Covid-19 closures: How will French cities draw the line between bars and restaurants?

As Paris and 10 other French towns are ordered to close bars early in an attempt to halt the spread of Covid-19, a row has erupted over what is classed as a bar and what as a restaurant.

Covid-19 closures: How will French cities draw the line between bars and restaurants?
When does a bar becomes a restaurant? Photo: AFP

The new rule on bars is just one part of measures aiming to halt the rapid spread of Covid-19 across France, announced by French health minister Olivier Véran on Wednesday evening.

“There is still time to act,” Véran said, as he announced that all bars in 11 areas will have to close at 10pm the latest from Monday.

Restaurants, on the other hand, may stay open beyond that hour.

With many bars serving light meals such as planchescroque monsieurs or other nibbles, this is the big question: When does a bar become a restaurant?

“We differentiate between bars and restaurants,” Véran said, by the fact that, in bars, people tend to stand up.

Technically, consuming standing up has been prohibited in both restaurants and bars since they reopened after lockdown, but some establishments have relaxed these rules over the summer. According to the health minister, bars broke the rules more than eateries.

“We see fewer people standing (in restaurants). This is why we favour measures relating only to bars in areas on heightened alert, in particular Paris,” Véran said, referring to the government's new alert-system that introduced automatic restrictions in areas with “heightened” levels of Covid-19 spread.

EXPLAINED: How does France's new Covid-19 alert system work?

Paris 'negotiating'

Continuing with their strategy of letting local authorities thrash out the details on legislation in their areas, government left it to local préfectures to decide the exact time (it can be earlier than 10pm but not later) as well as how to draw the line between bars and restaurants.

In the capital, the topic was being negotiated on Friday morning.

“This is the topic that is currently being discussed. At the moment, we don’t know” a press officer told The Local.

“We will have more details on Friday afternoon or Saturday morning,” he said.

AFP later reported that the Paris préfecture had sent out a document with guidelines that would grant “maximum flexibility” when deciding where to draw the line.

“We aim to protect restaurants (that do not serve alcohol without food) from this measure, so they can continue to operate normally,” the document said, adding:

“We must be aware of the fact that legal line separating bars and restaurants is complex, but we believe that we have found a way to do it in an objective manner this in the decree.”

What about their licence?

France operates with different licenses for bars and restaurants, but it's the kind of alcohol served in the respective establishments that is important, not the food.

Restaurants can either have a licence to serve alcohol only with food, or a débit de boissons a consommer sur place licence if they want to sell only alcohol to some customers.

However, an establishment does not need an extra license to serve food, according to the website where the government has explained the rules for the different level of licenses.

“There is then no need to combine the two licenses,” they wrote.

Seeing as, normally, the highest level-drinking license is the most lucrative, many restaurants who want to sell alcohol outside of meal hours may operate on a bar license and not a restaurant license.

While restaurants who only have a license to sell alcohol with food will, according to the guidelines above, be exempt from the rule, things are less straightforward for restaurants operating on a bar license.

We will know more about this in the coming days and will update this article when we do.

The places that have to close bars early are: Paris and the petite couronne (Seine-Saint-Denis, Val-de-Marne and Hauts-de-Seine), Lyon, Lille, Montpellier, Bordeaux, Grenoble, Rennes, Rouen, Saint-Etienne, Toulouse and Nice.

For towns, the restriction is in the metropole area – the city and its surrounding suburbs.


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Plans to create ‘car-share only’ lanes on French motorways

A consultation has begun on creating 'car-share only' lanes on certain French motorways, in order to encourage drivers to begin carpooling.

Plans to create 'car-share only' lanes on French motorways

Certain lanes on French motorways including the A1, A13 and both the interior and exterior ringroad in Paris could soon be reserved for buses, taxi and cars with more than one person inside.

The government consultation has been launched into plans for six roads in the Île de France region – the A1, A4, A13, A14, A86 and the Paris périphérique – after the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Sections of some of these roads (mainly the Paris périphérique) will be used during the Games as ‘voies olympiques’ (Olympic lanes) during the Games – reserved for athletes, media and others accredited by the Paris Olympic committee at peak times. They will be equipped with traffic cameras and extra signage for this purpose.

However, once the Games are over, Paris authorities have proposed not simply returning the lanes to normal, but instead reserving them for shared vehicles – buses, taxis and any car with two or more people inside.

It will not involve building new lanes, simply reserving certain lanes for shared vehicles. The proposal includes a 12km section of the A1 between Charles de Gaulle airport and the Stade de France and a 13km section of the A13 between Rocquencourt and the Saint-Cloud tunnel.

Paris City Hall has been involved in testing several different methods of ‘carpooling cameras’ that can show how many people are in a vehicle, but it is not yet clear how the shared-vehicle lanes would work.

The French government is trying to encourage car-sharing as a way to lower France’s energy consumption, offering €100 to anyone who signs up to a car-share platform.

You can have your say on the consultation here