French food outlets that do not make meals on their own premises could be banned from using the word “restaurant” in a draft law to crack down on ready-made courses that are simply heated up.
The proposal, backed by 30 MPs and the Synhorcat restaurant union, was sparked by fears of France’s global reputation for gastronomic excellence being dented by a tide of low-grade eateries where no fresh ingredients are used and no dishes prepared in situ.
Didier Chenet, Synhorcat’s president, told TF1 television earlier this week: “When they walk into a restaurant, customers don’t know whether their meal was just reheated, or lovingly cooked up by a whole kitchen staff.
“With this [restaurant] label, now they will know.”
Any establishment failing to respect the criteria would no longer be able to call itself a restaurant and the proprietor would not be able to use the word “restaurateur” (restaurant owner).
Mr Chenet added that the fresh ingredients could still be “frozen or vacuum-packed”. “We are not that old fashioned,” he said.Daniel Fasquelle, a Right-wing MP from former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party, will table the proposal as part of a consumer law in June.
Some 31 per cent of French restaurants use industrially prepared food products, according to a recent union study. But the same report found that 67 per cent of food outlets would be prepared to replace pre-prepared fare with fresh ingredients if it meant keeping the “restaurant” label.
The study found that if the new rules were applied, some 10 per cent of French food outlets would lose the right to be called restaurants.
The Synhorcat union claimed the measure could potentially create 27,000 jobs, even if it meant increasing the customer’s bill by around seven per cent. Exceptions could be made for charcuterie, bread, patisseries and ice creams, it said.
However, six other restaurant unions – including France’s largest hotel and restaurant trade body and another representing fast food outlets – on Thursday voiced “massive opposition” to the proposal. They claim that, on the contrary, it would have “dramatic” consequences for the sector, which has already lost 2,500 jobs in the past two years, according to figures released this week.
The unions seized on the definition of the word restaurant in Le Petit Robert, one of France’s most popular dictionaries, as simply being: “An establishment where a meal is served in exchange for payment”.
“The real richness of French restaurants is their diversity,” they wrote in a statement.
The restrictive rules would “create total confusion in the eyes of the public, customers and above all international tourists”.
The unions instead back another label of “artisan-restaurateur” for those making meals on the premises with fresh produce, along the lines of rules for bona fide bakers, who proudly bear the label “artisan-boulanger”.
France’s traditional sit-down restaurants, once the envy of the world, were dethroned by fast food for the first time earlier this year.
Changing French eating habits saw fast food take 54 per cent of the market last year for a turnover of 34 billion euros (£29 billion), compared to 40 per cent in 2011. Last month, top chefs including Alain Ducasse launched a new “quality restaurant” label that will be granted to eateries that prepare their own food.