I think anyone who has been connected with the hospitality industry during 2020 will agree that it has been a particularly difficult year. Back in March 2020 as most of the world seemed to be shutting down there were several business categories that were especially hard hit. I have calculated that at the end of 2020 my restaurant will have been closed by government order for at least 17 weeks and as I write this there is talk of further closures at the start of 2021, so I am considering setting up a food truck business.
With restaurants, bars, theatres, cinemas and non-essential businesses closed what are our options? As restaurateurs we have been allowed and encouraged to offer a takeaway service to our clients. The restaurant is closed to the public but our customers have been permitted to collect food from us. Back in spring 2020 I kept the doors open by offering takeaway. I went out to buy food containers and changed the menu. My turnover plummeted by nearly 90%, mainly because there were no workers in town and the population was subject to a confinement order.
A lot of my expenses dropped in accordance with my turnover, as you would expect, but it made me look closely at those expenses. Telephone, electric and water decreased, but not in proportion to the turnover. I still had fridges running, fixed costs on the phone to pay and still using water. But the one cost I cannot do anything about is the rent. I have a likable landlord but he is a businessman and has his own expenses. Fortunately I am only two months behind in rent payments and he is being very reasonable about it, but when you think about it I have paid for one third of this year for a building I am unable to use.
I believe the restaurant industry is constantly in a state of renewal. New trends, new diets and changing demands from customers, and the effects of the pandemic will only add to that change. Customers’ habits have altered as they have been forced to spend more time at home and have become nervous about being in large groups. One thing I have noticed is that the food trucks, the mobile caterers, have been able to adapt. If the customer can’t come to you then you can go to the customer.
Setting up any business in France is relatively complicated and I have written previously about being an English chef in France. My goal for 2021 is to open a food truck here in France and I am already fairly deep into the research stage. The answer to my first question was determined by budget. I realised you can pay from 30,000 euros and up for a food truck with an engine. It is a trailer for me. I love the look of Airstreams but again they come with complications. If I import one direct from the States it needs to have the towing gear and running gear changed to comply with European standards.
I could buy an Airstream already in Europe and already converted for food usage, but I hear you shouting “budget!” It is possible to buy a Chinese “Airstream” relatively cheaply and import it to France. Under French regulations all trailers with a gross weight over 500kg need to be approved and registered with their own registration certificate and number plate. If I transform a regular trailer into a food truck we will need to submit a dossier and the truck will need to be inspected to make sure it complies with fire regulations and weight limits.
To actually register the business will depend on what we are selling. If we are cooking we need to register with the Chambre de Metiers but if we are selling pre-fabricated items such as sweets or canned drinks we need to register with the Chambre de Commerce. Yes, we are going to have to register with both. In that case the Chambre de Metiers will transmit our registration to the Chambre de Commerce. There is an annual fee.
Now we need licences. Our first at a cost of 15€ is La Carte de Commerce Ambulant, basically allowing us to be mobile. Secondly, we need to apply to the Town Hall (La Mairie) for permission to park. The cost of this will vary depending on the location we choose and will be valid either for à year or just the season.
My understanding is that if we move from place to place we need to apply each time to the relevant Town Hall. Our third licence is for the sale of alcohol. With a liquor licence we can serve drinks up to 18% alcohol. To obtain the licence we need to take an obligatory three day training course. Fortunately I have already done this course before opening my restaurant and the certificate is valid for 10 years.
We have our trailer registered and have our licences, we are almost ready to open. If we want the alcohol licence we must declare it with the Town Hall at least two weeks before trading. We also have to declare our existence with La Direction Departmentale de Protection des Populations, again two weeks before opening. This department will carry out hygiene inspections. The last thing we have to do is post a product and price list and our opening hours. I am sure it all will be worthwhile – watch this space!