To qualify, the locality must have a population of less than 2,000 (“off the map,” it obviously can’t have a tourist office), and the bistro must be the village’s sole business, or at least just one of a few (the others can be butcher’s shops or boulangeries but not bistros). Owners sign an annually renewable contract, agreeing to attend training classes and regular meetings at which experts deliver talks on olive oil, say, or how to cook wild field greens. According to the Bistrot de Pays charter, they also pledge to play ambassador by furnishing guides and brochures and being knowledgeable enough about points of interest in their area to answer tourists’ questions.
Members are asked to sell postcards, newspapers, and regional food products; hold periodic events like concerts and boules tournaments to bring villagers together; and use ingredients and serve dishes identified with the locale. If at lunch you eat a goat cheese made nearby and want to visit the producer, your waiter should know if this is possible and, if it is, how to arrange it. In the absence of a full or set menu at specific hours, a casse-croûte, or snack, of local foodstuffs like charcuterie is available throughout the day.
Ideally, the bistro should be open year-round and operate as a place where fresh bread is dropped off daily and sold. Beyond bringing the community a notch closer to self-sufficiency, the symbolism is powerful: a village that can offer its people bread controls its destiny. If the bistro has no grocery component, the deal is that residents can buy or borrow staples like flour and butter from the kitchen. This feature is particularly geared to elderly inhabitants who may be village-bound or have no way of getting to a supermarket.