France's 200,000 restaurants, cafés, bars and hotels will not open until at least the start of June, despite warnings of a “catastrophe” and one in three closing for good unless they can restart work on May 11.
Industry federation Umih said it had been in daily talks with the government to look at ways to allow businesses to reopen in safety.
It stressed the danger for the four million hospitality sector jobs – one million in catering alone – if owners cannot see light at the end of the tunnel.
Restaurant and café owners were dismayed when President Macron said in a televised speech that the industry would not open when the rest of France starts to reopen on May 11.
They called it the “worst of all scenarios” as it did not give any hope of seeing an end to what was already a lost year.
One MP from the Côte d’Azur broke ranks with government colleagues and called for cafés and restaurants to open too as it was the “main earning period” in a €10billion industry on the sunny Riviera.
Alexandra Ardisson (right) said that tourism was the area’s “essential economic driver” but even without the usual influx of visitors, there was still day-to-day year-round local business.
“Why would it be normal for businesses like the little jeweller and the office upstairs to open when the café next door is shut?
“That makes no sense. People said I only wanted to open to help the tourist business but, let’s be serious, there will be little tourist season this summer, or at least not foreign visitors.
“Cafés and restaurants have an all-year business serving the people working around them.
“We need to give them some perspective of hope, while still maintaining health and safety rules by opening only one in two, or one in three, tables.”
Despite substantial government aid – possibly Europe’s largest aid package – the industry is reeling under continuing rent and other charges, made worse as some businesses have been refused state-guaranteed loans for running charges.
The guarantee means banks would often be liable for only 10% of the loan, but cafés said they were told they were not profitable enough even for that.
Umih President Roland Héguy said the federation had been talking to the government daily about ways to get back to work and had put forward a plan for the relaunch, including ways to maintain social distancing and customer safety.
Umih said ministers had “not closed any door towards a rapid reopening” and the federation is looking to the start of June.
It is setting up a relaunch help group for at-risk businesses.
Leading chefs, including Michelin stars Alain Ducasse and Anne-Sophie Pic, have put forward reopening plans in an open letter to Mr Macron, saying that even they risked closing if the lockdown continued.
The Collège Culinaire group said a five-point quality and hygiene plan could help businesses reopen quickly and they wanted to guarantee to rotate work among all staff to keep them employed.
However, TV chef Philippe Etchebest, who was not a signatory, said safety needs would mean fewer customers and he would have to cut staff.
The two-star chef, who is in lockdown in Dordogne, told France Bleu radio that most of the businesses he had helped to rebuild could not survive.
He feared 40% of the industry could vanish if insurance companies and banks did not do their bit to help.