French restaurants struggle to fill jobs lost in lockdown

08-May-2021 Intellasia | AFP | 1:56 PM Print This Post

As restaurants across France prepare to fire up stoves after months of lockdown, owners are facing an unexpected challenge many of their workers aren’t coming back to the long, hard hours of food service.

Felix Dumant, co-owner at Aux Crus de Bourgogne in central Paris, needs to quickly find a chef after his quit for a kitchen job at 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 post starting at 2,500 euros ($3,000) a month after taxes.

“Now he has hours that are much easier for him, for a salary that’s a little bit less but still quite good,” he said.

The chic brasserie is also seeking to replace a head chef who has given notice. That job pays 3,500 euros a month.

After a first two-month Covid lockdown last spring, France has kept restaurants, bars and cafes shut since October in a lockdown that will be lifted in stages starting May 19.

The forced time off has given restaurant employees ample time to reconsider a profession where working nights and weekends in a pressure-cooker environment is the norm, leaving little time for their own families and friends.

Generous unemployment benefits also allowed many to explore other fields a waiter well versed in the art of hospitality can often thrive in retailing.

Scores of former chefs, sommeliers and room managers have expressed relief at finally taking off their aprons for good.

“I asked myself, apart from 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 my family,” Thierry, who quit a head chef job in December, told Le Parisien daily on Thursday.

“We work while everyone else has fun,” Margot Dumant confirmed.

‘It’s not a life’

While demand for good help is always high at restaurants, from fast-food joints to Michelin-starred eateries, experts say the Covid crisis has worsened the shortage.

“We all took advantage of 2020 to think about what we really want from our lives and our jobs,” said Bernard Boutboul, a former restaurant manager who now advises owners worldwide at his Paris-based consultancy Gira.

“And undeniably people who work in restaurants said ‘Stop, I can’t go on like this, it’s not a life’,” he told AFP.

Of the 350,000 restaurant jobs normally in France, he expects that around a third have disappeared over the past year based on client surveys.

That figure is roughly in line with the 100,000 lost according to the UMIH restaurant and hotel lobby.

Chefs in particular are also being lured away by “dark kitchens” that only prepare meals for delivery, which have seen a surge in demand during the lockdowns.

“They’re really hurting us,” Felix Dumant said. “They can generate serious revenue with few employees, and they can pay chefs what we do but with much easier hours.”


With the food-loving French eager to rediscover their favourite haunts, many owners will be scrambling to accommodate everyone clamouring for a table.

“After the health crisis, restaurants are going to have a growth crisis,” Boutboul said. “There’s going to be huge demand that they won’t be able to meet because they won’t have enough staff.”

Young people in particular appear increasingly reluctant to pursue careers in a high-stress industry where only a minority of people manage to get the jobs that pay well above the minimum wage.

Marc-Antoine Surand said that even the departure of just one employee during the lockdown will complicate the reopening of his Quedubon bistro, in a northeast corner of the capital.

“He said he wanted to quit restaurant work 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 open fully, it’s going to be problematic,” he said.

“There are lots of jobs available and not very many candidates,” he added. “So we’re going to be looking very hard!”


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