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‘Pay now, use later’ sites help ailing French bistros

If you are missing your favourite café, bistro, bar or restaurant, you may now be able to support them from confinement, with several online platforms allowing you to pay now for orders you will consume later.

For example, two new major online initiatives such as J’aime Mon Bistrot, and Bar Solidaire, allow customers to order or make a donation to their favourite establishment online.

The owner of the restaurant, bar or bistro receives the money now, but the customer has effectively ordered in advance for food and drink they will consume when the site reopens after deconfinement.

This allows establishments to maintain much-needed cash flow even when they are closed, to avoid them going under before confinement ends; and also enables customers to plan and look forward to outings in future.

Any establishment can join, and all the funds are sent directly to them. Bar Solidaire does not charge for the service; J’aime Mon Bistrot charges a 1.4% transaction fee, plus 25 cents per transaction.

J’aime Mon Bistrot is topping up each of the first 20,000 orders on the site by 50%, while Bar Solidaire is offering beer vouchers of equal value to the customer’s order on top (up to a limit of €3 million total).

Bar Solidaire has 250 establishments signed up, with 500 orders having been made already. J’aime Mon Bistrot has 5,500 establishments on its books, and has already processed €600,000 in pre-orders.

Customers will have several months to use their order in real life after confinement ends; but will not be refunded if the establishment folds before then (although the owner will still receive the funds).

(Photo: / Screenshot )

Both initiatives are supported by the drinks and hospitality industries. 

J’aime Mon Bistrot is notably supported by major brands Heineken, Lavazza, Coca Cola, Kronenbourg, Granini, and Segafredo.

Bar Solidaire is supported by Ab Inbev, parent company of Leffe, Stella Artois, Jupiler, Budweiser, Corona and Quilmes.

(Photo: / Screenshot )

Jacques Lebel, director of Ab Inbev, said: “Brewers are very involved in bars and restaurants, as they represent a third of our sales. We have had feedback that many are having cash flow problems. We want to help and smooth out the impact [of closure] on these establishments, many of which are small businesses.

“In the long run, if they don’t have financial stability, they risk having a high failure rate, which we estimate at 30%.”

Thibaut Boidin, deputy managing director of drinks company France Boissons - which supplies a quarter of the French hospitality industry - who helped create J’aime Mon Bistrot, said: “We said to ourselves, we have to help our clients and support the industry. Our philosophy is to find an immediate, useful solution that is also useful long-term.

“We put content online to help with their questions about financial management, and the second pillar was to create this fund.

“What’s great about this is that we are not only talking about sites in big towns; it’s all over France. The ultimate aim is to spread this as much as possible, so that each French person can find their nearby village bistro [on the platform].”

He added: “There is so much willingness for people to get back out there to these community hubs.”


Restaurateur difficulties

Currently, only around 5% of cafés and restaurants in France are open - for services such as takeaways or deliveries - doing around 10% of the business seen at the same time in 2019, said Roland Héguy, president of hospitality union l’Union des Métiers de l’Industrie Hôtelière.

Some sectors have seen a rise in sales - such as at-home beer delivery services - but this has not been enough to compensate for losses in other areas, such as in-establishment drinks sales, or the cancellation of summer festival, said a report in newspaper

Some restaurateurs are calling for the government to declare a “natural health disaster”, to force insurance companies to pay the establishments worst-hit by the crisis.

A petition on the issue by restaurateur Stéphane Jégo (of the Ami Jean, in Paris), has so far collected more than 134,000 signatures.

Sarah Zins, restaurateur and owner of the floating restaurant Blue Flamingo in Strasbourg (Grand Est), told newspaper Libération: “I do not know any restaurateur who has had any success with their insurers. Contracts do not cover ‘force majeure’ such as wars and pandemics. If the State doesn’t force them, nothing will change.”

She added: “We had some money put aside, so we were OK at the start.

“Between partial unemployment [chômage partiel], the delay of [business social security] Urssaf charges, and the bank agreeing to a pause on loan repayments, our situation is not as bad as some others - such as the restaurant that one of my friends works at, which was already struggling [before confinement], and which knows it will probably have to close.”

But she said: “It cannot last too long. If it goes over three months, it will be very difficult.”

Ms Zins, who has signed her restaurant up to J’aime Mon Bistrot and has already had 70 orders come through, said that the initiative had helped.

She said: “Our average spend in the restaurant is €40, and many people have rounded that up to €50. Maybe when they come in, that will rise to €75. That’s a good meal. The little messages of support that people have left too, whether they are clients we already know or new ones, are really kind.

“It reminds me that it will be cool to restart [operations] even if we have to start from scratch.”

President Macron has said that deconfinement measures will begin from May 11, with schools opening from that date; but it is not yet clear if this will apply to restaurants or cafés.

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