‘Everyone wants to be outside’ – How Paris cafés are coping with new health rules

It's been almost two months since Paris' cafés, bars and restaurants reopened, so we sent Olivia Sorrel Dejerine to find out how owners and customers are dealing with the new hygiene requirements.

'Everyone wants to be outside' - How Paris cafés are coping with new health rules
Photo: AFP

The mandatory closing of bars, cafés and bistrots during the coronavirus lockdown completely changed the face of the French capital.

For three months one of the most iconic experiences of Paris – loitering at a terrace café table with a coffee/beer/wine – was put on hold.

Paris cafés were permitted to reopen from June 2nd, but for the first three weeks they could only serve customers on their outdoor terrace spaces.

But even with the strict hygiene rules – spaced-out tables, arrows on the floor showing clients where to walk, extended terraces, masks – this didn’t mean coronavirus had disappeared, nor the anxiety of catching it.

Many Paris cafés have been given to expand their outdoor seating areas. Photo: AFP

So how did Parisians react? Did they rush back to restaurants once lockdown was lifted or did they remain vigilant?

“I was really happy for restaurant owners, but I still don’t go to eat there,” said Anouk, 30, who was having a Perrier at a café in the 19th.

“I don’t want to mix with people, plus I discovered I could cook, and that’s great,” she said.

Instead of actually physically going to the restaurant, many opt for take-out or go out just for a drink.

“I often order take-out because I prefer eating outside or at home rather than inside a restaurant,” said Maud, 28, sitting at a terrace near Canal de l’Ourcq.

“But I do go out for drinks in bars,” she said.

Among the people we spoke with, Maud was not the only one to imply that there was a difference between eating at the restaurant and just going out for a beer or a glass of wine.

“In my mind having a drink is always outside as opposed to having a meal,” she said.

“Plus alcohol disinfects,” joked Max, 35, who was sitting with Maud.

After losing three months of revenue during the coronavirus lockdown, restaurant and café owners were relieved to be able to reopen.

Most of them were thankful that Paris city hall gave them the permission to extend their terraces until September 30th, allowing them to seat more customers while respecting the new health rules.

READ ALSO Should Paris cafés be allowed to permanaently expand their terraces?

Many customers said they felt happier sitting outside. Photo: AFP

But what about customers? Did they come back?

“We didn’t have more clients since lockdown was lifted, I would say it is sort of the same, or maybe slightly less”, said Tom, waiter at Chez Mezig on Quai de la Loire in the 19th arrondissement, to The Local.

But the number of customers that restaurants now have really depends on the neighborhood they are situated in and whether they are located in touristy areas or in business areas for instance.

“Seventy per cent of our customers are regulars and on the day we reopened they were all there, and since then we have the feeling life has gone back to normal”, said Natalie, waitress at Koko bistro in the 19th.

“We feel very lucky because we are in a nice neighborhood and it does make a difference,” she said.

What about the “rush of customers” some say restaurants would experience?

“Some clients did rush back, but it was only during the first couple of weeks, because there was ‘the post-lockdown excitement’ and people wanted to go out, but now it has got calm again,” said Tom.

Among the people we spoke with, many said they didn’t hurry and that they were still wary of going back to public places.

“Lockdown gave rise to new habits and it’s also good for the wallet,” said Max about going to restaurants.

“We took advantage of déconfinement while still remaining cautious, and now we think twice about eating out”, he said.

Furthermore, Parisians seem really reluctant to go back indoors. In fact, a few of the ones we talked to pointed out the psychological aspect of being “outdoors” and how it reassured them.

“Customers all want to be outside”, said Tom. 

“And that desire is only going to get stronger now that the government has announced it is mandatory to wear a face mask indoors in public places,” he said.

IN DETAIL When and where do you have to wear a face mask in France



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French doctors to stage more strikes in February

General practitioners in France are planning another industrial action that will see doctors' offices closed as they call for better investment in community healthcare.

French doctors to stage more strikes in February

Primary care doctors in France announced plans to strike again in February, after walkouts in December and over the Christmas-New Year holidays in early January.

The strike will take place on Tuesday, February 14th, and it comes just a few weeks ahead of the end-of-February deadline where France’s social security apparatus, Assurance Maladie, must reach an agreement to a structure for fees for GPs for the next five years.

Hospital doctors in France are largely barred from striking, but community healthcare workers such as GPs are self-employed and therefore can walk out. 

Their walk-out comes amid mass strike actions in February over the French government’s proposed pension reform. You can find updated information on pensions strikes HERE.

Previous industrial action led to widespread closures of primary care medical offices across the country. In December, strike action saw between 50 to 70 percent of doctor’s surgeries closed.

READ MORE: Urgent care: How to access non-emergency medical care in France

New concerns among GPs

According to reporting by La Depeche, in the upcoming strike in February primary care doctors will also be walking out over a new fear – the possibility of compulsory ‘on-call’ hours.

Currently, French GPs take on-call hours on a voluntary basis. Obligatory on-call time for primary care doctors was scrapped in the early 2000s after GPs mobilised against the requirement.

However, representatives from the Hospital Federation have called for it to be reinstated in order to help relieve emergency services.

Additionally, GPs are calling for Saturday shifts to considered as part of their standard working week, in order to allow for a two-day weekend.

Striking primary care doctors are more broadly calling for actions by the government and Assurance Maladie to help make the field more appealing to younger physicians entering the profession, as the country faces more medical deserts, and for working conditions to be improved.

Those walking out hope to see administrative procedures to be simplified and for the basic consultation fee – typically capped to €25 – to be doubled to €50.

In France patients pay the doctor upfront for a visit, and then a portion of the fee is reimbursed by the government via the carte vitale health card.