Anger, disbelief as French restaurants ordered shut for two more months
French restaurant owners were on Wednesday dealing with the difficult news they would not, as hoped, be able to take advantage of the Christmas holiday season to start rebuilding their shattered businesses.
President Emmanuel Macron's announcement that restaurants and cafes would remain closed for another two months was confirmation of the worst fears of many establishment owners, already on the brink of bankruptcy because of ever-tightening coronavirus restrictions.
“This is devastating, and it's going to spell the end for many of us,” said a manager of two cafes in Paris's 17th arrondissement, who asked to remain anonymous. “Right now restaurateurs everywhere are realising they will never again open their doors.”
As part of an easing of restrictions, non-essential shops may reopen from Saturday, with a view to ending France's lockdown on 15 December – providing coronavirus infections continue to fall. A renewed night-time curfew would then take effect, with exceptions made for Christmas and New Year's.
Restaurants, however, will have to wait until at least 20 January, 2021 before they can open their doors and terrasses to customers.
What came as welcome news for Christmas shoppers was met with disbelief by the hotel and catering sector, with restaurant owners – dressed in black and chanting “Let us work!” – taking to the streets for the first time in cities such as Marseille, Perpignan, Nantes, Nîmes and Toulouse.
More widespread marches are planned for Thursday.
"Cafés, restaurants, hotels and discos … are paying the heaviest price of this health crisis," the Union of Hotel Trades and Industries (UMIH) said on its website, estimating that 50,000 cafés, hotels, restaurants, discotheques would be made bankrupt by the government's measures.
To soften the blow, Macron in his address promised increased financial support of up to 10,000 euros a month for businesses – including nightclubs and sports halls – which are forced to remain shut for health reasons.
But restaurateurs, usually the last to benefit from state aid once it trickles down, are unconvinced. “The state keeps promising aid that will keep us from sinking, but in reality it's complicated to secure and it's never enough,” the Parisian café manager told RFI.
Stéphane Manigold, co-founder and spokesman of the organisation Restons Ouverts, or Let's Stay Open – which brings together more than 3,000 cafés, bars and restaurants – warned the profession was “at breaking point”.
"The United States is going to inject 120 billion dollars to compensate for the loss of restaurant sales," Manigold told daily paper Le Figaro. “In Germany, up to 75 percent of sales are covered. When will Emmanuel Macron's 'whatever it costs' be implemented?”
In cities across France Wednesday, both restaurateurs and their suppliers, who have also been hard hit by Covid-19, symbolically hung their aprons on the gates of the local prefectures, and their keys in front of the local offices of Macron's La République en Marche party.
Meanwhile, Geoffroy Roux de Bézieux, the head of France's employer federation, has urged the government to consider allowing restaurants to reopen sooner using what he called the “British example” of a smartphone tracking system.
"The English are preparing to reopen their pubs and restaurants with a protocol where it will be necessary to download a geolocalised application,” he told BFM TV.
"Making this small effort could, perhaps, pave the way for us to open a little earlier."