Many French employees benefit from coupons to buy lunch, if their workplace doesn’t have a cafeteria. However, the current debate is, should they be used to eat out, or to buy groceries and make a homemade lunch?
On one hand, a homemade lunch helps with food budget relief in tough financial times for many, and on the other, eating out helps boost the restaurant industry that would lose out from the former.
On Tuesday, the French government announced the extension of the authorisation to buy groceries with titres-restaurant (restaurant coupons).
As the name suggests, the restaurant coupons are meant to be spent on lunch in a restaurant. French employees can also buy ready meals in supermarkets, or takeaway sandwiches in their local boulangerie.
However, soaring inflation resulted in the rules changing in 2022, when the government allowed the purchase of groceries using the cherished titres-restaurant.
The measure was meant to bring temporary relief to French employees’ food budget, and expire by 1 January 2024.
When did French restaurant coupons begin?
Restaurant coupons were established in the 1960s because many workplaces failed to offer a proper lunch room to their employees, even though it was a legal requirement since 1913.
French employees give a small share of the coupon’s value, say €4, when the employer pays for the larger share, €6. The result is a €10 coupon for every working day.
The measure is not linked to the employee’s income level, and the coupons’ amount varies per company. Any employee can opt out.
Over the years, the literal paper coupons have become a regular debit card with money transferred on it on pay day. Today, up to €25 per person, and per day, can be spent on food using this system.
In 2021, 987 million restaurant coupons were issued, representing over €7.8 billion.
With the 2022 enlargement to all food items, including groceries, many French people use the money to cook and pack their lunch at home, which is cheaper than eating out every day.
“When it comes to washing down a meal in front of your computer between two meetings, what do you prefer?” asked workplace journalist Gabrielle Predko in an editorial. “Buying food whose price is specifically designed to max out your daily restaurant coupon money, or for the same amount, buy necessary items to cook much-more savoury dishes for several days?”
Many of the 5 million restaurant coupon beneficiaries use the money to simply pay for their families’ groceries. And that’s where the issue lies.
Restaurant owners angry over profit loss
French deputy trade minister, Olivia Grégoire, defended extending the temporary ‘all foods’ rule. “It was very much used by French people in 2023. Inflation is slowing down, flood inflation is beginning to slow down, but it is still complicated,” she said.
The union representing the 234,000 restaurants and places selling food who accept the coupons voiced its discontent, claiming the 2022 rule enlargement resulted in profit loss for the industry.
The union’s president and Michelin star restaurant chef, Thierry Marx, demanded a meeting with the Prime Minister of France, Élisabeth Borne.
“The government is sending a very poor signal to our industry,” the chef told AFP, condemning what he qualified as a “u-turn” from the government.
Thierry Marx said he wants to discuss the situation with the French PM and highlighted how the French restaurant industry’s revenues had decreased by 3% in 2023, when the mass retail industry revenues increased by 6%.
The restaurant owners’ union is proposing supermarket coupons be issued for low-income households, while restaurant coupons return to their initial rules benefiting their industry.
“In ‘restaurant coupons’ there is the word ‘restaurant’,” the former French Top Chef host said. “They should not become supermarket coupons”.
The French economy ministry said the denomination could change to become ‘meals coupons’, and reiterated that the government will need to extend the ‘all foods’ rule beyond 31 December of this year.
Parliament will also still need to approve a law to formally implement the extension.
Source: Euro News