French restaurants set empty tables in appeal for lockdown help
By Geert De Clercq
PARIS (Reuters) - Restaurants, bars and hotels across France set empty tables and draped chef's aprons outside on Wednesday to protest against continuing lockdown restrictions and demand more state aid.
France ordered the shutdown of its hospitality industry on March 14 - three days before a nationwide coronavirus lockdown - and all establishments remain closed even after the government began relaxing some restrictions on May 11.
"It's sad not to have restaurants and bars open, they're part of our life and culture," Aurore Begue, co-owner of three restaurants, said at a protest meeting by the Alexandre III bridge over the Seine.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe will unveil measures to ease the lockdown on Thursday, though it is not known whether that will include reopening restaurants and cafes, particularly in 'red zone' virus hot spots like Paris. The government declined to comment ahead of his statement.
Restaurateurs acknowledged state aid had helped keep them afloat, notably a furlough scheme for some 1 million workers in their industry. But they say more is needed.
In a joint statement, 11 industry associations urged the government to drop social charges for 2020 and to extend furlough contributions for as long as social distancing rules prevent restaurants operating at full capacity.
They also called on telecoms companies and utilities to reduce charges and want municipalities to provide more space in public areas to compensate for social distancing rules indoors.
"The Paris mayor has said restaurants would get more space on sidewalks, but this has not been put in practice yet," said Didier Desert, owner of the Ambassade d'Auvergne restaurant.
Operators also want landlords to drop rent charges for the lockdown period and to make rents proportionate with their turnover while lockdown restrictions last.
"A closed restaurant has no expenses, but no income either," said Stephane Malchow, who runs the Art Deco Mollard brasserie near the capital's Saint Lazare train station. Opened in the late 19th century, it had never closed before, not even during World War Two.
(Reporting by Geert De Clercq; editing by Philippa Fletcher)