When French restaurant owners complain about home cooking, they aren’t referring to the threat of empty seats from stay-at-home diners and keen amateur chefs. Instead, they’re talking about new laws that will help restaurants that prepare their dishes from scratch – and hurt those that don’t.
The government has this week launched a consultation on how best to implement a decision taken by French MPs in February to promote restaurants that serve meals cooked on the premises using fresh ingredients. From the summer, these restaurants will have to use the term ‘fait maison’ on their menus.
Diners will be able to infer, then, that restaurants that don’t use this label serve industrially prepared food.
The move comes in response to a growing trend for eateries simply to serve heated-up ready meals. More than 40,000 restaurants across the country are said to be doing this for some or all of their dishes.
The reason why is clear: money. Buying in, say, ready-made desserts means restaurants don’t need a pastry chef. The savings can make all the difference to a small restaurant trying to survive in a tough economic climate.
However, these restaurants now fear they will lose custom.
It is cold comfort to them that things could have been worse. The original proposal went as far as giving restaurants similar rights to those of bakeries: since 1998, only those that make their dough on the premises can call themselves boulangeries. The rest are mere dépôts de pain.
This would have seen eateries that served ready-prepared meals prevented from calling themselves restaurants.
Quite what this would have done to the restaurant industry remains a subject of debate.