Takeaways and 4pm happy hour: How French restaurants are coping with curfew

Takeaways and 4pm happy hour: How French restaurants are coping with curfew
Restaurants and cafés must abide by strict health rules and a 9pm curfew. Photo: AFP
In nine French cities long leisurely dinners out are a thing of the past as the curfew obliges everyone to be home by 9pm - so how are restaurants adapting to the new situation?

In France, dinner is traditionally rarely served before 8pm, especially when eaten out. So when the French government declared a 9pm curfew in Paris and eight other cities hard hit by Covid-19 in a bid to curb the spiralling virus rates, restaurants got a new challenge on their plates: How to make up for the loss of the post-9pm profits? 

READ ALSO What you need to know about France's nighttime curfew

Some restaurants have employed what might seem like a radical strategy and now offer early-bird dinner services: come at 6.30, eat at 7pm, leave in time to be home by 9pm. 

While some sniggered about this kind of incentive – “are we going to eat like Americans?” some jokingly asked – some French are determined to save their restaurants – even if that means eating early.

 

 

An online initiative aims to entice more people to go out to eat early, through the Twitter hashtag #J'aimemesrestos (I love my restaurants):

 

Early happy hour(s)

Still, some restaurants reckoned that keeping an evening service was too big a risk.

“Stopping everything at 9pm means having to stop serving food around 8pm maximum,” said Lionel, 46, the owner of the restaurant Le Royal Cadet in the lively 9th arrondissement in Paris.

“We are saying goodbye to half of the turnover,” he told The Local as he smoked his cigarette on the sidewalk in front of his restaurant.

“Even our parents have never experienced something like this, it's unseen since World War II,” he said.

Lionel had taken what he called a “radical decision” and completely stopped doing the evening service. His restaurant now only serves food during lunch time.

“For the rest of the day, I make money on drinks,” he said.

They had brought happy hour forward an hour – it now started at 4pm and lasted until 8pm – he explained, before interrupting himself in order to ask two customers not to forget to write their names and phone numbers on the register. 

New health rules

All French restaurants now have to comply with an updated, stricter health protocol set in place to limit spread within their establishments. These include spreading out tables even more than they had to this summer, which itself has led to a drop in revenue.

Eric, 44, a waiter at a restaurant on the Faubourg Poissonnière street, was pretty gloomy about the future.
 
“We haven’t done anything special for now,” he told The Local. Even though quite a lot of customers were sitting outside sipping coffee and other hot drinks, Eric was resigned. 

“Maybe we will change things later on, but we need a few days to figure out what we’re going to do,” he said.

For now, serving just lunch and skipping the dinner shift seems to be a path several restaurants owners have chosen to go down. After the curfew announcement, Michelin-starred chef Guy Savoy declared that his restaurant now had a new schedule, and would greet its customers “for lunch, for the moment.”

 

Hopes for more early diners

But some restaurants have experience with less rigid food schedules, like those used to serving tourists who get hungry before French dinner time.

“Usually it's tourists who have dinner around 6.30pm, but it’s been a while since we've seen any of them,” said Sophie, 34, a full-time waitress at another restaurant on Rue de Cadet that offers an all-day food service.

Sophie was hoping that the early dinner initiative would become a real trend.

“Unless people decide to have dinner a bit earlier, our evening service will be insignificant,” she said, while writing today's menu on a small blackboard.

As she glanced around the empty restaurant, Sophie said the Covid-19 health crisis had cost them more than tourists.
 
“Even our regular customers don’t come as often as they used to. They come by and say hi, but they don’t eat here anymore because they are scared,” she said.
 
“General panic doesn’t help us at all! So this, plus the 10pm rule, now the curfew… it’s starting to be very complicated,” she said.
 
“Usually we have four chefs who take turns during the weeks, and five staff serving. Now we are just two waiters for the lunch service, and two people in the kitchen. We don’t really have a choice.

“We are beginning to worry about the restaurant’s future, and our profession’s future as well. It’s very uncertain right now, we don’t know where we’re going and how things will evolve.”

Takeaway

For people who just aren't hungry at 6.30pm, many restaurants are also offering a takeaway service.

Delivery drivers are covered by the worker exemption to the curfew, so you can still have food delivered to your home after 9pm, either from one of the traditional takeway providers or your favourite restaurant may be offering to send dinner to your home.

Many restaurants are now advertising a takeaway service, either for collection before 9pm or for delivery after 9pm and this is a nice way to support small businesses that are having a tough time.

 

 

 

By Anne Brivet


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