Restaurants must reopen for lunch in March say French MPs

Reopening will help prevent staff shortages in the sector and give workers a ‘suitable’ place to eat in the middle of the day, MPs have said

1 March 2021
Empty chairs in a restaurant. Restaurants must reopen for lunch in March say French MPsRestaurant owners are worried that staff will not want to return when restaurants reopen
By Joanna York

Restaurants that want to open for lunch should be allowed to do so, 41 MPs have written in an open letter to the prime minister.

The letter, which was published in Le Journal du Dimanche on February 27, said that reopening restaurants at lunch “would allow a fair balance between health protection and economic revival”.

It called on the prime minister to let establishments that want to reopen from March 30, “with appropriate health protocols in place”.

The government had previously planned to reopen restaurants on January 20, 2021, but decided not to due to the health situation at the time. Since then no new date for restaurant reopenings has been given.

The letter was signed by MPs from a range of political parties, led by Richard Ramos, a restaurant critic and MP for Loiret, Centre-Val de Loire.

Workers need restaurants for lunch

The letter said that lunchtime openings were necessary for workers who have limited places to eat otherwise.

It said: “While some workers can eat lunch in their company restaurants, others must eat outside or at their desks: spaces which are not adapted, and don’t allow each worker to have a suitable break.”

Read more: French workers to be allowed (officially) to eat at desks

Health crisis worsens restaurant staff shortages 

They wrote that reopening for lunch would also help the problem of staff shortages in the restaurant industry.

“The health crisis and the closure of restaurants is accentuating this phenomenon as those who work in restaurants are finding temporary work in other sectors,” it said.

Franck Meunier, owner of around a dozen restaurants and bars in east France, told news source FranceInfo that he is worried members of his staff will not return to work when restaurants reopen.

He said many of his workers had found new jobs during the health crisis because they didn’t want to stop working. “The risk is that they like their new jobs and don’t want to come back to their occupation with us. An occupation that is, after all, difficult,” he said.

Rapid reopening may help retain staff

For many restaurant workers, the health crisis has meant - unusually - that they are able to spend at home at weekends and in the evenings. 

Kitchen worker Romuald said: “I’ve discovered the joy of being at home in the evening to take care of my family and cook for them. That’s made me question my job.

“It’s a profession that gives a lot but takes a lot too, and I’m asking myself whether I want to continue.”

The authors of the letter wrote that restaurants must be reopened “quickly” - even if only for lunch - in order “to not lose those who still want to work in restaurants”.

President for restaurant worker union GNI Didier Chenet also told FranceInfo that there was a “risk of [staff] shortages” when restaurants are allowed to reopen and called on the government to implement a “special training plan” to help recruit new staff to the sector.

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