*UPDATE: At 16:00 February 1 it was reported that no restaurants did open fully in protest, with newspaper le Figaro saying the owners decided against the move out of fear of losing state aid for a month. Some restaurants opened symbolically by setting up mannequins instead of living clients, while others chose to serve food to take away.
Across France 2,000 restaurants were expected to open on Monday, February 1, in protest at their enforced months-long shutdown because of coronavirus, said a spokesman for the country's restaurateurs.
Many of the country's 200,000 restaurants are struggling financially, since having to shut at the beginning of the second lockdown, in October 2020, and after being closed during the first confinement in March 2020.
“We totally understand what is driving this movement,” Alain Fontaine, president of the Association Française des Maîtres Restauranteurs, told Connexion.
“There have been 12 suicides of restaurant owners that we know of and it is better that there is a channel for them to express their anger rather than to let it brew and eventually explode some other way.”
But he said the federation could not support these acts of civil disobedience and warned the action would pollute efforts the association and other bodies were making to try and get more government help.
“It is a sector which has fallen through the cracks in the government aid schemes, mainly because the schemes are all based on declared figures for the past couple of years,” he said.
“In our business the declared figures often do not meet the minimum requirements for many reasons – for example the bank loans which many restaurants have mean that their profit at the end of the year is very small, and so they do not qualify for anything.
“These are things we are explaining to the government and we are worried that if they see restaurants taking on the state in this way, they will not be as supportive as before.”
Restaurants say the measures they implemented after the first lockdown, with spacing between tables, masks worn by staff and clients when they moved around the room and strict disinfecting regimes, meant they were some of the lowest risk public spaces in France.
“When you compare our standards with what you see in supermarkets, with everyone crushed next to each other and masks down under their nose and sometimes their mouth, and no hand sanitiser after 10:00, it makes a mockery of the public health claims,” he said.
Finance minister Bruno Le Maire told RTL radio station that “the few isolated” restaurants that opened today would be stripped of help from government solidarity funds for a month, and if they continued to break the law, the ban would be permanent.
And he said the majority of restaurants were respecting the closure rules even though they were in very hard times, because they understood the public health reasons for them.
An illegal migrant from Ivory Coast, who was working in a restaurant in Nice which opened as an act of civil disobedience on January 27, has been given 30 days to leave France, according to Le Monde newspaper.
Owner Christophe Wilson was arrested for employing an illegal migrant and given a formal warning by the local prosecutor. Legal proceedings for the administrative closure of his establishment have been launched.