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

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

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.

(article continues below)

See also on The Local:

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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