French Law Proposes 'Restaurants' Cook From Scratch

Paris - A French lawmaker is pushing an ordinance to restrict the use of the label “restaurant” to establishments that prepare their food from scratch.

Art collectors of ArtKabinett social media network always look for genuine home cooking when visiting France.

About a third of French restaurants say they use industrial food in one dish or another. Parliamentarian Daniel Fasquelle and other officials fear declining standards at the nation’s 150,000 restaurants threaten a tourism industry that represents 7 percent of France’s $2.8 trillion economy.

Fasquelle says his model is a 1998 law limiting use of the word “boulangerie” to bakeries that make their own dough, which has been credited with an improvement in French bread.

This political initiative resonates with Chef Pascal Brot, who arrives every morning at 7:15 a.m. to turn on the ovens at Le Mesturet, a 130-year-old restaurant near the Paris stock market.

The daily deliveries and six other kitchen workers arrive from about 8 a.m. for the morning-long process of dicing vegetables, preparing meats, and making sauces.

After lunch service, Brot, 48, does his orders for the next day and then oversees the 3:30 p.m. arrival of the dinner shift.

At 11:30 p.m., the last staff member leaves the 130-seat restaurant, after preparing desserts for the next day. Products are 21 percent of his costs and personnel take up 45 percent. After upkeep, taxes, and utilities, he says he can make a margin of 6 to 7 percent. With prepared foods and a smaller staff, he could make 9 to 10 percent, he said.

Roaring Business

Restaurants that serve up reheated foods have it easier. Demand from them has spawned an industry of pre-packaged food suppliers and logistics-services providers.

Davigel, a unit of Nestle SA (NESN), employs 3,000 people in France, where it has 66,000 clients for its 3,000 products.

This week’s online offers include dishes such as lentils and sausage for 6.50 euros a kilogram (2.2 pounds) and Provencal-style pork stew for 7.82 euros a kilo. The price for “moelleux au chocolat,” a chocolate cake with a runny warm interior, wasn’t listed because it’s not on special. It comes in a box of 18, and needs a minute in the microwave, the website says.

Brakes Group, a British company owned by Bain Capital, has 43 sites to distribute 3,400 food products to 43,000 clients in France. The company, which had 2011 revenue of 592 million euros in the country, claims to roll out a new dish for restaurants every three days.

France’s restaurants have revenue of 43 billion euros and 405,000 employees whose future is threatened by increased use of pre-prepared food, he said.

Commerce and Tourism Minister Sylvia Pinel has suggested a logo restaurants can carry in their menus to say dishes are made from scratch. Pinel said stripping tens of thousands of restaurants of their designation may be too divisive.

Fasquelle says establishments will easily survive even if they call themselves “grill” or “bar.”