As restaurants across France prepare to light stoves after months of lockdowns, owners face an unexpected challenge: Many of their employees aren’t returning to the long, hard hours of food service.
Felix Dumant, co-owner of Aux Crus de Bourgogne in central Paris, needs to quickly find a chef after leaving for a kitchen job in a retirement home.
“We understand why he left, he’s a young father with two small children,” Dumant told AFP as he and his sister Margot interviewed candidates this week for a position starting at 2,500 euros ( $ 3,000) per month after tax.
“Now he has hours that are a lot easier for him, for a little less pay but still good enough,” he said.
The chic brasserie is also looking to replace a chef who has given notice. This work brings in 3,500 euros per month.
After a first two-month Covid lockdown last spring, France has kept restaurants, bars and cafes closed since October in a lockdown that will be lifted in stages from May 19.
The forced time off has given restaurant workers ample time to reconsider a profession where night and weekend work in a pressure cooker environment is the norm, leaving little time for their own families and friends.
Generous unemployment benefits have allowed many to explore other areas as well – a waiter well versed in the art of hospitality can often thrive in retail.
Dozens of former chefs, sommeliers and chefs have expressed their relief at finally taking their aprons off for good.
“I asked myself, outside of my job, what have I done with my life? Not much really. To tell the truth, I was 56 years old when I discovered the pleasure of eating with the family, ”Thierry, who left his head as a chef in December, told the daily Le Parisien on Thursday.
“We work while everyone is having fun,” confirms Margot Dumant.
– ‘This is not a life’ –
While the demand for good help is still high in restaurants, from fast food outlets to Michelin-starred restaurants, experts say the Covid crisis has made the shortage worse.
“We all took advantage of 2020 to think about what we really expect from our lives and our jobs,” said Bernard Boutboul, a former restaurant manager who now advises owners around the world at his Parisian consulting firm Gira.
“And undoubtedly the people who work in the restaurants have said ‘Stop, I can’t go on like this, it’s not a life’,” he told AFP.
Of the 350,000 catering jobs normally in France, he expects about a third to have disappeared over the past year on the basis of customer surveys.
This figure roughly corresponds to the 100,000 lost according to the restaurant and lobby of the UMIH hotel.
Chefs in particular are also drawn to “dark kitchens” that only prepare meals for delivery, which have seen increased demand during shutdowns.
“They really hurt us,” said Felix Dumant. “They can generate significant income with fewer employees, and they can pay the chefs what we do but with much easier hours. “
– ‘Problematic’ –
With the French gourmets eager to rediscover their favorite places, many owners will scramble to accommodate all those who ask for a table.
“After the health crisis, restaurants will experience a growth crisis,” said Boutboul. “There will be a huge demand that they cannot meet because they will not have enough staff. “
Young people, in particular, seem increasingly reluctant to pursue a career in a highly stressed industry where only a minority of people manage to secure jobs well above the minimum wage.
Marc-Antoine Surand said that even the departure of a single employee during the lockout will complicate the reopening of his Quedubon bistro, in a northeast corner of the capital.
“He said he wanted to leave the restaurant and go back to school and try something else,” Surand told AFP.
“It won’t be a problem at first, but very quickly when we fully open it will be problematic,” he said.
“There are a lot of jobs available and few candidates,” he added. “So we are going to look very hard!” “
© 2021 AFP