Why is the restaurant title going back to 19 euros against almost universal opinion?

From this Friday, the ceiling for restaurant vouchers, which has risen to 38 euros with the Covid-19 crisis, is down to 19 euros despite the disappointment of many customers and restaurateurs. In reality, the return to normal is also a question of taxation.

“Ineptitude”, “scandalous”, “anything…” On social networks, the announcement goes badly. From this Friday, July 1, the ceiling for restaurant vouchers goes back from 38 euros to 19 euros per day. In the same way, it will no longer be possible (unless exempted by the company) to use them on Sundays or public holidays.

As a reminder, restaurant vouchers allow employees who hold them to pay for all or part of their meal. They can be used in restaurants, in certain shops and in supermarkets for immediately edible food (cooked meals, prepared salads, sandwiches) or which are used to prepare meals. On the other hand, restaurateurs and merchants are not obliged to accept this method of payment.

With the Covid-19 crisis and the forced closures of restaurants, the government decided in 2020 to raise the daily ceiling to 38 euros in order to help restaurateurs to revive their activity. The measure was extended several times before finally reaching its end point on Friday.

A misguided “philosophy”

However, customers were not the only ones in favor of this measure. Last February, a Viavoice survey for Worklife showed that six out of ten restaurateurs were in favor of it.

So what happened? First argument, the return to normal corresponds to the “philosophy” of the restaurant title, explains Bercy to BFM Business. The philosophy? “Allow employees to make a hot meal a day.” The sentence seems a bit dated but reminds us that the title was created in the 60s, in a very different social context.

It is then a “social benefit granted to the employee” who does not have access to a company canteen. Clearly, the restaurant title was never intended to pay for the Saturday evening meal with friends but to allow employees to eat at noon.

This idea explains the sometimes very restrictive rules of meal vouchers: ban on giving them up, ban (in theory) on buying ice cream, pastries or non-food products, ban on paying at the drive-thru… The National Commission for Restaurant Vouchers, created in 1967, guarantees this operation, inherited from Gaullism.

Tax threat

However, there is another argument that led to the return to the original ceiling.

“The government regulates the payment ceiling so as not to make it an element of remuneration which would be exempt from charges” underlines Bercy.

Indeed, the restaurant voucher has a special tax status since it is totally exempt from payroll and employer charges. And like all devices exempt from charges, the temptation is great to make it a practical measure of purchasing power for companies aimed at employees. For the unions, it is therefore a way of preventing restaurant vouchers, which can be used in the supermarket, from being brandished as an alternative to bonuses or salary increases.

For restaurateurs, the fear is to see, in the long term, the tax status of restaurant titles jump. “Periodically, the tax administration re-examines the tax status of this kind of tool” thus warns Figaro the representative of the CFDT Luc Mathieu.

There are still restaurateurs who are very critical of restaurant titles, who sometimes impose very high commissions. Last year, a collective of restaurateurs even went to court against the issuing companies which present themselves not as payment tools but as business providers.

Thomas Leroy with Frédéric Bianchi

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