Indian Restaurants Have The Greatest Opportunity To Be Even More Popular


Britain’s love affair with Indian food started several decades ago when curry houses started opening up in cities and towns across the UK. You can even find a curry house in villages and soon there could be even more cooked Indian meals available if companies like Deliveroo keep on opening more dark kitchens. 

But why are Indian restaurateurs talking about the industry being in a crisis and why are some of their restaurants closing? No doubt the dining out scene has become super competitive from the heady days of the 80s when Indian restaurants were opening at their fastest rate. Today rents and business rates are crippling many businesses and of course, UK businesses are suffering due to the uncertainties of Brexit. The people who own and run the vast majority of the Indian restaurants are of course Bangladeshis, but they’re not complaining much about any of these issues. For them it’s the lack of suitable staff, especially finding good chefs seems to be their biggest problem.

They have been lobbying successive governments and have even had meetings in Downing Street to try to change immigration rules to allow them to bring in chefs from the subcontinent. It has been going on for at least fifteen years and so far they have yet to see any kind of success. Does this mean they should give up and prepare to close more restaurants? It does seem unlikely they will get the result they’re hoping for, even with their promise to ensure any chefs that are allowed to come to the UK on a short-term visa will not have access to any of the benefits a Uk citizen is entitled to including using the NHS. This, however, does not mean they should prepare for the worst, instead use this as an opportunity to adapt to the present situation.

A lot has changed from the days when an Indian restaurant did very good business, even if the food wasn’t very good. For a lot of people that was their only place to eat curry and they would do it very regularly. It was a magic formula that worked for at least three decades and it gave the restaurateurs a false sense of security. Many of them enjoyed a very good lifestyle from the profits and became complacent. They refused to innovate or to improve conditions for their employees, which led to thousands of workers jumping ship as soon as they had an opportunity to do so.

I asked several Indian restaurateurs why they haven’t changed their menus to focus more on providing a small number of high-quality dishes instead of so many mediocre ones? The response would almost always be “They like this.” If you look at a typical curry house menu it is loaded with dishes and many of those you will not find anywhere in the subcontinent. Most of those dishes the restaurateurs and their employees wouldn’t touch with a barge pole if they spoke honestly of course! It shouldn’t be like this, especially when you can find fantastic ingredients that go into making a first-class Indian meal. Unfortunately, you will not be able to enjoy one of those meals in a curry house any time soon.


If the restaurateurs did go down the authentic Indian menu route they would be able to shoot at least two birds with one stone. One would be of course the quality of food would improve considerably and I have no doubts there would be more people who would prefer to eat this. I also believe this would help them hire more people to cope with the staff shortage. There are thousands of Asian ladies in the UK, who are cooking outstanding food at home and you never see them inside the kitchen of a curry house. They could easily produce this inside a restaurant if they had the opportunity.

The restaurateurs could make a greater effort to improve working conditions for their employees by investing in technology and this would also enable them to make significant cost savings. It will mean the employees are no longer spending time peeling onions when they could be doing something much more productive.

If they did choose to go this route they would have something new to offer and of course something better. Smaller menus would cut costs and food waste, something most curry houses struggle to do very well. With so many chain restaurants failing, curry houses have once again been presented with an opportunity to thrive again. And if they do it through innovation, they may even see some of those people who left the industry wanting to return.

Author Karim Ullah 

5th September 2019 

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