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Over 3,000 Indian restaurants in UK set to close amid Covid-19 crisis

According to senior chef Sunil Kumar, if restaurants were doing business worth £10,000 a day before the lockdown, it is now barely £1,000, serviced by a single chef instead of previous five or more.

indians-abroad Updated: Jun 02, 2020 22:56 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
A pedestrian wearing a protective face mask passes a temporarily closed fast-food restaurant in Oxford, UK.
A pedestrian wearing a protective face mask passes a temporarily closed fast-food restaurant in Oxford, UK.(Bloomberg File Photo )

‘Going for an Indian’ on a Friday night has become a part of British culture over the decades, but senior figures in the Indian restaurant industry believe the coronavirus pandemic is dealing a body blow to thousands of outlets that were already struggling.

Of the nearly 9,000 Indian restaurants across the UK, over 3,000 are expected to close, leading to job losses in the tens of thousands in the £4 billion-industry. Many have switched to takeaway service, but its financials are nowhere near that of a packed open restaurant.

“Delivery companies were already putting restaurants out of business. This pandemic has driven a stake in our hearts. How can you sustain a business if only 20 or 30 people are allowed in a restaurant”, wonders London-based celebrity chef Cyrus Todiwala.

“People are scared to go to restaurants. We are all worried about the future of the industry, no one knows how the future will shape, with major fall in tourists, people working from home and government loans offering only marginal relief”, he added.

Running several outlets across London, Todiwala is among many who have switched to takeaway services, including another celebrity chef, Manoj Vasaikar, of Indian Zing, and central London restaurants such as Dishoom, Masala Zone and Gymkhana.

Vasaikar said: “Restaurants that cater to mainly neighbourhood clients are doing well with takeaway due to brand loyalty built over the years, but the revenue is still 40% to 50% down. Rents are very high in some London areas, so restaurants there are suffering.”

“More than 3,000 restaurants will close due to the pandemic. Offices are closed, so there is no income from that important stream. The Conservative government has helped with loans, but the logistics of staffing, delivery and takeaway is a headache”, he added.

According to senior chef Sunil Kumar, if restaurants were doing business worth £10,000 a day before the lockdown, it is now barely £1,000, serviced by a single chef instead of previous five or more. There is not much revenue in takeaways, he added.

An assessment by the Aston Business School suggests that thousands of the UK’s ‘curry houses’ could struggle to reopen after lockdown is lifted, and to survive, the remaining ones will need to raise prices to a realistic level to offset the fall in revenues from less crowded restaurants.

Monder Ram, professor in the Aston Business School, said: “The sector’s facing so many challenges…Supermarkets are one of the most prolific sellers of curries and large chains of pubs and restaurants are also entering this market, (and) these problems of competition and newcomers have been accentuated by Covid-19.”

“A group of friends going out for a lively evening of entertainment finished off with a curry is part and parcel of the British way of life. If you take that away you’re taking away the very essence of what going out for a curry means,” he added.

The industry is faced with pandemic-related challenges when the influential Migration Advisory Committee in June 2019 recommended easing of norms to recruit professionals and chefs from outside the EU. Stake-holders believe the Friday night experience may no long be the same across city centres and towns across the UK.

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