I occasionally browse through international news and found. URGENT: France is Running Out of Cooks From: Expatica.com Renowned for centuries for its culinary excellence, France is facing a grave shortage of cooks. Some 30,000 cooks, waiters and other employees are urgently needed by the restaurant trade - and professionals warn that unless urgent measures are taken, the end of French gastronomy is nigh. Jocelyne Zablit reports. "Between 1991 and 1997 we went through a major crisis because we had a lot of staff but not enough customers," says André Daguin, president of the Union of Hostelry Trades (UMIH). "Now we have a lot of clients but not enough staff!" "There is money to be made, but restaurateurs have their hands tied for lack of employees," he adds. Daguin, himself a renowned chef who ran a restaurant for 38 years, warns that if the crisis bites any deeper, the fine cuisine that so typifies French culture may become a thing of the past. "If the situation doesn't change by next year, it's going to be a catastrophe for French gastronomy," he says. "Tourists will begin realizing that the service and the cuisine is not the same." The hardest hit, according to Daguin, are small- and medium-sized restaurants favoured by many tourists, in addition to the French themselves, where finding cooks or waiters has become as challenging as creating new recipes. "These restaurants, some of which are in the Michelin guide, are the driving force of the industry and have contributed to its prestige worldwide," he says. "If we lose them, we lose an essential part of what makes our tourism industry flourish." According to a recent study published by the labour ministry, hardest hit by a nationwide shortage of labourers - which is due to a strong economy - are restaurateurs. The ministry said that whereas in 1983 the country numbered 130,000 cooks, by 2000 that figure had jumped to 222,000, a 71 percent increase. But while there are still plenty of jobs available behind the ovens, there are few candidates. Industry officials pointed to the long hours - 43 a week on average - and the low salaries - FF 8,000 a month or EUR 1,220 - as the two main reasons that discourage potential takers. They said another stumbling block is the 19.6 percent value added tax (VAT) on meals, which places a heavy burden on restaurateurs. Daguin argues that if the government lowered the VAT to 5.5 percent - the rate applied to fast-food restaurants - the industry could take on 40,000 new employees. Bernard Taligrot, who owns a restaurant in the southwestern town of Valleraugue and represents restaurateurs in the region, said that in the meantime students were increasingly being hired to fill the void. Taligrot believes that if the situation doesn't change in the near future, French restaurants will be forced to lower their standards to overcome the shortage of staff and rising costs. "We're not yet at a point where people have had to close shop but many of my fellow restaurateurs are forced to refuse clients for lack of personnel," he said. "With all these problems piling up," he warned, "we may end up serving vacuum-packed food and all we'll have to do is cut a bag open and empty the meal onto a plate and say bon appetit!"