Never try to open a restaurant in France. No, seriously, don’t be so silly as to try it.
Unless the derelict former restaurant in your village that sits opposite a stunning château, which you have been coveting forever, finally comes up for sale at an affordable price. And you get offered – without asking – a chance to set up the restaurant part of a new adventure because you had passionately raved about a dream … then by all means be as unwise as I am, it may be gluttony for punishment, but it’s exciting.
Despite being self-employed for years, I had forgotten how much France really doesn’t want to make it easy to take that first step of getting yourself legally registered as a bona fide business. To be fair, there is a wealth of information and help available if you go looking. All the correct legal advice is out there. It’s complicated, oh yes it’s complicated. Nonetheless you can find it.
But here are some things that no one will tell you that may just help you survive:
– Whatever work sector you want to register for, there are several different government departments that look after you (Chambres de Commerce, Artisans, Agriculture, etc.) All will have several different people who will help you do several different things (finance, register, retrain, whatever). No one will know what their several different colleagues are doing. No one will know what their equivalent colleague in another chamber is doing. Even tho’ they do the same thing.
Ask all of them for information on what you are trying to do, because eventually you will get most of the answers. (Warning: you will still be missing some small vital piece of the puzzle!)
– Even if you have already researched a subject, done your homework or completed a dossier for one of these several different people, don’t tell them at first. They need to do the thing they are supposed to do. (Keep in mind, however, that many of them are good at what they do when they do do it.)
– If one department rejects your request for financial aid, always ask someone else , in another government-aided initiative (of which there are many), as they will probably send you back to the original department that said no in the first place, who will then be able to begin the process that sets up the meetings to discuss the dossiers… (I guess I was talking to the wrong several-different-people in the first place.)
– When you end up spending hours in the wrong department because someone sent you there (and you only found out that it was the wrong department because someone else asked someone in the next office a totally unrelated question…), don’t worry, you can often find out extra information; did you know that to make sandwiches or sell hot chips (ie takeaways), you need to do a complicated training course and have several qualifications, but if you cater for hundreds at weddings and want to open a public restaurant, it is ‘unregulated’ and you don’t need any qualifications at all? (And no need for the complicated training course too – result!)
– Also remember, it is not all a black art. At every step you will be told something very complicated, you will not be supposed to understand the process, and it will be very dramatic and mystical and you must pay for someone to do it properly, but try not to buy into the very French habit of making the simple into something much more complicated. Keep rather calm instead, and carry on being a glutton for punishment. Watch this space, it’s very exciting!