French restaurant bans mobile phones at the table… and ketchup and Coca-Cola

The owner of a restaurant in the south of France has made the national headlines after he imposed a ban on diners using their mobile phones in a bid to make the atmosphere more convivial. And he’s also banned ketchup and Coca-Cola.

French restaurant bans mobile phones at the table… and ketchup and Coca-Cola
Photo: AFP

The Petit Jardin restaurant in the quiet village of Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert in southern France has been in the news this week.

That’s because the owner Hean-Noël Fluery has imposed some rather strict rules on diners. 

Fleury has decided to ban clients from using mobile phones at the table. He says it’s all in the name of conviviality and fun.

The owner has decided to use a football-style card system whereby waiters will blow a whistle and show a yellow card to someone caught using their phone. If they are caught again then it will be red, meaning the culprit will be asked to leave the restaurant.

The restaurant owner told The Local that staff have been forced to “send off” a few diners.

“Some have refused to put down their phones and said they don't like the rule and have left,” he said. “I don't mind, I'd rather people like that eat in another restaurant – there are three in the village.

“If they are in a bad mood or grumpy they should go. We explain the rules to them all when they come in,” he said. “People accept having to turn their phones off when they go to the cinema or the theatre so why not restaurants?”

A board placed outside the restaurant lists all the rules imposed on diners.

(Photo: Screengrab: France 3)

But the owner says the system is working and anyone who is on the end of a “booking” (yellow card) normally puts their phone away for good.

“It’s a tradition in France to talk during meals,” he said. “As soon as we blow the whistle and show a card it gets the whole restaurant involved and even encourages dialogue between different tables.”

Fleury might have trouble persuading his diners to give up the bad habit, given that a recent survey revealed eight out of 10 French people used their mobile phones during dinner.

Young people, who are perhaps more attached to their phones, are already proving difficult.

“We have had some unpleasant comments on our Facebook page from young people who don’t like the ban and who have not appreciated being shown a card in front of others,” said Fleury.

But he also said some parents chose his restaurant specifically so they could have a meal without their children getting their mobile phones out.

The phone ban is not the only peculiar rule Fleury imposes. He has also banned Coca-Cola, Ketchup and Mayonnaise.

“We do it to promote local produce. We have good local fruit juices here that people can drink instead of Coke and we have Moutard a l'ancienne instead of Ketchup.”

It's not the first time restaurants in France have cracked down on mobile phones. In 2014 The Local reported how top chefs in France were cracking down on so-called food porn.

Grumpy French chefs crack down on food porn




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Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

One thing everyone can agree on is that France has a lot of cheese - but exactly how many French fromages exist?

Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

Question: I often see a quote from Charles de Gaulle talking about ‘246 different types of cheese’, but other articles say there are 600 or even 1,000 different types of cheese and some people say there are just eight types – how many different cheeses are there in France?

A great question on a subject dear to French hearts – cheese.

But it’s one that doesn’t have a simple answer.

Charles de Gaulle did indeed famously say “How can anyone govern a country with 246 different types of cheese”, but even in 1962 when he uttered the exasperated phrase, it was probably an under-estimate.

READ ALSO 7 tips for buying cheese in France

The issue is how you define ‘different’ types of cheese, and unsurprisingly France has a complicated system for designating cheeses.

Let’s start with the eight – there are indeed eight cheese ‘families’ and all of France’s many cheeses can be categorised as one of;

  • Fresh cheese, such as cottage cheese or the soft white fromage blanc
  • Soft ripened cheese, such as Camembert or Brie
  • Soft ripened cheese with a washed rind, such as l’Epoisses or Pont l’Eveque
  • Unpasturised hard cheese such as Reblochon or saint Nectaire
  • Pasturised hard cheese such as Emmental or Comté
  • Blue cheese such as Roquefort 
  • Goat’s cheese
  • Melted or mixed cheese such as Cancaillot

But there are lots of different types of, for example, goat’s cheese.

And here’s where it gets complicated, for two reasons.

The first is that new varieties of cheese are constantly being invented by enterprising cheesemakers (including some which come about by accident, such as le confiné which was created in 2020).

The second is about labelling, geography and protected status.

France operates a system known as Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC or its European equivalent AOP) to designate food products that can only be made in a certain area.

As cheese is an artisan product, quite a lot of different cheese are covered by this – for example a blue sheep’s milk cheese is only Roquefort if it’s been aged in the caves in the village of Roquefort.

There are 63 listed AOC cheeses in France, but many more varieties that don’t have this protected status.

These include generic cheese types such as BabyBel and other cheeses that are foreign in origin but made in France (such as Emmental).

But sometimes there are both AOC and non-AOC versions of a single cheese – a good example of this is Camembert.

AOC Camembert must be made in Normandy by farmers who have to abide by strict rules covering location, milk type and even what their cows eat.

Factory-produced Camembert, however, doesn’t stick to these rules and therefore doesn’t have the AOC label. Is it therefore the same cheese? They’re both called Camembert but the artisan producers of Normandy will tell you – at some length if you let them – that their product is a totally different thing to the mass-produced offering.

There are also examples of local cheeses that are made to essentially the same recipe but have different names depending on where they are produced – sometimes even being on opposite sides of the same Alpine valley is enough to make it two nominally different cheeses.

All of which is to say that guessing is difficult!

Most estimates range from between 600 to 1,600, with cheese experts generally saying there are about 1,000 different varieties. 

So bonne dégustation!