The impact of COVID on our local restaurants

I first started our gite business in 2015 and I prepared an information pack for our guests which included our suggestions for what we thought were some of the best places to eat in the area, from a little creperie set in a courtyard run by one woman to a beautiful Michelin-starred restaurant in Agen.
Over the years, one or two places have come into the list and one or two have dropped out.
I am going through the list now so I have an up to date info pack for our new and returning guests.

It is so sad to see that over this last two years something like 50% of the restaurants we know and love, with the owners we have grown to know and love have either closed completely or have changed hands, with all that means in terms of building up a new reputation.

I am having to throw out my list and basically start from scratch. My list this year will have to rely on up-to-date reviews on google and trip adviser. There is no way we have the time or the money these days to bring our personal recommendations to our guests. One or two places we will check out and it will be fun to find somewhere new for ourselves it’s true. But, I am in shock at the number that have disappeared or have big question marks over the new owners’ capabilities.

When we travelled through France last year we were really sad to see how many restaurants had closed in some areas, though were also pleased to see many still thriving in others. I don’t know why some areas have been hit especially, but I do hope that many of these businesses can recover and go on to do well again.

We used to do the same, but gave up. Our “experiences” tended to be totally different from those of our guests (especially the British ones). Just had to be honest, e.g. food good, potentially bad service

In our area (Vendee / Deux-Sevres border), it is mainly the poor or mediocre restaurants that have closed, and those that always were in the good to excellent bracket for innovation, food quality, and service, are now extremely busy. There are a small number of formerly British run restaurants that have closed due to health or family issues requiring a return to the UK, but that is not anything to do with Covid.
Basically the Covid factor has sorted the wheat from the chaff, and in the long run that is probably no bad thing from the client’s point of view.

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I wish that were true. In our case:

Michelin star restaurant in Agen closed
Our favourite absolutely brilliant choice and excellent service creperie in Marmande taken over by someone who thinks the way forward is to raise prices and halve the choices
Terraced restaurant overlooking the Lot that did good value large salads closed
Lovely restaurant on a lock on the canal that did super beef dishes taken over by a totally incompetent
Terraced restaurant by a halte nautique that did tapas and good value fish and chips taken over by pretentious pseuds with a highly over-priced menu and appalling service
Restaurant in town run by two highly experienced chefs taken over by someone who worked in admin in a garage and has “always wanted to own a restaurant” (I fear the worst)

and so it goes on. COVID has brought to a head decisions about retirement, without doubt and no doubt also those who have bought can’t believe their luck that they have managed to buy so cheaply at this time but from our point of view I suddenly have far fewer places in lovely settings that I am willing to recommend to our guests. :cry:

Upon further reflection, I should think that perhaps it has been the travel restrictions brought about by Covid that have done the damage, rather than the actual infection itself.
Here, the restaurants mainly cater for the local resident trade rather than a tourist season, and so perhaps have not been hit quite so hard as they have always had the weekday lunch trade to rely on despite Covid.

Except through significant periods they were actually shut.

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I think this is so in many cases and if too young to retire… a change of direction was perhaps a better bet.

I find it a bit odd that sometimes what one is told, and what one actually sees, are somewhat at odds with each other.
Like all the others, our village bar / restaurant was closed during the ‘confinement’, but then a fortnight after they were allowed to re-open, they closed for a 3 week holiday when I would have thought that they would have been desperate for trade.
Could it be that they were actually making more money from government support than they were being open I wonder ? Or perhaps it was the €1,000 a month that they make from supplying beverages to the Mairie.
Whichever way it is, I do think that running a business here in France requires an in depth knowledge of all the various schemes for financial support available from various sources.

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One of the villages I pass through every week has a large bar/restaurant that has changed hands several times over the years. New owners took over in 2019 and quickly built up a decent lunchtime trade as well as opening on Thursday evening for pizzas which tied in with the afternoon/evening market which was held in their car park. Unfortunately when Covid hit in 2020 the restrictions hit the lunchtime business, the market closed and last summer the bank pulled the plug forcing the to restaurant shut, it’s unlikely to re-open anytime soon.

Being the only business in the village with a large car park, recycling bins and on the main road through it was effectively a meeting point for the locals and passing trade, it’s closure signals the death of yet another rural village.

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But that has always been the French way. :grin: We know several places that close for their own “congé” when one would have thought they would be only too happy for the tourist trade round here - but no. The French work to live, they do not live to work.

:rofl: that sounds a bit steep… :rofl:

We haven’t lost any restaurants around here because of covid, as far as I know (one closed in our local village - but that was sadly due to a marriage break-up - it’s now up for sale). But we are currently planning a visit to the UK - sort of postponed Xmas for family members that couldn’t come to us as planned - to what was the nearest town to our former home (Alnwick, Northumberland) and have been shocked to find that not only have most of our old haunts disappeared, but there are very few restaurants left at all. Not sure if it was the pandemic or other factors.

None of our local restaurants have closed, most shifted to take away either by phone or ordering through menu’s in the local shops.
Two of them supplied the local shops with takeaways you picked up in shop after ordering the day before, you would see the tradesmen sitting in their vans in the carpark eating their lunches they would normally go into the restaurant for everyday :sunglasses:

The government support was pretty good for many. But the issue now for the ones near us is lack of staff. They can’t re-open because they have no-one to cook, serve, or clean. The small family run ones are ok, but bigger ones suffering (by bigger I mean maybe 10 tables!)

However, even if the hospitality trade hasn’t bounced back, I think it will creep back. And perhaps in a more contemporary form? We fell over a new’ish (opened last year I think) restaurant in Paray-le-Monial that was delightful. Beautiful restauration of building, very friendly staff, small but well thought through menu. Not loaded with cream and butter and old fashioned sauces. And since OH doesn’t eat meat (what an idea to holiday in the heart of Charolais!) they created something for him with no problem that wasn’t an omelette and chips. And gave the dog a bowl of water.

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Where was that Jane.

Of course, that must be close to you as we passed above your village in our quest to find sun at the top of Butte de Suin! Called La Maison Verneuil, jus ton edge of town centre in a sort of park. Restaurant at lunchtime, and bar/tapas in the evening I think.

That’s what I thought as well Stella, but the info came from the guy who was running the place at the time. Must be lots of ‘Vin d’honneur’ after every council meeting perhaps. :slight_smile:

Ha ha… If that were the case, I think the Tresorie would have a heart attack when they checked the Accounts for that Mairie…
I’m told they go through everything with a fine-tooth comb.

This will be another topic of conversation with my neighbours. Always keen to improve my language skills.
If there really is the possibility of councillors boozing away public money, I’m sure some folk will be very voluble and I might learn some new phrases … :rofl: :wink:

In Brighton the wonderful green party used to get through £13 of biscuits per meeting. Probably not that many biscuits but by the time the caterers add their bit…