7 illegal things that may happen in restaurants in France

In autumn 2015, a customer filed a complaint with the police against a bistro in Draguignan that refused to sell him a hot drink after 5pm. Nice-Matin journalist Benoit Guglielmi spoke with Marc Ghioldi, a Nice-based lawyer who deals in consumer law. “Remember,” says Me Ghioldi regarding these laws, “that a judge has the ultimate power to assess the facts in each case.”

1. After hours

TRestaurant waiterhe scenario: It’s 7pm, apèros are being served on the terrace. I sit and order an espresso. “Sorry, we don’t serve hot drinks at this hour.”

What the law says: “According to Article L.122-1 of the Consumer Code it is a refusal to sell except for a ‘legitimate reason’ (ie the coffee machine is broken). Restaurant owners are liable in this case to a €1,500 fine, and double for repeat offences.”

2. Expecting someone?

The scenario: I’m taking my sweetheart to dinner. At the back of the room, in a quiet corner, there’s a round table, not reserved. This is the last available table and seems ideal for our evening tête-à-tête ... but it’s set for five. The waiter politely refuses to seat me.

What the law says: “As in the previous example, it is a refusal of regulated sale by article L.122-1 of the Code of consumption, so illegal.”

3. One for the road

The scenario: The bistro terrace is sunny. I sit with a book, while sipping my strawberry milk. Time passes (the book is good) but the waiter soon pushes me to a calcium overdose, order another or free up the table.

What the law says: “This case is very common but unregulated. There is no requirement to consume/order more, provided you can justify having already ordered once. So consider keeping the bill. In 1987, the DGCCRF (General Directorate for Competition Policy, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Control) estimated that ‘the obligation to renew consumption, which is not explicitly provided for in any text, is a tolerance that may be justified by a manager of a café that is lacking space, especially during peak hours’. However that opinion has no legal value.”

4. Bringing your own snacks

The scenario: I sit at a bar, order a soda and take a sandwich out of my bag. The waiter makes a face and refuses to let me eat my snack on the premises.

What the law says: “The bistro is in illegality, unless a sign outside of the establishment clearly states this.”

5. Drink per person

The scenario: There are three of us at the bar, but without a penny between us. We order a water with syrup and three straws. The barkeeper says we have to order three drinks.

What the law says: “The law is silent on this case. The bistro cannot deny you your syrup (that would be, again, a refusal to sell), but it may deny you the straws or additional glasses. And if the presence of non-consumers causes him damage (lack of space, customers waiting for a table to eat), then he can ask you to leave the premises. Also note: it’s possible non-consumers can be charged if ‘droit de couvert’ is clearly displayed on the menu outside.”

6. Get it to go

The scenario: The famous risotto was very filling. It was worth trying this small wine producer, and I paid for the whole bottle ... but I have to drive.

What the law says: “If you do not finish your bottle, the restaurant has no right to refuse you from taking it with you; however, they can charge you the price of the deposit. The same previously applied for food: the restaurant could not prevent you from taking your leftovers, but they were not required to provide doggy-bags. Note, however, that the law ‘Grenelle 2’, which started on January 1st, 2016, will charge any restaurant owners who produce 10 tons of waste a year. They now have an economic incentive to offer a doggy-bag.”

7. Baby on board

The scenario: It’s been a few months since baby left the maternity wing. Grandma is not available and the nanny is off this weekend. I want to try a new restaurant. Except, you know, “The stroller will get in the way of the waiters.” And the diapers, they smell … and a baby that cries …

What the law says: “A restaurant cannot deny you from entering as this would be a case of discrimination falling within the scope of Article 225-1 of the Criminal Code. Penalties can be up to three years imprisonment and a €45,000 fine.

“Parents can be asked to leave if their child is making noise that disturbs other clients, but a ban cannot happen before the disturbance.”

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