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RESTAURANTS

Swanky Paris restaurant ‘refuses bookings to Arabs and sits ugly diners upstairs’

The chic Paris restaurant L'Avenue might be renowned for its A-list guests like Kim Kardashian, but an investigation has claimed it systematically refuses bookings for "Arabs, women wearing the veil as well as overweight and ugly diners". The restaurant denies the accusations.

Swanky Paris restaurant 'refuses bookings to Arabs and sits ugly diners upstairs'
Photo: AFP

L'Avenue, on Avenue Montaigne near the famous Champs Elysees avenue in the capital's chic 16th arrondissement boasts Rihanna and Kim Kardashian among its clientele.

But it systematically refuses bookings from people with Arabic-sounding names, women in headscarfs and people from a number of Middle-Eastern countries, a Buzzfeed investigation has claimed.

The restaurant's management trains staff never to take a booking from people with a name that 'sounds Arabic' or from tourists from the Middle-East, specifically Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, according to the online news site.

Women wearing headscarves are also refused entry on account that the restaurant is full, even if it isn't. And anyone who is generally either 'old, ugly, fat or an Asian tourist' is relegated to the first floor, out of sight, the shocking report claims.

Buzzfeed interwieved a number of waitresses who said these racist practices were still in place.

“The director, Alexandre Denis, often said he prefers to have two beautiful blond girls on the terrace, rather that women wearing headscarves, even if they have a lot of money,” one waitress who worked at l'Avenue for over ten years said.

“We were asked to refuse those ones, and each time a hostess took a booking from a customer with an Arabic name, he would ask who was responsible and repeat the instruction that we should refuse them as much as possible by saying that the restaurant is full,” she told Buzzfeed.

 

 

 

In France, it is forbidden to refuse to sell a product or a service to someone and anyone one who does this in a public place in a way that is discriminating, can face up to five years in prison and a 75 000 euros fine.

In Febuary, a number of former staff from L'Avenue restaurant – which is one of several trendy upmarket 'Café Costes' restaurants in Paris owned by brothers French brothers Gilbert and Jean-Louis Costes – who were shocked by the racist practices they were asked to enforce, sent an anonymous letter to French Labour Inspectorate (Inspection de Travail) to denounce the practices.

“If there was a name that sounded Arabic, you can be sure that the customer was refused entry to the restaurant. This is an unacceptable case of racism and discrimination,” the letter deplored.

Interviewed by Buzzfeed earlier this month, the restaurant's director Alexandre Denis denied all of these accusations.  

“All cultures, all nationalities come here,” Denis told Buzzfeed. “There are people from the Middle East, there is everything you want,” he said. “If you want to denounce us as racist people, that's… We'll manage as much as we can, but that's not it. … I can say something, but I do not know how the chicks [sic] will interpret it. … What is certain is that I never gave instructions to refuse customers.”

Buzzfeed however said it studied WhatsApp messages between L'Avenue staff, dating back to the beginning of the year, that it says confirms the discriminatory rules in place.

“Park Hyatt [a Parisian hotel], I told them that tomorrow for lunch we are full !!” one message reads. “They are pushing for two [people] tomorrow afternoon in the name of Al Saoud, be careful not to say yes if they ask for a reservation for 4 to another name, otherwise they will know that we're not full. They said they would call back tomorrow, so be careful. Thank you girls.”

This is not the first time a Costes restaurant has provoked controversy over its policy of picking and choosing certain diners.

In 2013, another investigation revealed that the upmarket Georges restaurant in the Pompidou centre in Paris asked staff to seat 'beautiful people' in the front, and relegate 'ugly' people to the back.

The policy was revealed by a former hostess at a chic Parisian restaurant who claimed that her bosses had a policy of seating “beautiful people” in view of passersby, while keeping less attractive diners hidden.

The former hostess at the Georges in the world-famous Pompidou Centre, told print-only French satirical and investigative newspaper Le Canard Enchainé that her bosses enforced a policy of seating “handsome and beautiful” customers by the front of the establishment, and keeping ugly ones hidden away.

Far from keeping the looks-based discrimination hidden, Gilbert Costes was proud of it, she claimed, personally coming to the restaurant Georges to emphasise the importance of the policy to staff.

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ECONOMY

‘Fully booked for a month’ – France’s bars and cafés prepare to reopen after six months of closure

France's bars, restaurants and cafés will finally be allowed to reopen on Wednesday after six months of closure. But with reduced capacity and a bad weather forecast, it's not be the reopening many were hoping for.

'Fully booked for a month' - France's bars and cafés prepare to reopen after six months of closure
Terraces will be able to reopen at a 50 percent capacity with a maximum of six people per table maximum (everyone must be seated). Photo by BERTRAND GUAY / AFP

Wednesday, May 19th marks phase two of France’s reopening plan, which allows bars, restaurants and cafés to open up their outdoor areas only.

IN DETAIL France’s calendar for reopening 

All booked up

At Pipalottes, a restaurant in the 9th arrondissement, everyone is busy cleaning and getting the place ready for the big day. “We’re trying to make the most of the space on the terrace to be able to get everyone in, but we’re having to cancel some reservations,” said Maximilien, the owner whose terrace will accommodate 48 people. “We’re trying our best to keep everyone happy.”

On Wednesday, large terraces can reopen at a 50 percent capacity with a maximum of six people per table (everyone must be seated), and the curfew will be shifted from 7pm to 9pm. Indoor spaces will reopen on June 9th, when the curfew will be shifted to 10pm.

A ten minute walk away is Sausalito, a wine bar and restaurant that is also fully booked for Wednesday and Thursday night. “We’ve been booked up for the 19th for about a month,” said the owner, Antoine.

He is looking forward to reopening but like many business owners, he hopes this will be the final reopening. “I know that in the UK they are getting worried about the Indian variant, so we need to be careful and play by the rules. We’re crossing our fingers that we will be able to stay open all summer.”

“Parisians love having a drink on a terrasse. Six months without terraces is far too long. It’s just a pity that the weather isn’t great,” added Antoine.

Bad weather forecast

Others aren’t so optimistic, with storms and heavy rain forecast for much of the country.

“I think we’ll have our usual customers who will at least pop in for a drink,” says Alex, the owner of Source Infinie, a restaurant in the 10th arrondissement, which currently has 30 tables facing the street. “But we definitely won’t have the same amount of people we would have if we had good weather.” 

READ ALSO: Storms, rain and strong winds forecast for week France’s café terraces reopen

It’s bad news for François, the owner of Le Bistrot de Madeleine in the 9th arrondissement, who can expand capacity from 14 to 40 if the weather is good enough.

“It’s a real problem, because if it rains I can only seat people in this area,” he says gesturing at the space covered by a blue awning.

“We’ll open on the 19th, it’s important and we are looking forward to seeing our customers again. But we might have to close on some days if the weather is bad, and it’s not worth it for us if we can only serve 12 or 14 people,” he said.

“We are very dependent on the weather. But we are also very happy to be able to reopen, so we’ll have to take it one day at a time,” he said.

Social distancing and strict rules on capacity 

The capital’s bars and restaurants were allowed to stretch their outdoor terraces onto the pavement or the street last summer to allow more outdoor socialising, and these changes have been extended until at least June 2021 – after which they will have to be paid for.

Sausalito is one of the many businesses to have set up a terrance made from wooden pallets in what would usually be taken up by parked cars. “At some point we will have to pay for it, but we don’t know when yet.” said the owner, Antoine. 

Asia, the owner of Les Jolies Mômes in the 9th, has benefited from this measure, which means she can spread out her tables for 50 customers and maintain social distancing more easily. “We are lucky enough to be on a small pedestrian square, and the increased terrace space means we can follow the health restrictions.”

Large terraces will only be allowed to fill up half their space on Wednesday, but last week government officials announced that establishments with small terraces will not be subject to this rule – as long as social distancing measures are followed.

“We will make sure to keep around 1m between tables, but we haven’t been given any precise indications,” said François.

READ ALSO: Paris to keep its expanded outdoor café terraces until summer 2021

Serving food outside

The risk of bad weather, reduced number of tables and the curfew at 9pm makes it very difficult for some restaurants to serve food.

Source Infinie has decided to wait until June 9th, when aside customers being able to sit indoors, the curfew will be shifted to 10pm. “We are a restaurant, but since we are not able to welcome customers inside, and only have 50 percent of the space on our terraces, we’ve decided we’ll only be serving drinks for the time being,” says Alex, the restaurant’s director. 

“It’s far too expensive for the number of customers are allowed to seat, especially with the weather we have at the moment,” he said. “We’ll try to do our best, but I think we’ll have to be patient and unfortunately, even if people are looking forward to eating out again, we won’t be going back to normal straight away.”

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