Today, I ate my first bite of restaurant food in two months. It wasn’t planned. I was walking around in the neighborhood after I picked up a washable mask from my pharmacy. As I rounded the corner off Rue Faidherbe, I saw one of my favorite cafés with its door open, Le Pure Café. They’d put a table just outside and placed an enormous bouquet of colorful flowers on top, inviting me to come closer.
On the ground beside the table, they’d set a chalkboard. For two months, that chalkboard had been waiting, blank, and now it once again boasted the day’s offerings.
The only difference was the addition of two words: À EMPORTER—take out, (or takeaway in the Queen’s English). They were serving three items from their usual menu, and a plat du jour, all affordably priced.
The closure of Paris’s beloved cafés, which are not set to open for seating any time soon, has been one of the biggest heartbreaks of lockdown. I miss them as if they were people, ache to sit on their terraces again, like a mother’s lap. It’s one of the reasons I love living in Paris so much, that vie de flaneur—watching the world go by as I sip on my glass of wine.
Cafés, like many small businesses, are in danger in Paris, and many were already struggling when they were forced to close. We’ve been worrying which might close for good because of lockdown. There isn’t a huge culture of takeout or delivery service for restaurants and cafés here in France; that’s for the sandwich shops and Dominos (yes, they have them here, too). Restaurants didn’t even give doggie bags until a few years ago. So there was no mechanism in place to make money when they were closed in March.
But slowly, many cafés and restaurants are learning that they need to get creative to stay afloat, and now with potential customers no longer locked down, these eateries are starting to offer takeout and delivery service of limited menus.
I hadn’t planned to order anything; I only passed by to say hello and take photos. But seeing signs of life in the café, and that takeaway menu like an invitation to a party, I heard myself asking, “Can I order something?”
“Bien sûr!” the manager told me, his face lighting up. He seemed happy to be serving someone again. It is, after all, his life’s work.
I ordered their burger—not sure why, but it jumped out at me—and waited in the sun for my order, chatting with the server. While I waited, a few locals, seeing the café’s door open, stopped to say hello. “How long have you been open?” one woman asked, her voice rising high with delight. The server told her they’d been open since Tuesday.
“Great!” the woman said. “I’m just going to get my hair cut, and then I’m coming right back!”
For café owners, whose places of business are like their homes, and their regulars like family, these months of closure are not just hard financially. Being able to serve customers again is about more than just money. And for their customers, seeing their local café open again, a place that is a huge part of the daily routine here in France, gives them comfort, and a sense of normalcy.
The word restaurant, which comes from the French (to provide food), literally means to be restored to a former state. And we will only feel like ourselves again when our favorite restaurants are open again. Until then, we’ll have to sustain ourselves with takeaway.
Support your local restaurants. Contact them directly for takeout or delivery because they earn more than if you use third-party apps like Uber Eats or Deliveroo (France).
Les plats du jour