In an attempt to crack down on the proliferation of restaurants serving boil-in-a-bag or microwave-ready meals, which could harm France’s reputation for good food, MP Daniel Fasquelle is putting a new law to parliament this month.
It is backed by the Synhorcat restaurant union but is facing resistance from some restaurant owners, who fear it will drive up costs.
The proposed law would limit the right to use the word “restaurant” to eateries where food is prepared on site using raw ingredients, either fresh or frozen. Exceptions would be made for some prepared products, such as bread, charcuterie and ice cream.
A recent Synhorcat study found that 31 percent of French restaurants admit to serving industrially-prepared food products instead of doing their own cooking. Experts suspect many more restaurants do so without admitting it.
"It means that we have chefs who develop recipes and prepare them, unlike those who have taken the decision to cut open bags and reheat," Alain Fontaine, of Le Mesturet restaurant in central Paris, said of the proposed new distinction.
Those behind the proposal hope it will repeat the success of a 1995 law which restricted the use of the term “boulangerie” to establishments that prepared bread and pastries from scratch. That law is widely judged as having given a boost to traditional bakers.
But six other restaurant groups, including the largest one, the UMIH, declared their "massive opposition" to the move. They say it will "create complete confusion with the public, clients and especially foreign tourists".
They fear it could have "drastic consequences in terms of employment, especially for youth," with about a quarter of France's restaurant workers under the age of 25.
The group suggests instead that France create a new category of "artisanal restaurant" to denote those which prepare food from scratch.
The proposal is only one of several recent attempts to address what many see as the declining standards of France's famed restaurants.
In April, the Collège Culinaire de France, a 15-member industry group founded by the country's leading chefs, launched a new "quality restaurant" label for restaurants which meet top cooking and service standards.
The body includes star chefs such as Alain Ducasse, Joel Robuchon and Guy Savoy.
Many websites are also cropping up in France to advise consumers on restaurants where food is prepared in-house, such as www.restaurantsquifontamanger.fr set up last year by food-lover Alain Tortosa.
"There are chefs of all ages who want us to distinguish them from their competitors," he said. "They say 'I get to my kitchen at 7:00 am and they have a delivery truck that arrives at 11:00'."
Fast food and take-aways last year accounted for 54 percent of the French market, or 34 billion euros in sales, for the first time outselling traditional sit-down meals with table service.