FRANCE could ban eateries from calling themselves restaurants if they do not prepare meals from scratch by in-house chefs.
The move, by UMP MP Daniel Fasquelle, has been backed by the Synhorcat restaurant union as it fears the country's gastronomic reputation is being damaged by restaurants serving boil-in-a-bag or microwaved ready meals as restaurant-quality cuisine.
However, some restaurateurs including the giant UMIH federation fear the move will hurt the industry by driving up costs. They warn of major job losses.
Mr Fasquelle's bill, to be put to parliament this month as an amendment to a new consumer-rights bill, would limit the right to use the term "restaurant" to eateries where food is prepared on site using raw materials, either fresh or frozen. Exceptions would be made for some prepared products, such as bread, charcuterie and ice cream.
He was following up a Synhorcat study that found that 31% of French restaurants serve industrially-prepared food instead of their own cooking.
Experts suspect many more restaurants are using industrial food but not admitting it. A TV programme showed that 70% of restaurants serve frozen of bought-in pre-prepared food.
Alain Fontaine, owner of Le Mesturet restaurant in central Paris, said the distinction was an important one: "It means that we have chefs who develop recipes and prepare them, unlike those who have taken the decision to cut open bags and reheat."
The bill's supporters hope to emulate a 1995 law that limited the use of the term "boulangerie" to establishments that prepare bread and pastries from scratch. That law is widely seen as having given a boost to traditional bakers.
However, UMIH and five other restaurant groups have declared their "massive opposition" to the move saying it would "create complete confusion with the public, clients and especially foreign tourists".
They feared "drastic consequences in terms of employment, especially for youth," with about a quarter of France's restaurant workers under the age of 25.
The group suggested that France instead create a new category of "artisanal restaurant" to highlight those which prepare food from scratch.
In May The Connexion highlighted a bid by the College Culinaire de France - which is made up of leading chefs including Alain Ducasse, Joel Robuchon and Anne-Sophie Pic - to launch a new "quality restaurant" label awarded to eateries that meet top cooking and service standards. (Connexion - Chefs battle factory food )
The College Culinaire would grant the label to deserving restaurants and make sure standards are maintained through online client surveys.
Many websites are also cropping up in France to advise consumers on restaurants where food is prepared in-house, such as restaurantsquifontamanger.fr, set up last year by food-lover Alain Tortosa.
He said "There are chefs of all ages who want us to distinguish themselves from their competitors. They say 'I get to my kitchen at 7:00 am and they have a delivery truck that arrives at 11:00'."
Fast food and take-aways last year accounted for 54% of the French market, or 34billion euros in sales, for the first time outselling traditional sit-down meals with table service.