Half of Britain’s Curry Houses Will Be Gone within 10 Years
The chairman of the Asian Catering Federation has warned that chef shortages, rising costs, and changing customer tastes could spell the end of 17,000 Indian restaurants.
Photo via Flickr user Alpha
In a recent Guardian long read, journalist Bee Wilson spoke to British Bangladeshi chefs, Indian cookery school teachers, and food writers about the future of the British curry house: that late-night, luridly wallpapered, vindaloo-slinging staple of the British high street.
Wilson's prognosis on the curry house wasn't good. "The curry house's once unassailable place in British life looks precarious," she wrote. "Thousands of Indian restaurants are critically short of both staff to cook the food and customers to eat it [...] This is a crisis with many causes, the effects of which extend far beyond curry."
And now, it seems this curry crisis has been confirmed. In a statement released yesterday, Yawar Khan, chairman of the Asian Catering Federation (ACF), said that half of Britain's curry houses will be forced to close within the next ten years. This means the end of approximately 17,000 South Asian eateries across Britain.
Khan said that the well-reported shortage of trained Indian chefs in the UK, as well as the rising cost of running a restaurant were both to blame, but he also noted some curry house owners' failure to adapt to changing customer tastes.
He said: "British Bangladeshis can be very insular and inward-looking. We fail to regard other cuisines as competition and we are slow to adopt new marketing opportunities, such as social media platforms."
Over 90 percent of curry houses in the UK are British Bangladeshi-owned.
To attract new customers and survive, Khan said that curry houses should "up their game" by offering more vegetarian options and lighter dishes that respond to the new trend for clean-eating, as well as lunch time deals.
He said: "Many rarely see a customer at lunch time, while pubs and chains like Nando's are serving thousands of spicy dishes throughout the day."
He has a point. Britain's largest seller of curry is pub chain JD Wetherspoon.
Khan also recommended that curry houses add local dishes to their menus, presumably to capture British diners' newfound interest "authentic" Indian food, which has fueled the rise of regional Indian eateries like Dishoom. The London-based restaurant serves dishes inspired by the Iranian cafes of 1960s Bombay and boasts five locations across the capital and in Edinburgh.
The ACF is a UK-wide non-profit organisation that represents over 35,000 "ethnic" takeaways and restaurants, including those of Thai, Malaysian, and Chinese origin. It posits itself as "the voice of the curry industry" and runs a yearly curry awards event.
Khan admitted that his statement would not go down well with some ACF members, who he said will "continue to fail to heed warnings and take responsibility for the survival of their businesses."
The time has come for Britain's curry houses to adapt or peshwari.