

“There are a lot of jobs available and few candidates,” he added. “So we’re going to look very hard!”