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Deconfinement, episode two. After having authorized the bars and restaurants to reopen the terraces, the restaurateurs can since Wednesday welcome customers in the half-gauge room, a new step, after seven months of closure. Catering professionals are in for a treat. They are worried too.
At La Biche au Bois, in the 12th arrondissement of Paris, we have been busy for a week to be ready on Wednesday June 9, date of reopening of dining rooms in France. After seven months of forced closure, “the team is really happy to meet again, rejoices Céline Marchesseau, it is good for morale, it was really time”. The owner, who has managed the establishment for 20 years with her husband, was unable to open on May 19, like many other restaurateurs, for lack of sufficient space outside. “We only have a very small terrace. Opening it would not have been profitable. We therefore had to wait a little longer”. The restaurateur does not harbor any particular resentment towards her colleagues who took three weeks in advance. “On the other hand, I do not understand why many stores, which do not respect any rule of social distancing, were allowed to reopen earlier than us. While we are imposing many health measures on our sector.”
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The reopening rules remain binding for catering professionals. The rooms are limited to a bar of 50% of the reception capacity, there is no service or consumption at the bar and the tables must not exceed six customers, children included. Aware of the issues weighing on the bistro, Paula, 46, a chef who has worked in the restaurant business for more than 20 years, is divided between the joy of finding her job, her colleagues and clients, and the fear of a uncertain future. “We wonder a lot about the new way of working with sanitary rules, the new organizations put in place. But above all, we wonder if customers will come back as before.”
Layoffs in prospect
In the reservation book, the names of the clients are scarce. “We have two tables reserved for noon, three for tonight, consults Paula. Let’s say it’s nothing for a normal day. We’ll say it’s a small recovery. We have a small clientele of regulars, but we work mainly with American, Russian and Chinese tourists. We risk not working as before “. And the employee continued, “with the phasing out of state aid, I fear that the bosses will be forced to lay off. We have all known each other for a very long time, we are like family. If one of us has to go, it will be really hard for everyone. ”
The State must indeed gradually put an end to aid. In June, the solidarity fund covers 40% of the loss in turnover. Then, only 30% in July and 20% in August. The government hopes to stop aid to restaurateurs next September, depending on the health situation. A review clause is planned before the start of the school year if the health and financial situation does not improve.
On this point, the boss is hardly optimistic. “We only have a fortnight to work. In July and August, Paris is empty. Without the return of tourists, we do not risk increasing our turnover. Our regular customers have taken reservations. They support us, but that will not be enough. We already know that we will have to lay off an employee before the end of the year if we want to stay. The latest arrival has ten years of experience, it will hurt “.
Suburban restaurateurs less affected
A few kilometers further south, the atmosphere seems more serene. “Overall, the restaurants in the suburbs have done well,” said Moustapha Berthe, chef and owner of the restaurant À la maison, in Champigny-sur-Marne. “We are very happy to find our customers and an almost normal situation. We were able to keep our permanent employees and two trainees. After the second confinement, the State really played the game. Without partial unemployment and the 10,000 euros of the state, we would have closed the shop, it must be admitted, abounds in the manager who has run the establishment for eight years. But aid is not everything. “
He was able to open its doors on May 19 thanks to the summer garden he has set up. He also managed to maintain his business through take-out sales. “This confinement has above all allowed us to create, to innovate with new dishes. It’s complicated in normal times to give time to creation”, explains the one everyone calls “Soft”.
For the rest, the boss wants to be confident. “All that is lost is lost, we will have a blank year with almost zero turnover. But the team is young and motivated. They were alone at home, without children, bored. They are today. hui very happy to meet again and to be able to work almost as before ”. And the customers too. “They are there. They are really happy to come back. Even in a small group. They could not stand to stay at home.”
Restoration in expectation
A short distance away, a scent of langoustines escapes from the restaurant La Colombière. Michel and his wife Thi Lan were also impatiently awaiting this moment. “During these long months of closure, we did take-away sales, but we did not see the reaction of the customers, there we will again be able to exchange”, rejoices Michel. The small team, reduced to its two bosses and two interns, however, remains in suspense when discussing the future. “For the moment, all our projects are at a standstill. We wanted to expand the room, but we know that at this stage, the banks will not follow us. So we are waiting to see what happens next, see if customers will come back as before “.
For now, reservations remain timid. “We used to have a lot of big tables, for family celebrations like weddings, birthdays or communions. But with six people maximum at the table, we will not shoot as before. We expect to reduce our turnover by 50 % on recovery then 30 to 40% longer term. ” To the question: are you still a happy boss, Michel hesitates. “The future will tell. I’ve been giving everything for this job for 37 years, I hope to keep my activity. For now, we continue. We are not giving up. And then we will see.”