CURRY AT RISK
Published: 22 Feb 2016
Indian restaurants and the business of tending to the UK's huge demand for curries currently makes the country's economy around £4.5 billion and employs over 100,000 people—you would imagine that the industry has never been in better shape. From chicken kormas to vindaloo Britons have a strong and lasting love affair with this type of food, with only national staples like fish and chips equalling its sales. However, Indian restaurants everywhere are finding life rather difficult at the moment.
One long term reason for the current difficulties faced by restauranteurs is the increasing scarcity of skilled chefs. This is for myriad reasons, including a general reluctance amongst young people to follow this career path. Mainly though it is stringent new immigration laws that are preventing new chefs from arriving on these shores from outside the EU. The situation has become so acute that the media has labelled it a 'curry crisis', claiming that over a third of the current Indian restaurants in the UK face closure.
Curry houses also face the very immediate problem of rising costs, particularly the price of spices imported from India and Bangladesh. Not only are restaurateurs at the mercy of the relative strength or weakness of the British pound, the spices themselves are more expensive as both domestic and international demand grows. With 12,000 British curry houses all trying to source similar ingredients (as well as the aforementioned chefs) competition has gone from healthy to destructive. Smaller operations will be the first to close, as they simply cannot afford to absorb the increasing cost of doing business.
Indian restaurants in the UK have typically been independent businesses, often based around a family who all work in the restaurant in some capacity. It is for this reason that the industry has been so profoundly shaken by the explosion of chain restaurants in the UK, all of which can take financial hits with much more confidence and ease than most curry houses can. It is for this reason that perhaps in the future independent curry houses will become rarer, replaced by larger enterprises that can expand into lucrative markets in established areas.
It is important to recognise, however, that these restaurants are being replaced. A more adventurous public are eager to try new flavours, and that means an influx of dishes and restaurants from other cultures like Vietnamese, Mongolian and Korean. Perhaps a third of curry houses closing is not a tragedy but merely an over-saturated market correcting itself and becoming more diverse. This will likely be little comfort to restaurants closing their doors, sadly.
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