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‘Last threshold to get back to normality’ – French cafés and restaurants prepare to fully reopen

As France's bars, cafés and restaurants prepare to fully reopen, some proprietors are delighted to be returning to a sense of normality, while others worry about the new requirements such as QR codes to record customer details, as Eve Hebron found out.

'Last threshold to get back to normality' - French cafés and restaurants prepare to fully reopen
Cafes, restaurants and bars can fully reopen on Wednesday. Photo: Bertrand Guay/AFP

Stage 3 of France’s reopening on Wednesday brings several big changes for the country’s embattled hospitality industry – cafés, bars and restaurants can reopen their indoor spaces for the first time since October 2020 and the curfew moves back to 11pm, ensuring a more usual nighttime trade.

Just off Arts and Métiers, on Rue des Gravilliers, sits Cafe L’Attirail. Pre-Cvoid, this bar was jam packed with students and young people in search of a cheap pint and the establishment’s famous garlic potatoes which are always offered free along with a drink purchase.

“11pm will be much better …  9pm is difficult because that’s the time people are experiencing their peak enjoyment, so to cut it short is a shame,” says the bar’s owner.

“It’s better than it was before, but people finish work and have to rush to have a drink before 9pm … 11pm will be much better and will make people’s lives less stressful,” says Karim, one of the brothers who co-own Le Village, a popular bar in Paris’ 18th arrondissement.

READ ALSO Bars, curfew and travel – what changes in France on Wednesday 

With many of Paris’ bars and restaurants focused upon evening hospitality, many didn’t reopen on the first allowed date of May 19th.

For many, opening up until 9pm simply wasn’t worth it and limited space on terraces as well as rollercoaster weather forecasts meant the risk was too high.

A waiter poses in front of the terrace of his café in Paris ahead of the reopening. Photo by Lucas BARIOULET / AFP

New rules

From Wednesday, cafés will be able to operate 100 percent of their outside space, as well as 50 percent of their indoor space, although tables will still be limited to six people and bar service banned.

In addition to these restrictions, owners are now required to collect customer details so that they can be traced in the case of a Covid outbreak.

Most have taken up the government’s offer of a QR code that can be scanned with a smartphone to collect details from each customer, but plenty also have a pen-and-paper option for people who prefer the old-fashioned way.

READ ALSO QR codes and sign-ins – how France’s reopened restaurants will keep track of customers

Details are only required from customers eating or drinking inside, it is not obligatory for on the outdoor terraces.

At Bistrot Marguerite, just off Paris’ Hotel de Ville, there’s a sign prompting people to download the government’s TousAntiCovid app in order to be able to scan these codes.

“We’ve put out all the resources, but it’s whether the customer is willing to download the app or record their details on the notepad. That’s something the government can’t force customers to do,” says waiter Thomas.

I don’t have a smartphone’

Jules, a graphic designer, sits on the terrace with friends for a post-work pint.

“It seems like people are assuming customers won’t check-in with the QR code, but I think myself and my friends would if we were all going for a meal.

“It might be different if it was just drinks because there’s less formality, but we’d probably sit on a terrace [where QR check-in codes are not obligatory] for a drink anyway.”

Annette, a retired teacher who lives in the 4th arrondissement, is enjoying a coffee in the sunshine at the Bistrot.

“I don’t have a smartphone” she says, “and even if I did, I’m not sure I’d download the application in order to scan the code … it seems like a lot of effort to have a coffee inside on a rainy day”.

Madeline and Juliette, aged 17 and 18, are also sat on the terrace enjoying a cold drink whilst completing their homework.

“I don’t see the problem … the government has said they won’t be collecting data from a person when that person scans the QR code. If it means a fast and easy way of keeping track and control of potential cases, people should realise it’s important” says Madeline.

Juliette agrees: “If the café or restaurant has gone to the effort of making somewhere safe, customers should respect that and obey the rules”.

QR codes will not apply to customers sitting outside. Photo by Bertrand GUAY / AFP

‘Tourists won’t want to bother with all this’

The QR codes can only be scanned with the French Covid-tracking app TousAntiCovid. Although the app is available for non-French phones, establishments that cater for tourists worry that explaining all this will be complicated and difficult.

At Le Départ Saint Michel, close to Notre-Dame and usually popular with tourists, waiter Antoine is concerned.

“In the summer, this place is so busy throughout the day and even into the night” he says, “we have people from all over the world visiting, and with the borders opening up to tourists soon, it will be really difficult to keep track of … especially with so many language barriers [amongst tourists].

“They will have been on holiday for the first time in a long time, it’s doubtful they will want to have to worry about such things.”

Terrace only

And some owners have decided that reopening interiors is just too difficult – especially since the city of Paris has announced that the temporary expansion of terraces can become permanent.

Petit Pache, a natural wine bar in the 11th arrondissement, won’t be opening up the interior.

“The inside is too small for social distancing … and we’ve put all our interior furniture outside on the terrace so now there’s nothing left for the inside” says Maxence, who co-owns the bar with Elodie.

“We decided to capitalise on the terrace as it’s summer.”

Charlotte is the co-owner of Chinoiseries, a Chinese cuisine take-out business and a cook at Echo, a popular restaurant in the 2nd arrondissement.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if smaller restaurants or those that have been open already take a bit of a hit as their customers spread out to these newly opened places,” says Charlotte.  

“But I definitely think there will be a boom within the industry and I’ll be prepping for busier services. Also, many restaurants, especially higher end ones, have been shut since the second lockdown so I imagine people will be rushing to those.

 “It feels like one of the last thresholds to cross for life to return to normal again,” she added.

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FOOD & DRINK

7 tips to keep your grocery shopping in France affordable

With rising inflation and cost of living, many people in France are desperate to keep their grocery bill low. Here are a few tips for how to avoid paying too much for food, drink and other everyday items.

7 tips to keep your grocery shopping in France affordable

With inflation ticking upward, we’ve seen prices rise, especially for things like fresh vegetables, meat, pasta and cooking oil. Even though inflation is affecting food prices less than energy prices, buying groceries is still a huge part of every household’s budget, and unfortunately things are set to keep getting more pricey. 

We’ve put together a list of a few ways you can save a few euro at the supermarket:

Figure out if you qualify for any government benefits

First things first, it is worth seeing whether you can qualify for any existing government assistance, like CAF. On top of this, the French government has promised to set up a food voucher of €50 per month for low-income households after the parliamentary elections in June. 

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How to receive CAF payments in France

Compare store prices

Unfortunately, going to the closest supermarket is not always the most economical solution. If you prioritise grocery stores on the lower end of the price spectrum (and you’re willing to walk a bit further) you can save a lot of money. A helpful tool to find the cheapest store near you is the “Que Choisir” online interactive map (click here) that has listed 4,000 affordable stores in mainland France. 

Discount grocery stores, like Lidl and Aldi, are great options for saving a little extra at checkout. But if you must go to a pricier chain, like Monoprix for instance, try to buy Monoprix brand items – they’re typically a little less expensive than name brand foods.

Plan ahead to make the most out of discounts

If you go online ahead of heading to the grocery store, you can see which items will be discounted (“promotion”). If you cannot find this information online, you can always go to the store and ask for a catalogue of that week’s sales items.

Normally, this is something the cashier should have access to. With these discounts in mind, you can construct more affordable recipes. 

Franprix’s website, the ‘discounts’ page

Also, if you’re looking for cheaper recipes in general, you can always go to blogs and online recipe sites specialised in frugal shopping. If you want to try some French specific sites, you can test out “https://www.marmiton.org/” or “https://1repas1euro.com/recettes/

When it comes to discounts though, be careful about conditions involved (particularly when it comes to loyalty cards).

Sometimes these promotions promise a lot, but actually getting your money back might not be as simple as slashing a few cents at the checkout – you might need to send the coupon somewhere to get the discount, or wait for points to accumulate on your card.

That being said, you can optimise your discounts using several online sites that allow you to combine your loyalty cards (Fidme, Fidall, and Stocard). Other online coupon sites include Groupon, which allows you to make grouped purchases (therefore cheaper), and Coupon Network and Shopmium, which help you benefit from existing discounts. For cashback plans, you can look to websites such as Shopmium, iGraal, FidMarques and Quoty, which allow you to be reimbursed for a part of your expenses.

Make a list, set a budget… and stick to it

It might seem obvious, but when you go into the store, try to resist temptation. The best way to do this is to keep track (in real time) how much you are spending.

Some stores make this easier by allowing you to carry around a ‘self-scanner,’ this will help you to watch your bill go up as you shop. Another tip for this is to withdraw the exact amount of cash you expect to need for the essentials of your trip – obviously in order to do this, you’ll need to know the base prices of your essential items, so it will require a bit of planning ahead.

Buy (then freeze) soon-to-expire products

A consumer’s best friend and sure-fire way to decrease waste! Items coming up on their use-by-date tend to be discounted, so if you plan to purchase these foods and then immediately freeze them, you can significantly extend their shelf life.

Lots of supermarkets make this easier for you by dedicating entire shelves to “short shelf life” items that, according to Elodie Toustou, the head of the “Money” section of the magazine 60 Millions de consommateurs, opting for these foods will allow you to “pay three to four times less.”

Another great way to do this is to use applications like “Phénix” and “Too Good to Go.” These applications will allow you to set your geographic parameter and then click on food stores, restaurants, and bakeries in your area that are getting rid of “panniers” (sacks) of soon-to-be-expired foods. Lots of times these panniers cost only a couple euros.

The trick here is to plan ahead by arriving at the start of the allotted time (if the boulangerie on your corner is offering “Too Good To Go” bags from 11am to 2pm, try to get there as close to 11am as possible for the best items).

Re-consider markets and farmer’s stores

Contrary to popular belief, buying from farmers’ markets and grocers that sell predominantly local products actually can save you money, particularly if you are buying the seasonally relevant fruits and vegetables. Buying directly from a producer can also allow you to eliminate the margin taken by intermediaries. But be careful, this rule is not true all the time.

One way to benefit from cheaper prices at markets is to arrive as late as possible, when the merchants have started to pack up their products. This might allow you to benefit from lower prices or even free items, as they’ll be hoping to get rid of their remaining items.

Know what items are most impacted by inflation

Finally, as inflation continues to increase, try your best to monitor which foods are most impacted. If possible, it might be worth removing or limiting them from your diet – or looking for more affordable alternatives.

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