Curry business in the United Kingdom is the trade mark and signature traits of the sprawling Bangladeshi Bengali community. The architect of the business have been very successful in making the curry a life style food of the British nation. It has come a long way from it’s humble beginning in the mid fifties of the last century. The end product of this thriving business is known to the world as one of the most aspiring food and cuisine to the rest of the world.
The Industry has encompassed the whole length and the breadth of the United Kingdom from Lands End, to South end and from Fort William, to Balham and from Cardiff, to Dover and the rest. There is not a single town, village and sub urban dwelling where there isn’t a curry take away or a restaurant. It has only happened due to the perseverance and resilience of the community itself & the passion of British people for their versatile habit of consuming foods from the world of cuisines.
The dish famously known as the most favourite dish of the People of the British isles is a Curry called Chicken Tikka Masala ; is synonymous to the Curry and one would be surprised to know that a child from the age of 4-6 comes to know the name of this unique dish. They climb up the ladder of spicy food hierarchy starting from Korma - Masala to Madras to Vindaloo. This is how much the penetration of curry trade has into the hearts and minds of the British people.
The name curry is itself the best USP for the industry has. With the relentless support of the consumers and service providers the brand ‘’ CURRY’’ rides above all the waves of the business marketing and sales traits.
The Curry Story ;
Historically the Bengali community from erstwhile East Pakistan (Bangladesh now) are the one who started the trend of setting up curry businesses; restaurants and take aways. Since, Its rudimentary beginning in the early - mid fifties of the last 20th century the industry has grown from strength to strength.
The abundance of work force; newly migrating to the UK needed their much desired income and at that crucial juncture the curry business rendered the jobs and the industry slowly and gradually started to blossom full to the brim. The Bangladeshi community in the UK and in Bangladesh owes a great deal of homage and gratitude to those hardworking risk taker, buzzing and maverick entrepreneurs.
Who stood firm against all the odds, abuse of relentless racism, lack of finance , lack of knowledge of rules and regulations, lack of facilities from the local authorities and above all poor vocabulary to turn that boutique business into a thriving pan UK SME venture. Nothing could faze them, when the going got really tough those battle hardened soldierlike entrepreneurs got themselves going. The pioneers of the bengali diaspora’s flagship signature weathered through all the odds, impediments and obstacles.
Till date the industry is run, managed and owned by many of the descendants of the doyens. their third and fourth generations are now the proud bastions of the industry.
The new arrivals who joined the industry at a later stage by joining hands with their predecessors added an extra glorification to the business and with their flair, new outlook, and PR along with various social, political and corporate exposures the CURRY became life style choice for all most all house holds of the United Kingdom and beyond.
There are now circa 20000 outlets owned by Bangladeshis in The British Isles selling curry day in day out. Serving in excess of half a million portions of Chicken Tikka Masala a week. Chicken Tikka Masala is the most sold dishes ; about 20-22% of all curries sold are chicken tikka masala.
No matter how posh or opulent or up market the establishment of the curry outlets are ; they still attract more discerning guests and customers who would like to treat their tastebuds with all the favourite dishes. Those age old favourite 4-5 main dishes, 4-6 starters, 2 vegetable side dishes with 2 types of rice and 3 types on bread. These are predominantly the best selling items of their menus. In order for to quantify those; these would not be imprudent to say, these above generic favourites constitute about 60- 65% of the total turnover of the business. ( a conservative guesstimation).
The Curry business and its paraphernalia and the backyard linkage support chain trades alone is proving an estimated 150,000 employments in the UK and the total conglomerate gross turn over may reach close to £ 10 billion a year.
There are a whole host of other auxiliary businesses in the UK are thriving on the back of this CURRY industry. Accounting firms, Legal Practitioners, Travel Agents, Groceries, Distributors, Whole Sale and Retailers, Banks, Training Institutes, Millers to name a few. The Curry business today in the UK stands like ship emulating the Giant TITANIC and those mentioned above sailing with this giant ship to prosperity on board the mother vessel.
The Crisis ;
After sailing in the turbulent waters of UK with it’s ups and downs, wars and recessions, booms and busts for the last 60 years since it’s inception the curry business is now going through a mammoth challenge of it’s life time.
As it is it’s just overcoming the worst financial meltdown when the foot falls are down by more than 30-55% for the last 8 long excruciating years. The industry is now plagued with whole influx of problems.
- New Immigration Policy
- Exodus of Skilled Workforce
- New Trends of Thriving Easy Jobs
- Religion Refraining from Working in Alcohol Serving Industry
- Indigenous Generation’s Unwillingness to Work in this sector
- Lack of Technology Savviness
- Unwillingness to Change & Adopting to New Culture
These above impediments and handicaps have created the biggest of all impacts within the businesses up and down the country.
Almost all the restaurants are being run understaffed and constant turn around of staff is hampering the businesses to keep it standards and quality and highest standard of services. The skilled workforce is poached and which leaves a big void in the work place. the issues causing the meltdown are not applicable to all the outlets and must not warrant unnecessary knee jerk reactions. But there inherent issues which needs an immediate looking into and fix them comprehensively instead of a DIY botch job.
Are these issues causing the heartache at the moment in within the curry industry ? needs a research and derive into a data extrapolating the focus groups questionnaires replies in depth.
I would like to highlight may take on the above envisaged issues one by one to throw some light into the cracks of the problem and it’s scopes and the extend of it to create the impending impasse’. Most of the above causes highlighted are not only the whole influx of the issue ; there are more underlying issues I guess which buried in the sand, needs unearthing.
- New Immigration Policy : The immigration policy and it’s prerequisites are something no economically viable and possible for the high street curry houses. These policy needs to be re addressed and made more user friendly as well as economically sustainable for the business. A comprehensive discussion with the industry leaders and the home office is needed to iron out the obstacles to smoothen the facilities for the industry to take advantage of the new enhanced policy. These new policy has shut all doors to employ migrant workers from aboard with work permit whose impact is felt across the spectrum. The Home office license for employing migrant worker is another field that needs looking into ; as it is it’s cumbersome an application to submit and using outsourced agents is an exorbitant exercise.The whole process need a further revamping and make it reasonably easier for the aspiring employers.
2. Exodus of Skill Workforce : The home grown talented chefs- cooks and waiting staff and managers are abandoning the curry trade. We ought to be soul searching as to why these mammoth number of people are retreating from the industry. Predominantly, the industry was employing in excess of 80% of it’s personnels from the Bangladeshi indigenous diaspora living in the UK but it seems like that prospect is fast becoming a thing of the past. The retreating staff are venturing into other territories of employment ; UK’s bustling taxi cab service has grown from strength to strength due to this new entry of the Bangladeshi diaspora into the realm of this industry. Bengali people now are the highest percentage of PCO ( Private Hire Drivers Licence ) applicants with the TFL (Transport for London). Soon this Taxi - Cab industry will be taken over from the Pakistani Community by the Bangladeshi people.
The Taxi- Cab services are attracting more and more people for the luxury of unstructured patters of working hours and no time barriers; work as and when it is convenient and leave work as soon as one breaks even and sees days earning poured into the kitty. These casual approach to work and flexibility in choosing working times have drained the whole curry trade dry. I guess these are the essence of freedom of lifestyle .
3. New Trends of Thriving Easy Jobs : The insatiable urge for an easy career from the tedious and laborious restaurant industry more and more people are opting out for an alternative avenue of work. In the recent past it has been seen that, the Bangladeshi diaspora in the UK are venturing out into multi diversified fields of business and there is a mushroom growth of new business in the fields of more office based 9 - 5 jobs are being generated every day. The courier business, the Money transfer and travelling agencies and amongst many other new employment opportunity to mention a few. The high average to above average range of human resources are swinging in to those fields of works from the restaurant trade. Which is not a bad thing as the community expands those other fields of services managed, owned and promoted by the own indigenous community is always admirable than going into the hands of others. However, these new prospects have impacted heavily onto the restaurant trade and these new openings have slowly and gradually depleted the manpower of the curry trade.
4. Religion Refraining from Working in Alcohol Serving Industry : The research report gives an vivid inside to the business and was staggered to find that, a huge ( i mean huge percentage ) army of ex restaurant workers both in the kitchen and in the front of the house are being systematically advocated by a quarter to not to indulge in a business which is engaged in selling alcoholic beverages and drinks etc.
There is this factor which certainly is impacting in flow of indigenous work force shying away from working in the restaurant sector and they would rather find an alternative avenue of career to support themselves and at the same time oblige their mentors. As it is the consumption of alcohol by the restaurant goers have shrunk to a microscopic proportion since the recession and on top of the influx of diners have squeezed their belt astronomically - these untimely enrichment of religious side of the knowledge is surely reducing the workforce intake for the owners to run a smooth day to day functioning of the trade itself. It is also in way a sign and a signal for the trade for it it adjust it's focus whether or not it ought to continue the alcohol serving or not. Having said that, it would be suicidal for the restaurants revenue stream to stop serving the accompaniment of the mainstream consumers dinning habit.
( TO BE CONTINUED)