NANTES, France (Reuters) - The steak restaurant that Jean-Pierre Le Bot co-owns in the French city of Nantes had been shut for 11 weeks, so when officials gave the go-ahead for it to open on Tuesday, he was not going to wait a moment longer than needed.
When the clock struck midnight, staff threw open the doors of the “Prison de Bouffay” restaurant, and welcomed a line of around 100 people who had been waiting for their first dining-out experience since the COVID-19 lockdown began.
“It’s a pleasure to see our customers and to see that they stood by us,” said Le Bot a short while later, surveying the packed tables of the restaurant.
Under normal circumstances, the restaurant would close its doors before midnight, and would not open again until lunch-time, but managers decided on a special midnight opening to greet the easing of the lockdown.
“It’s great to see so many happy people,” said Le Bot.
French restaurants, bars and cafes have been shut since March 16 to contain the spread of the outbreak.
With the number of new infections from the virus declining, France’s government ruled that from June 2, restaurants and bars could re-open, sunbathing on beaches can resume, and a ban on travel over 100 km (62 miles) can be lifted.
It was not quite back to normal at the restaurant, on the site of what used to be the Nantes gaol.
The restaurant’s tables were arranged out in the street, to allow for better circulation of air. Servers wore masks, and they disinfected tables after customers left. Disinfecting hand gel was left in strategic positions.
But for customer Vincent Thepaut, enjoying his meal with friends, it was a taste of freedom after weeks of lockdown. “It’s been a while,” he said. “We’ve missed seeing people.”
Writing by Chrisian Lowe