The past few months have been an unprecedented experience for all restaurateurs. Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on the industry, from which it may never fully recover.
Even as lockdown eases, new guidelines on table distancing have dramatically reduced turnover compared with pre-lockdown, making it a struggle for restaurants to survive if they have reopened. Many are finding it not cost effective to open their doors, and are staying closed for now at least.
The one thing that has kept curry restaurants from complete collapse is takeaways. Even Michelin starred restaurants have turned to home deliveries in these tough times. And I must say a big thank you to all delivery staff who worked hard during lockdown to serve our customers. We could not have survived without you.
I also have to pay tribute to those restaurants that have been supporting the NHS, key workers and the elderly and other people self-isolating, delivering fresh meals to them. It has shown what a caring community we are. And of course, a big thank you to all NHS and care workers for their tireless work during the pandemic – you are true healthcare heroes.
It is important as well to recognise the support of the Government for the hospitality sector. Along with the furlough scheme, assistance with business rates, VAT cuts and bounce back loans, there have been innovative ideas like the Eat Out to Help Out scheme. It may not be enough to save all businesses. But it has at least given us a chance.
But we do need further help if we are to survive and continue to make a contribution to the economy and keep our staff employed. To begin with the VAT reduction to 5% needs to be made permanent; and secondly restaurants and hospitality businesses on the High Street need to have long term cuts to their overheads. In my speech to the British Curry Awards 2017 I said we can only survive if Government abolishes business rates to allow us to compete with online retailers on a level playing field basis. That is even more true today.
It is sad that I have to announce that this year’s British Curry Awards is being postponed due to coronavirus, as is the case with so many other events. It is a pity, as I know so many of you look forward to it, but we have to put the safety of everyone attending first and foremost. We are planning to stage the Awards in 2021 and we will keep you updated as the situation becomes clearer.
The safety of all restaurant staff and our customers is paramount, so I would urge everyone to comply fully with government guidelines. Sticking to the rules is the best way we can get to normality in 2021. Cutting corners and breaking guidelines will only set us back and cost more in the long term. So keep up the good work, stay strong and pray for the pandemic to soon be over. But in the meantime, please stay safe.
Spring is here already, but the British Curry Awards are still fresh in my mind. I hope those of you who were present at the 2017 event enjoyed the occasion as much as I did. It was once again a great opportunity to recognise and reward achievement at the highest level, and to highlight the contributions made by the unsung heroes of our industry, the chefs, waiters, managers and others, who make it such a fantastic British success story. Well done to all the winners, and to those who were shortlisted.
The event would not take place without the help of all our sponsors and supporters. I would like to take this opportunity to offer them thanks on behalf not just of myself but the entire industry. We are very grateful for their assistance in ensuring the British Curry Awards keeps its high-profile place on the hospitality industry calendar year after year.
The British Curry Awards 2018 will take place on Monday 26th November at The Battersea Evolution, Keep an eye on our website and our new TV Channel, ION TV, Sky 862, for the latest updates on the BCA and other initiatives. The first quarter of 2018 has not been easy for our business. The staffing crisis continues, and as you will read in this issue many well-known, and long established, restaurants have been forced to close down in recent months. The ‘Beast from the East’ brought snow and disruption to most of the country in early March and this affected businesses badly. We received many reports of diners not showing up after having booked tables, near empty restaurants for days on end and suppliers struggling with deliveries. Let’s hope that Spring and Summer bring a sustained recovery. But with a number of restaurant chains cutting back and closing outlets, it is clear that High Street restaurant businesses - and not just in the curry sector - are in for a tough time.
Brexit is adding to the challenges we face. Many EU workers have decided to go back to their home countries, adding to our recruitment problems, and the general economic uncertainties remain. Politicians made big mistakes in not sharing all the difficulties after the referendum. We are now a more divided nation than ever before and the likelihood is that, on leaving the EU, the country will see a recession, more businesses closing and unemployment rise.
Sadly, the Brexit campaign has an anti-immigration message above all else and the positive impacts of ‘good’ immigration have been lost. Few politicians seem willing to make the case that without migration our public services and many of our industries will suffer. We have to get the message out there that post Brexit the UK will need to recruit overseas for our industries, especially hospitality, if we are to grow and prosper.
On a more positive note I was delighted to be able to take up the challenge and organise an event for Non-resident Bangladeshis (NRB) in Bangladesh with representatives from 39 countries attending. It was a great success and focussed on the important contribution that that the NRB sector can make to economic development. Now the Bangladesh Government has announced that every year the 30th December will be National NRB day, to be celebrated all around the world. I am really pleased that the importance of NRB will be marked in this way.
I would like to start by wishing all Spice Business readers a Happy Eid. Eid is a joyous occasion and I hope you take the opportunity to relax and spend time with family and loved ones. This year Ramadan was challenging, with the summertime’s heat and long daylight hours for fasting making it hard, especially for those in the restaurant sector. But it was all worthwhile.
We have all been shocked by the recent terror attacks in London and Manchester, and I am glad to see that many Muslim groups and prominent individuals have condemned them wholeheartedly. They have no place in a civilised society and have nothing to do with Islam, which is a religion that has peace at its heart. We have to work together to get that message across, and protect those who are vulnerable and at risk of being led down the wrong path.
We live in difficult times and the truth is that nowhere is safe around the world. The hospitality sector is obviously at a particular risk, as the Borough market attack showed. We all have to be vigilant and ensure our staff are trained in dealing with potential emergency situations.
The general election result was a surprise, with a hung parliament, but we will just have to live with the outcome, although it will create significant political uncertainty in the short term at least. That can only be bad for the economy and business.
There may be some positives, however, in hopefully leading to a Brexit that is less hard line on migration, and trade barriers, and to a more flexible approach to a managed immigration programme generally.
There have been growing concerns that those who campaigned for Brexit told curry restaurant owners that they would be able to source migrant workers from outside the EU, only to change their minds once the Leave vote was won. We have to continue to lobby to expose the deception, highlight the real crisis we face and campaign for a reasonable approach that will meet our requirements in the future. Will the new Government be more helpful to the curry industry? I am not optimistic, but we have to keep trying.
Le Raj Academy has opened and I am so proud of it. It took a lot of hard work to get it off the ground, but we are now training the next generation in a hands-on environment. These practical educational establishments are the long-term future to our staffing needs I am convinced. But in the meantime we have to be able to bring in the staff we need from outside the UK.
I have in recent months been spending some time in Bangladesh, where it was my great honour to welcome the former Prime Minister, David Cameron. It was a visit that will help build new bridges between our two countries.
I hope that ties will also be strengthened by the recently announced NRB Convention that will take place in Sylhet this October, with the support of the British Bangladeshi Chamber of Commerce. More details are inside this issue. I would love to see you there.
The British Curry Awards 2017 is at an advanced planning stage and nominations are now open. Please go to page 38 to enter, or nominate your favourite restaurant. I am looking forward to seeing so many of you at the Battersea on November 27th, when once again we will put British curry in the international spotlight.
I hope that fortunes will be improved compared with last year, as the majority of people I have spoken to found 2016 quite challenging. There are some signs the economy is doing better, so fingers crossed that business is better for the industry in the months ahead.
Brexit remains a dark cloud hanging over the industry. What will it mean for curry restaurants? We have a shortage of skilled chefs and front of house staff now. We have to make representations to ensure that Brexit makes things better, not worse. Can you imagine if we are restricted from bringing in staff from Eastern Europe as well as the Subcontinent! It would be a catastrophe. Leaving the EU, and the Single Market, will allow Britain to implement a fair immigration system that treats EU and non-EU immigrants equally. No longer will Bangladeshis Pakistanis and Indians be treated as second class immigrants in a country where many of us have family and ancestors.
Many people voted Brexit hoping that there would be a level playing fi eld, and we could bring in the skilled labour we need from wherever is the best place to find it. The comments coming from the Prime Minister and others seem to indicate that there will be significant barriers still in place.
This would not be fair and would lead to even more restaurants closing down. It was good to see so many of you at this year’s British Curry Awards. It was another highly successful event for the industry that generated a huge amount of media coverage. It was an opportunity to make the case for a fairer immigrant system. As I said: “If Brexit means Brexit we must work together to make Britain stronger and more open for business with the rest of the world.” Let’s hope that message is listened to.
It was a privilege and an honour to have a member of the Royal Family, Sarah, Duchess of York, with us for the first time. Just as the British Curry Awards were the first to have a serving Prime Minister in David Cameron attend, so we again made a breakthrough and hopefully we have made a lifelong friend for the curry industry.
The election of Donald Trump as President of the United States caught everyone by surprise, it is fair to say. His first few weeks in office have been worrying for many, with an immigration ban that targeted only Muslim countries. The United States has always been open to migration from all countries and has benefitted from it. Let’s hope that experience will persuade the President to take a different course. He should of course take steps to protect the country from terrorist attacks. But this is clearly not the right way to do it and could be counterproductive.
Finally, I am pleased to inform you that Le Raj Academy is now open at Nescot in Epsom. I hope it will be a trail blazing training scheme that will help create a new generation of chefs and other staff for our industry. I am immensely proud of the project and am confident it will be a big success. There will be more information in the next issue.
Politically the world has changed a lot since the last issue of Spice Business! We have as nation voted for Brexit. And we have a new Prime Minister, in Teresa May. I am sure we all wish her the best of luck and congratulate her on her new appointment. We may have a new Labour leader as well. Who knows!
However, we feel it is a great loss for all of us with David Cameron’s resignation as Prime Minister. He has done so much for the country and has hugely supported the curry industry. Shortly before he left No. 10, I had the chance to meet with him with other restaurant owners to discuss the chef crisis in the curry industry and we had a good discussion, I felt we made some progress. Now with a new PM we may have to, to some extent, start again to make the case for changes to immigration rules to allow our curry restaurants to access the staff they need.
Hopefully, in the longer term, Brexit will help, we should press for the government, as part of its negotiations with the EU, to allow an even playing fi eld for recruiting staff from inside and outside of Europe to work in this country. That would be a fair solution and would help allow us to employ the quality staff we need.
I know Teresa May, and she will steer the ship of state well I am sure. Hopefully she will also support our industry as David Cameron did. But we have to make sure that her government not just listens to our concerns, but acts on them as well.
One of the things that the government has urged us to do over the years is to start training local talent. I have recently started to work with a college near Le Raj, and in September Le Raj Academy will start offering courses at Nescot in Ewell. I am looking forward to this venture with excitement, and I am sure this will help in time. But it will not be an instant fix. I will update readers on the Le Raj Academy in the next issue.
In these pages you will read of the sad passing of Peter Grove who was a good friend of mine and great ambassador for the curry industry. Many of you, like me, will have known Peter for many years and will appreciate all the work he has done to raise the profile of our business. He is a great loss to the industry, and we shall miss him greatly. His wife Colleen plans to carry on some of his work, like Curry Capital and Curry Week, and in his memory, I am sure these are things we will all want to support in future.
Peter was a regular judge for the British Curry Awards, and we will be thinking of him at this year’s event on 28th November at The Battersea Evolution. Plans for the event are well advanced. We have had a surge of interest from the public in recent weeks, all wanting to nominate their favourite local curry restaurants. Further details of the Awards, and how to attend, can be found inside. I look forward to seeing many of you again in November. It is sure to be another evening to remember!
Welcome to the first issue of Spice Business in 2016. I hope you all had a good Christmas and New Year trading period to help lift some of the gloom we are all feeling. Let us be optimistic that this year will be a better one for the industry.
It seems a long time ago now, but the British Curry Awards last November was very successful once again, setting the standard for others to follow. It was good to see so many old friends from the industry there, as well as many new ones. Every year I think my team can’t do any better, and every year they prove me wrong! Plans for 2016 are already being worked on - as you can’t start too early!
As I mentioned at the Awards I will be submitting a proposal to the government to tackle the chef crisis. I will be asking the government to issue short term work visas to skilled chefs. These would be non-renewable and there would be a requirement for applicants to take out private health insurance. I believe this is a sensible way forward, as it would allow restaurants to access skilled chefs from overseas, without any risk that they could over stay and become a burden to local communities.
The Government has been telling us for a long time we should train up the next generation locally. Well I am doing just that with Le Raj Academy, which I shall be opening this year in partnership with Nescot in Epsom & Ewell. The aim will be to develop home grown chefs and front of house staff to meet local needs. It will be a long, long journey, but you have to start somewhere. I am excited by it and can’t wait to get started, and you will be able to read about it in the next issue. I am worried a little about getting the chefs needed to run these courses without adversely affected my Le Raj restaurant in the short term, however there.
There are underlying human resource problems which go beyond the curry restaurant sector. The hospitality industry is in crisis because not enough young people in this country are choosing a career as a chef, and there is a high dropout rate even among trainees after they have finished their courses. The problem applies across the country and all cuisine types.
Recently Arwyn Watkins, the president of the Culinary Association of Wales, said there was a people shortage, as well as a skills shortage. His view is that, “Not enough individuals are taking this industry as a serious career choice. Even when they have made that career choice, not enough are progressing on to the industry on completion of further education.” I would agree with him. Something is wrong and we need to find a way of fixing it. Hopefully practice course like Le Raj academy will help
Given that there is a people shortage, and not just as shortage of chefs with the right skills, it seems obvious that immigration rules covering the hospitality sector, including curry restaurants, have to be changed and made to work in the national interest. We have a gap and it needs to be filled. As we cannot fill this shortage only from within the UK and EU, we have to look further afield. It is not in the country’s interest that restaurants are closing, owners are shelving expansion plans and that people are leaving the industry because the pressure of work on those that remain in the industry is very high. This is one case where immigration is in the national interest and we have to get that message across.
Everyone is talking about the chef crisis. Wherever I go I get asked about it. People seem to think that I must have the solution to the problem, given that I have good connections with senior members of the government. They seem to think I have a magic wand. Unfortunately, I don’t!
I am, to be honest, a little disappointed with the reaction of the Home Office so far. The Government have reassured the industry that they will work together with us to find a way of overcoming this problem, which is damaging so many restaurants around the country. Rest assured I will continue to press them to recognise the very real difficulties that we have. We must succeed in getting them to understand what is happening and introduce new visa arrangements for good quality curry chefs. I will present a proposal very soon to the Government on how to tackle the ongoing challenges we are currently facing in this industry.
Spice Business and The British Curry Awards have campaigned about this issue for many years. Other bodies are now jumping on the bandwagon and using this as a bit of a PR stunt, with a view towards self-promotion. We are different and have only the interests of the industry at heart.
Many restaurants are still complaining to us about the way the UK Borders Agency is handling sponsorship license applications This is adding to the problems with regard to the chef shortage crisis. The application process is lengthy and if it is refused there is no right of appeal and you have to wait six months for a so-called ‘cooling off period’, before you can reapply. This can cause great difficulty to a restaurant. What are they going to do while waiting six months to try again? The punishment for getting the application process wrong is far too severe. It has to be looked at again.
In this issue we have some very sad news, with Lord Gulam Noon passing away. He was a great friend of mine, and of the industry. He was a wonderful supporter of the curry business and a genuinely lovely person. He is a huge loss to the curry industry. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.
As this issue goes to press, we are working hard in preparation for the 11th British Curry Awards. This year there has been a huge amount of interest from across the country from members of the public wanting to nominate their favourite curry restaurants. It is sure to be fantastic night, and a very tough competition. The judges really have had a hard time choosing the best from a very good series of entries.
Another event that attracted a large amount of interest this year was the Great British Bake Off. Around 13 million people tuned in for the final to see Nadiya Hussain win the prize and be crowned champion for 2015. Nadiya, whose father was a curry chef, took on the challenge and did exceptionally well, showing what can be achieved by following a passion. She is a real inspiration and we will watch her future career with great interest.
The 2015 General Election was one of the most keenly contested in many years. In the end the Conservatives won with a comfortable result, and it is said that ethnic minority votes were crucial in helping David Cameron back to No.10. Certainly, I know of many restaurateurs who were actively campaigning for the Conservative Party for the first time.
David Cameron has supported our industry and the fact that he has come to the British Curry Awards I am sure it counted in his favour at the election. Within our community many more votes went to the Conservatives than ever before.
We will be looking to the new all-Conservative government for their help and support. Immigration will be a top priority, and it seems that the Government will be curbing non-EU migrants even more. But we need to get understanding of our particular problems and the shortage of skilled curry chefs. I believe David Cameron will listen and certainly I will be telling about our difficulties in recruiting that when I speak to him next!
We would also like the Government to consider cutting VAT in the restaurant and hospitality sector to 5%. This has worked in other countries, creating jobs and generating more tax revenues. Let’s try it here as well, as it would give our sector a big boost.
The country will now benefit from a period of political stability. There will be five years before the next election. If the Conservatives listen to our community and respond to the needs of small businesses up and down the country then I am sure their majority next time will be even bigger! The past few months have been eventful for me personally, with the wedding of my daughter Justine to Anis Haque. Many of you will know her contribution to the British Curry Industry. The wedding ceremonies were a real joy and we received so many expressions of good wishes, even from the Prime Minister and the Queen! The whole experience was beyond my expectations, and I would like to thank all of you who came or sent messages I am sorry I could not invite everyone, but it was difficult to find a venue big enough!
Justine will once again be a key person at the 11th British Curry Awards which are now at an advanced planning stage. Nominations are open so please go to page 46 for details. Let’s break records once again for entries. I am already looking forward to seeing so many of you at the Battersea Evolution on November 30th, when once again we will put British curry in the international spotlight. We are approaching Ramadan which will be starting around 18th June and ends around 17th July. It will be more challenging this year with the summer and the long periods of daylight which could mean an average 19 hours of fasting per day. I know this will be difficult for restaurant staff who have to keep going serving our customers, but it is a fulfilling time and one which brings spiritual rewards.
May I take this opportunity to wish all of you Eid Mubarak.
Happy New Year to all readers! For the first time in a long while its seems that we can all look forward to the year ahead with optimism. All the economic indicators are positive right now and we should see the benefits in time. The chef crisis is still with us, though, and may hold back growth plans.
That said, in the pages of this edition you will read about a number of new ventures, many of them being set up by the younger generation. This gives me cause for confidence that the good times are on their way back, and that the future is in good hands.
There are reports that curry sales from restaurants were well up in the last quarter of 2014, perhaps reflecting the upturn in the economy, the benefits of the Christmas season and the fact that we have enjoyed reasonably good weather conditions. Another factor though behind the booming curry economy was the huge impact in the media of this year’s British Curry Awards. ITN Research has shown that this generated press and media coverage with a PR value of £48 million! This is an amazing statistic and shows how positive the Awards are for our industry, not just for rewarding excellence and achievement, but in raising the profile of curry restaurants nationally and internationally to help bring customers back through the doors. The one big negative, as I mentioned, is the shortage of curry chefs. I took the opportunity of the Awards to get this message across to Theresa May, the Home Secretary, asking her for help in bringing in qualified chefs who ‘speak the language of curry.’ I know she listened to our arguments, and promised to go away and think about how this problem might be addressed. Let’s hope we see some action from her on this front, sooner rather than later.
Immigration is sure to be a big election issue, as we approach the General Election this May. Ethnic minorities will be crucial to deciding the future government, All parties seem to be inclined to get ‘tough’ on immigration, including the Conservatives. But is this wise?
Recently some research by a Conservative think tank, Bright Blue, showed that actually most Tory voters want a well-managed immigration system, rather one that stops migrants from coming to the UK altogether. The research also warned that pursuing aggressive policies towards migrants coming to the UK risked putting off ethnic minority Tories who will be an important part of the Conservative Party’s support base in the years ahead. The report showed that Conservative voters are overwhelmingly positive about the contribution immigrants they know make to their local communities, and suggested there is a need for a fair system, rather than a tough one.
The Conservative-led coalition government has been very supportive of the curry sector in many ways over the past five years. The Prime Minister in particular has showed his desire to help us. But the party needs to listen to voices like Bright Blue, and not simply follow the UKIP line and promise a crack-down on immigration. That would alienate many in our community who are natural Conservative supporters, but who are concerned about anti-migrant policies and messages. The May 2015 election will be very important. Please take the opportunity to vote, whether it is for local councillors or your MP. There is no good complaining afterwards if you don’t vote and someone else gets in!
Another shadow hanging over the curry industry is the ‘copycat culture’, which is seeing restaurants copying other well-established restaurants names; awards springing up, most trying to copy the success of British Curry Awards; and individuals claiming to have won awards which they have not done. This publicity is unwelcome and creates divisions in our industry. We need to be united if we are to achieve our goals and show to Government that we are an industry they have to listen to and take notice of. If we are seen to be at odds with each other, nobody will take us seriously.
THIS year will be the 10th occasion that the British Curry Awards has taken place. I am glad to report that we have had more nominations than ever before this year, reflecting the huge amount of public interest in nominating their favourite curry house.
I can assure you the postman has been very busy in the Epsom Downs area, delivering sacks of nominations to Spice Business headquarters, while the Awards email inbox has been full to overflowing. Thank you once again for all your support. It means a lot that ten years on the Awards are still going from strength to strength and are captivating the interest and imagination of our industry.
Nominations closed on September 1st. Companies who are short-listed will shortly be receiving letters confirming this, if they have not done so already. Please fill in the entry forms and get them back to us as soon as possible.
I am certain that this year will be a never-to-be-forgotten occasion. My daughter Justine Ali, who is producing the event once again, is pulling out all at the stops to create the biggest, and best event yet. A number of celebrity guests have been lined up already and it is sure to be an occasion that nobody will want to miss. I look forward to seeing many of you at the Awards on December 1st at The Battersea Evolution.
There is no doubt that over the past ten years, the British Curry Awards have helped change the industry for good. There was a time when with nobody to take over from the older generation some restaurants were closing down. The children were not interested and were going to professional careers as bankers, teachers, solicitors and so on. Now though the image of the industry has changes and more and more are leaving their careers to return to their roots. As a result of the British Curry Awards there is more pride, respect and appreciation for people running restaurants than there used to be, and this has helped persuade the younger generation that there is a future in this business.
There are of course challenges, and we wait to see what the political leaders aiming to win the election in 2015 offer to do about it. Even though the government has promised to help the curry industry there has not been much progress. Not being able to bring in talented chefs from outside the EU does not help the business model, and with the election nearing we should all express our concerns to our MPs. This is a genuine problem and curry houses will slowly die if there is not a change in policy.
In particular there are barriers in bringing in chefs if they offer a takeaway service. There are few if any spice restaurants in this country that do not offer a takeaway menu, so there is absolutely no sense in this rule. Takeaways allow restaurants to do more business, and so generate more revenue to the taxman. It is a nonsense rule and has to end.
On a positive note the economy is improving and we are seeing an increase in consumer spending. This will have a benefit to the hospitality sector, so perhaps there is some light at the end of the tunnel after all. But the staff crisis is worse than ever and there is no end in sight as far as that is concerned.
In this issue you will be able to read about unfair treatment received by a restaurant as a result of comments on Tripadvisor. Social media sites like this are having a bigger influence on our businesses, as many people check them for reviews before booking a table. But if reviews are false or malicious it can have a negative impact and there is little by way of redress. There must be a way to stop this, while keeping open the sites for genuine reviewers.
There is also huge concern about company installing gas cookers without qualifications and approvals and ultimately being prosecuted and fined. I would strongly urge restaurants to only use properly qualified gas engineers. This is particular problem for our sector as electrical ovens are not suitable for the curry industry due to the lack of instant heat. But taking short cuts can be dangerous and a false economy.
Finally, Ramadan is behind us and I wish you all a belated Eid Mubarak. There are some people campaigning to make Eid a public holiday in the UK. While this might be a problem for some, it would be a welcome recognition of the integral part that British Muslims play in society and e economy today.
IT only seems yesterday that we were launching the British Curry Awards, as a pioneering way of recognising the achievements of our industry and the people who work so hard to make it a success. Yet here I find myself preparing for the tenth Awards, which are taking place on Monday 1st Dec 2014 at the Battersea Evolution.
As the saying goes ‘from small acorns mighty oaks do grow’, and what started as relatively small event is now one of the biggest and most spectacular on the hospitality calendar. We have had all kinds of dignitaries and VIPs attend, culminating in the Prime Minister, David Cameron, giving the keynote speech in 2013. We haven’t had any royals yet, but you never know! Past winners make up a real ‘who’s who’ of our industry. They are the stars of the curry business and it is thanks to you, who have supported the Awards over the past ten years, that they have the rightful recognition.
Nominations for 2014 are now open, so please go to page 46 where you can find a form. You can also nominate online or by downloading our app onto your smart phone.
We always say ‘this year will be bigger and better than ever’ but it will be hard to beat 2013. You can rest assured we will do our best, and there are certain to be some surprises. So put the date in your diaries now and make sure you are there to mark ten years of these awards.
It is also another anniversary - 15 years since the launch of Spice Business. At the time nobody believed it would last, and yet it has. It was a very necessary step to introduce the magazine, to highlight issues relating not just to the spice restaurant sector but the community at large as well. Without Spice Business the British Curry Awards would simply not exist and those stars mentioned would not have been rewarded. We have campaigned on many issues, challenged the government of the day and I believe Spice Business has inspired many changes. We have charted the ups and downs of our industry, stressed the importance of the Bangladeshi, Indian, Pakistani, Nepalese and Sri Lankan communities in the ‘Indian’ restaurant business and the huge contributions made, not just to the economy, but to charity as well. Restaurants that are now household names were mentioned in these pages first.
Your support has been vital to its success. The doubters have been proved wrong and that is mainly down to you, the readers, that this has been the case. In the very first issue Tony Blair wrote a welcoming note, and our current Prime Minister David Cameron has been a good and loyal supporter of our industry; so it was pleasing to see that he has pledged to protect the right to halal meat as long as he is in charge. This will be welcome news to our community I am sure. I had been approached by a number of people about this issue, following criticism from animal rights groups, and raised it with him. The PM’s response is encouraging and the outcome is the right one.
At the BCA 2103 Mr Cameron promised to work with us to help overcome some of the challenges we face, and we must hold him to those words. We need some changes in immigration rules, and also some help with measures to stimulate recovery after the recession. We are grateful to this government for their words of support. But now we have to see action!
Political tensions are rising with elections this year, for Europe and local government, and the General Election in 2015. Tower Hamlets is inevitably something of a focal point and recently the record of Mayor Luthfur Rahman was challenged by BBC Panorama, which always does great work to highlight the country’s concerns. On this occasion, we are delighted to see that, although their findings have been investigated by the police, no evidence of wrongdoing has been found. There is a danger of people getting jealous about someone’s success and trying to damage hard-won reputations. Perhaps this is what happened on this occasion and we are glad the Mayor has been cleared. We hope this paves the way for a fair, and open, election without any ‘dirty tricks’.
We are nearing the Ramadan period, which starts at the end of June and so will coincide with the hot summer months once again. It is a tough time, but a rewarding one. It is a time to be grateful to our staff who continue to deliver excellent performance and service no matter what. I would like to offer Ramadan Mubarak greetings to all our readers and I hope you enjoy good fortune over the coming months.
I would like to wish all Spice Business readers the best of luck for 2014. It is a New Year and perhaps a new dawn. There are some positive signs in the economy, which is growing faster than at any time since 2007. I just hope some of this energy rubs off on the hospitality sector. After several disappointing years we are due a change in fortune and perhaps 2014 will be the year when the tide turns in our favour.
As you can see in this issue of the magazine the effects of the recession are still being felt by our sector, with several restaurants closing down up and down the country, some of which having been in business for decades. However, this has to be balanced by a growing number of new ventures that are starting up, many being backed by younger entrepreneurs and new, talented chefs, as well as longer established restaurateurs. There are green shoots of recovery to be seen and these need to be nurtured by the government.
We will continue to press the case for a reduction in VAT for the hospitality sector and to ask the government to look again at some of its policies. The planned rise in the minimum wage to £7 an hour will be a big burden for some restaurants at a time when their business is only just recovering. It might be best to delay this for a year.
I have only just started to catch my breath after a very eventful and exciting British Curry Awards. It was a tremendous honour to welcome the Prime Minster to the awards and I know this was much appreciated by everyone there. He not only toured the kitchens, speaking to the chefs, but he kindly agreed to present one of the awards. His speech, in which he promised to work with us to overcome the challenges we face, will have given great encouragement to the curry industry.
It was great to see so many familiar faces there, and some new ones too, and there was a great atmosphere in the room. The message I took away was that the curry industry is alive and well in our country. We have tough times ahead, but there is new blood, new ideas and a new enthusiasm coming through which will help sustain the legacy our forefathers have left us.
The chef crisis is not going to go away overnight. We know that. But the Prime Minister in his speech did agree to do what it takes to ensure we have the chefs we need and to help us develop a new generation of home-grown chefs. We have to hold the Prime Minister and the coalition government to honour this promise and adopt a more balanced approach to immigration policy.
The Prime Minister also agreed to do what he could to address some of the problems in Bangladesh, where many British Bangladeshis still have family and property. The political unrest is a great concern to all of us. We hope the violence and strife will end. It needs a new kind of politics, but it is hard to have faith that current political leaders in Bangladesh can follow a path of constructive dialogue and respect for parliamentary democracy. We need international figures like David Cameron to put pressure on all sides to take a different path - one that will lead to peace and prosperity for Bangladesh.
The curry industry in this country is seeing some unfortunate side effects of the crisis. We import a lot from the region, but we are seeing inconsistency in the supply and quality of goods such as seafoods and spices. This is bad for Bangladesh and bad for restaurants in the UK. If the situation does not improve, we will have to shift to doing business with other countries. We have been very loyal to the land of our forefathers, but there is a limit to such loyalty and we may have to reconsider our position with respect to importing goods from Bangladesh. What a pity that would be.
On a positive note this issue of Spice Business contains news of numerous occasions where spice restaurants have raised money of charitable causes, or reached out and helped out schools and the community generally. There is much to be proud of in the ‘giving’ nature of our industry which perhaps sets us apart to some extent from others. Keep up the good work!
Recently, as you can read in this issue of the magazine, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) has defended its policies and its tactics.
Like most other restaurant owners, I have no problem with the fact that there needs to be action against illegal immigrants in this country and the UKBA has a key role to play. However I regularly receive information from restaurants complaining about the timing of UKBA raids - often in the evenings when restaurants are full and alarming diners enjoying a night out. These appear designed to cause maximum damage to the business, irrespective of whether the restaurant is innocent or guilty of employing illegal workers. I am sure they know that to run a restaurant you need to have staff working from morning through to the early hours, so they are not really more likely to ‘catch’ illegals at 8pm than at say 2pm. So why do they do it?
Sometimes spice restaurants feel they are being unfairly targeted, and the raids, allegedly intelligence led, often seem to be ‘fishing expeditions. Sometimes it seems that they view our industry as ‘the opposition’ which they have to take on. Rather than the current confrontational approach we urge UKBA to work with us. The majority of spice restaurant owners want to do the right thing, and operate within the law, and UKBA will have more success if they change their approach. I hope that they will come to us and say ‘how can we work together to address this issue?’ It is a pity that they have not done so.
There is of course another side to the immigration debate, which does not get as much coverage as it should. Hopefully by engaging with the media we can change that. Recently the BBC journalist Nick Robinson popped into my restaurant as part of his research for a new documentary. We discussed the issue of immigration and I was able to tell him about the staffing crisis in Britain’s curry industry causes by immigration restrictions. He asked me why do we need to bring in people from abroad when many people here are unemployed. I answered quite clearly - because those people don’t have the skills spice restaurants need.
The UKBA is also proving to be an obstacle to getting even those chefs to which we are entitled. A restaurant must have a sponsor licence to bring a qualified chef from abroad, but still it is not 100% certain that the selected applicant will get clearance from the UKBA office.
The tight immigration rules in place are not helping the curry industry to grow or, in some cases, even to survive. The requirement for English language is the ‘icing on the cake’ as the majority of chefs from South Asia speak the language of food and not English. Because of this, many are not eligible to enter the UK even under a certificate of sponsorship. Something has to change and we have to campaign more proactively to get the politicians to listen. Recently restaurants in Cheltenham united to highlight the crisis that immigration rules are causing. If more do the same across the country maybe they will start to hear us. After all they will want our votes in 2015!
On a more positive note there is a lot of evidence that the economy is improving. Hopefully that will benefit our industry as we prepare for the busy Christmas and New Year seasons. The Prime Minister has rejected our call for a reduced VAT rate to kick-start our sector again; but hopefully we can change his mind. It has worked in other countries, so why not here? Now would be a perfect time to help us capitalise on the feel-good factor that seems to be returning.
As I write this, I am busy working on the 9th British Curry Awards 2013, which will take place on Monday 25th Nov 2013 at The Battersea Evolution. The intense desire of many restaurants to win an award is evident as I go around the country and this year it looks like we will have more nominations that ever. Competition is fierce. It promises to be a spectacular evening, and I look forward to seeing many of you there.
Welcome to this edition of Spice Business. For more than ten years now we have been highlighting the staffing problems faced by our industry. Successive governments have introduced new rules and regulations which have affected our ability to bring in the highly qualified and dedicated staff we need to run successful businesses. We have pointed out their shortcomings and have usually been proved right when they have had to be changed.
The current government has to act tough on immigration for political reasons. We know that. And we appreciate the fact that we as an industry have to develop our home-grown talent. But this will take time and, in the meantime, we need to be able to bring in people who can do the job. Otherwise restaurants will close and there will be no jobs on offer whether for British-born or immigrant workers. What would be the sense in that?
In this issue of the magazine on page 45 there is an article highlighting the staffing issues and other problems we face. I urge you to cut it out and send it to your MP. Perhaps then they will start getting the message.
The Government has to start coming up with solutions to help our £4billion a year industry start flourishing again. It is pinning its hopes on the so-called ‘curry colleges’ but as we reported on the last issue these have produced just a handful of chefs to date.
One of the other problems we face is the ‘copycat culture’ within our industry. Successful restaurants and brands such as British Curry Awards, Bombay Brasserie, Le Raj, Tamarind, Vujon, Jaipur, Cinnamon Club, The Red Fort amongst many others inevitably attract people who start trading with similar or identical names and logos. Sorting this out in the past has cost a lot of time and money. Now the Government has introduced a new Intellectual Property mediation service, which we report in this issue. We hope that this will prove successful in cutting red tape and getting faster justice for those who suffer because of these copycat cheats otherwise we will continue to name and shame them.
Also in this issue you can read our take on the Dhaka factory disaster in which more than 1,100 people are now known to have lost their lives. This is a tragic event that has tarnished the image of Bangladesh around the world. I know many of you, like me, are concerned about political stability in Bangladesh in the wake of the disaster and I hope politicians realise that they can’t carry on as they have been. Otherwise all the hard work in building up the Made in Bangladesh brand will have been in vain.
On a happier note we have now confirmed the date and location of the 9th annual British Curry Awards. This will take place on November 25th at London’s Battersea Evolution centre. We hope to see many of you there. Please start the process of getting nominations in and this year you can also use the customer-friendly British Curry Awards App. I encourage you to give it a try. It really can take things easier.
I can promise you we are working on some exciting ideas for this year and it will be higher profile than ever before. We have many imitators but the British Curry Awards remain the ‘real deal’ and by encouraging your customers to nominate you can demonstrate your quality not just locally and nationally, but internationally as well.
We are approaching the summer and I hope you have a good trading period over this time. This is the last issue before Ramadan, which takes place in July, and so I would like to wish you all Ramadan Mubarak.
Happy New Year to you all! Let us hope that 2013 will see an improvement in fortunes for our industry, which is still struggling against a number of issues.
We must continue to press the government to reduce VAT on restaurant meals. I am convinced that far from actually costing money it would raise income by encouraging more people to eat out. Restaurants would take on more staff, who would pay tax, so it would be a ‘win,win’ all round. Please write to your MPs suggesting this very sensible measure, which has already proved beneficial in France.
There is also an urgent need to get the Government to see sense on immigration. A number of well-known restaurant chains have decided not to expand in the UK, because they can’t get chefs with the required level of expertise in this country or the EU. Instead they are looking to invest in places like Dubai. How can it be in the national interest for this to happen? There have to be rules on immigration, but some flexibility over the current visa regulations must be the way forward. Changing the rules would help get the spice restaurant sector, which is a significant part of the economy, growing again. I have been raising issues to the government on the UKBA raids to the industry which are causing more harm, I am very pleased to see Masala Bazaar took the legal challenge and won their case (see page 15).
There were high hopes that the so-called curry colleges could lead to more ‘home grown’ talent joining our industry to offset the impact of immigration regulations. However the initial reports have not been very encouraging and there is a real danger the scheme could turn out to be an expensive flop. We hope the colleges will in the end have a positive impact; but we really can’t wait for them to produce results. We need our curry chefs now!
One thing we can all do is to encourage more women to join in our businesses, as chefs, kitchen staff, front of house or management. There is a lot of untapped talent out there and we should embrace it. We have been a very male orientated industry for too long. Let’s make 2013 the year when we start to make a change. It may turn out that the answer to the chef shortage we have been looking for is closer to home that we thought!
I made this point very strongly at the British Curry Awards, which were the by far the best yet. I was delighted with the response this time, with more pubic nominations than ever before. The decision to bring in the takeaway side of the business proved very popular and we also benefitted from the link with Just Eat.
It was good to see so many representatives of our industry there, along with politicians and VIPs. With 1600 people packed into the Evolution hall it was certainly a night to remember.
In this issue there is news of a new ‘App’ which the British Curry Awards is launching and which will help diners get information about winners and shortlisted restaurants. The new app should help boost the numbers going to BCA listed restaurants by ‘pointing the way’ with lots of information about location, menus and so on, and should be a clear benefit to our industry.
New IT tools like apps are the way forward, but as another story in this issue shows we have to be on our guard against problems that can occur with websites in particular. A few years ago a website was a ‘nice to have’ and now it is absolutely vital. But just like any other part of the business things can go wrong and you need to call on expert help to get it right. Just make sure that the experts you use are professional and reliable, or you may pay a heavy price.
Wow! What can I say? Being part of the Olympics was an experience beyond anything I have encountered before. It was an honour and a privilege to be able to serve all the VIPs and sponsor’s guests with Le Raj food on the Olympic Park site. I have always said that I will take curry where it has never been before and going to the Olympics certainly was a step further that I have ever gone. I have to pinch myself sometimes to think that Bill Gates was served our curry during the Games! There were many other famous faces and celebrities who we were able to introduce our food to, so it was a great opportunity to promote our industry.
My special thanks to all the people who supported me throughout the Olympics and of course our partner Smart Event Hospitality. London hosting the Olympics in 2012 has been a real joy and a source of pride for all of us. The opening and closing ceremonies were particularly amazing with one surprise after another. The one pity was that many businesses and restaurants did not benefit from the Games as they hoped to do. But perhaps there will be some longer-term benefits.
Now the Olympics is over it is back down to earth and facing the reality of the many problems that affect our industry. Finding skilled chefs in this country is still really hard and the same applies if you want to bring one from abroad. I have had personal experience of this recently and it has reinforced my view that we must keep pressing the Government on this issue.
Our campaign to reduce VAT is ongoing. I believe the current government will eventually listen to our pleas and be courageous enough to take the bold step of reducing VAT for restaurants. If they do it will be something that will not just help restaurant owners but the Government as well, by bringing in more taxes and reducing unemployment.
For the last few years, I have been issuing warnings about the threats to our industry from factors such as the shortage of skilled chefs and the high rate of VAT. Until recently, the vast majority of our restaurateurs have just about managed to muddle through. As a result, some people accused me of crying wolf. But alas, my predictions are now beginning to come true. As you’ll see restaurants are now beginning to lose the fight for survival or, in the case of the Masala World chain, cancel plans to expand its operations in the UK. I hope you will consider doing your own story about the problems our industry is facing. Obviously, I’ll be only too pleased to give you any help I can to enable you to get the facts together and talk to the right people.
Taking on the copycat cheats is another issue we have to persevere with. Whether it is menus, restaurant names, awards, events, there are people out there who will copy to get an advantage. This is tough for businesses who have worked hard to get into a good position only to find others trying to make a profit on their name.
It is that time of the year again. This year’s British Curry Awards are taking place on Monday 26th November at The Battersea Evolution and it promises to be bigger and better than ever before. We are expecting a record-breaking number of nominations this year and we are adding a new category for Best Delivery Restaurant. This applies to both takeaways only and restaurants that deliver to peoples’ homes. I look forward to seeing you there!
The next few months will be exciting, and challenging for so many different reasons. Let’s start with the Olympics, which begin in July. The world will be visiting London and it is a tremendous opportunity for us all to showcase what we do. A number of restaurants, involved in providing catering services at the Games, but it is not just a positive for them - for every restaurant in London will be good host, and even further afield, it is a once in a generation chance to capitalise on the huge influx of visitors.
Ramadan this year falls in July and August right in the middle of the Games. This will be a challenge for many Muslims taking part in the Games, but also for restaurant staff in many spice restaurants who will be fasting during what are sure to be long and hard-working days, possibly in hot weather - although you never know in England! Our staff, whether front of house or in the kitchens, are the mainstay of our businesses, and as they do during Ramadan every year they will rise to the occasion, so most of the public will not even realise! We owe them so much.
Another challenge is the economy and it has officially been confirmed that the UK is back in recession. Most restaurant owners did not need statistics to tell them that! Times are hard.
According to a recent survey carried out by Spice Business, 68% of diners do not realise that the bills they pay when they eat out include 20% VAT. On top of that restaurants have to pay 3-5% in charges for credit card transactions. So the amount that goes to the restaurant owner is much less than diners are paying. With the cost of meat, vegetables, rice and spices also rising this is putting a big squeeze on profits.
The restaurant business at the moment is very unpredictable. Many restaurants are struggling, some are closing and only a very few are doing well. The government needs to offer some positive encouragement. Reducing VAT for restaurants and hotels as they do in France, where VAT for restaurants is only 7%, would be a start and would help create more jobs in the hospitality sector. We will continue to campaign for this change to be made.
The restrictions on bringing in chefs from outside the EU is hurting as well. Without proper chefs restaurants cannot function, let alone expand, and I am hearing that sometimes restauranteurs are even having to put off chefs’ holidays so they can avoid closing down temporarily.
There may be a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel, with the launch of a network of so-called ‘curry colleges’ by People1st and Hospitality Guild. I was there to witness the launch of the new centres of excellence and I would invite all restaurant owners to get involved and contact their nearest college to offer experience for the young people going through these courses. It is a good scheme that I am confident will pay off in future.
In this issue there is also news of a new scam involving King Prawn imports from Bangladesh, which are being artificially made heavier through the use of gel and other products, cheating restaurants and posing a potential risk to health. It is another headache for restaurants at the worst possible time, and Spice Business is pressing the Bangladesh High Commission to take action as soon as possible. In the meantime, we would like to hear from you if you come across this dangerous fraud.
Finally, I would like to give sincere congratulations to her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, as she celebrates her Diamond Jubilee. She is a wonderful lady who has dedicated her life to serve this country and has done so immaculately. May I wish readers Ramadan Mubarak!
May I wish all our readers a Happy New Year for 2012. This will be a landmark year for the country, with the Olympics and Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and I hope it will also mark a turning point for the curry restaurant business as well.
The past 12 months have been difficult given the economic problems facing the country and the impact they have had on the hospitality sector. We have to prepare for even more testing times ahead, but perhaps the Olympics is a ray of hope for us all. Let us hope the Games make a big contribution to the curry industry and, as Boris Johnson said at the British Curry Awards, when visitors come to the Olympics they will find the real ‘home’ of the curry, with more restaurants than even Delhi and Mumbai!
My message to you all is let’s get ready as quickly as possible to welcome the world to London. It is really a once in a generation opportunity.
Thank also to everyone who came and took part in the British Curry Awards 2011. They were I am sure all would agree bigger and better than the six previous events and showed other ‘copycat’ awards how it is really done.
The exposure given to the industry as a result of the curry awards is tremendous. Just as one example the Guardian newspaper ran an article on January 8th on ‘The Curry Crisis’ which picked up a number of concerns that I and others in the industry have been expressing. Then I was interviewed for Norwegian Television’s news channel, who did an item on the problems facing the curry industry, and included footage from the awards. The BCA always brings the attention of the worldwide media to our curry industry. Which other awards can say that!
My thanks to Dipna Anand and the Brilliant team for supervising the food and it was particularly heartening to see such good service from the young people from University. They really are our future and we should be proud of their accomplishments on the night.
I would like publicly to thank all the sponsors whose support make it possible, and to my family who have to shoulder a big burden in helping me to run this event, which has grown and grown over the years. After seven years it is perhaps time for a change and we are planning to make the 2012 event different. In particular I plan to make the British Curry Awards a charitable organization. I will update readers on this in the next issue.
Talking to restaurant owners at the Awards, some were happy and others sad at their experience over the past year. My message to those who are feeling a bit disheartened is keep up the good work and you will get your just rewards in the end.
Finally, I would like to congratulate those from the hospitality industry who received awards in the New Year’s Honours List. In particular it was pleasing to see Baljoor Rashid and Vic Laws get the recognition that they richly deserve
As I write this column there is a growing sense of excitement within the industry as we approach this year’s British Curry Awards. We received a staggering total of over 68,000 nominations for 2700 different restaurants and I would like to thank everyone who took the time and trouble to put forward their favourite restaurant for an award.
Those who have been shortlisted will have received their letter advising them by now and the judges are due to sit down shortly to determine the winners of this year’s event, which takes place on November 28th at Battersea Evolution in Battersea Park. I can promise that there will be many surprises in store for those of you who are there, and some well-known names in the worlds of politics, entertainment and cooking are already confirmed. This genuinely promises to be the best awards yet. Tickets are running out fast so please book now to avoid disappointment. You will regret it if you don’t!
It is sad that there are no so many awards ceremonies trying to copy the British Curry Awards. But the industry knows that the British Curry Awards is the real deal and won’t be fooled by impostors. Those that win at these awards are genuinely the best in their fields and if you are lucky enough to pick up a British Curry Award then you know it means something.
The Awards take place against the background of a return to the economic crises we thought we had seen the back of. Problems with the eurozone have hit the headlines and nobody seems to know where it will lead. It seems we face a long and slow road to recovery and customers will be feeling the pinch with less disposable income.
These are certainly going to be tough times for our industry and we need all the help we can get. There have been calls for a 5% VAT rate for restaurant meals, and with 2012 and the Queens Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics, round the corner, now would be a perfect time for such a boost.
We certainly don’t need the kind of negative coverage provided by a recent report from the Local Government Group which made claims about the unhealthy nature of chicken tikka masala and pilau rice. I was forced to appear on BBC News to defend restaurants from the report and championing alternative solutions such as beetroot-based colouring.
The report is not representative as less than 1 per cent of restaurants are using artificial colourings and is an over-reaction. As I said in interviews, it would have been more helpful to have started to work with restaurants to persuade them to make a change, than to demonise Britain’s most popular dish in this way.
On a personal note, I was delighted to be invited on a charitable mission with members of the Conservative Party, led by their co-chair, Baroness Warsi. This was an eye-opening experience, and one that achieved a lot in a short time. More details of the visit can be found inside this magazine. Politicians sometimes get a bad press. But I can say those who accompanied me on this mission really rolled their sleeves up and got involved in a number of projects to help those in need.
I was also recently made a Freeman of the City of London. This is an honour I was not expecting and was really humbled to receive it. I will work hard to promote London and its restaurant sector, especially in 2012 when the Olympic games creates such an opportunity. May I wish all readers a happy Eid Mubarak. I hope you manage to enjoy a break with family and friends and come back refreshed to take on the challenges that lie ahead.
As I write this editorial, summer time is on the way. Last year the World Cup was taking place and that led to a big drop in restaurant sales. This year there is no big sporting event, so hopefully things will be better for our industry.
This time next year, though, the Olympic Games will be upon us and this is one sporting event of a global scale that could be a big benefit to our business. As set out in an article in this issue of Spice Business, the Games are a chance for us to promote our cuisine on a world stage and we have to start preparing now to seize this chance with both hands. So many people will be visiting London and the UK and we have to show them what the British curry has to offer. Start thinking now. If anyone has any good ideas email them to Spice Business and we can highlight them in the magazine.
Perhaps the ‘launch pad’ for our 2012 preparations will come with the British Curry Awards undisputedly the world’s biggest award ceremony in the hospitality calendar, which will take place on Monday 28th November at the Battersea Evolution. This is a new date for us, which hopefully will go down well with the market, and a return to a popular venue. Nominations form can be found inside the magazine and also on the website. Restaurateurs should start inviting customers to nominate their restaurants ahead of the deadline, which is on 1st September 2011.
The British Curry Awards will also give us a chance as an industry to air our views on the government’s immigration proposals. Restrictions on recruitment overseas are hurting our efforts to attract good quality candidates for chef positions and are not helping our industry as we try to emerge from the recession. We support the Government in trying to have a clearer immigration policy and to enforce it, and we do stand ready to work with them. However, we believe some changes need to be made if the curry industry is to continue to prosper and we hope the government will listen to sensible suggestions that will be for the benefit of the curry industry. Senior members of the government have been invited to the awards and we hope they will accept.
I was very sad to learn of the passing of the former Bombay Brasserie general manager Adi Modi. He was a great figure in the industry and will be missed by all of us. He has been a great supporter to the industry. The Bombay Brasserie is his lasting monument and he will be long remembered for his achievements in transforming the way the British view curry. I would also like to pay tribute to Mohammed Kamar Uddin for his sudden death. His contribution to the curry industry was very valuable. He will be remembered and greatly missed.
Finally, may I wish all readers Ramadan Mubarak and, as the next issue of Spice Business will not be until September, Eid Mubarak as well. It is a time for coming together as families and I hope you draw great strength and joy from these important times in the religious calendar.
The first few months of 2011 have not been good at all for the industry, after a difficult end to 2010 with the heavy snow and bad weather contributing to a steep drop in trade. There are clear signs already that the rise in VAT to 20% is hitting the restaurant sector hard. In an ideal world restaurant would be able to pass the rise onto customers through higher menu prices, but in these tough times it is not possible to do that without driving customers away. After all everybody is struggling to make ends meet. This situation is made worse by the fact that the VAT rise, and inflation in world food costs, is putting up the cost of making many dishes.
In France they have adopted an innovative approach of reducing VAT, provided restaurants pass on that at least in part to customers. Perhaps the government needs to consider something similar or many restaurants will go out of business. This year’s Budget is just around the corner so we can only hope there will be some help included for companies in the hospitality and catering industry. After all a recent survey found that we are the only sector where business failures are still increasing.
The VAT rise affects all restaurants, but there is a particular problem for the curry restaurant sector and this is the government decision to impose tough new criteria for those wanting to bring in skilled chefs from overseas. We do understand that the government was elected with a mandate to reduce immigration. But the requirements now being imposed will make it almost impossible for restaurants who need to bring in chefs to the kitchens to find the right people. More restaurants will have to close down and those that were hoping to expand will not be able to.
The government argues that we can find the right skills within the EU. But that claim is impossible to justify. Customers appreciate the finely honed skills of the curry chefs learned over many years, first from their mothers and grandmothers and then often in hotels and restaurants in the subcontinent. The instinctive measuring by eye and touch cannot easily be taught; it has to be passed on from generation to generation.
Chefs will need to be a graduate to be qualified to obtain the necessary work permit to work in the UK. The existing system is already really hard with the language test when we do not need chefs able to speak English fluently. They are in the “back office” and do not interact with customers at all. Now the situation is being made even more difficult, and everyone - including our customers - will suffer.
There is just not a readily available pool of chefs with the curry cooking skills available in the EU to replace those from the subcontinent. If we are to train up young chefs in this country and elsewhere in Europe it will take years and years before they are able to cook at the highest level, and what are we to do in the meantime?
Since Tony Blair was in government, Spice Business has been campaigning for sensible and practical solutions for the industry in bringing staff from abroad. With this latest system I believe migrants will not stay in the kitchen for long. Being a graduate and having a work permit in hand, they will surely jump at any other opportunity which arises. The industry will suffer unless we find a solution for the long term, and this is not it. Please write to your MPs and get your customers to write. We have to build up momentum for a change in policy.
On a more positive note tickets have gone on sale for the 2012 Olympics which is now only just over a year away and there is a real sense of excitement about these events, which will bring many visitors to London and the UK generally. This will be a once in a generation opportunity for our sector to showcase itself on a world stage. We need to ensure that we are ready to ‘welcome the world’ and we have to start now to prepare.
This edition of Spice Business is published hard on the heels of the sixth annual British Curry Awards held on 21st November at the Grosvenor House Hotel. We have been receiving numerous messages of congratulations, paying compliments to us about the event, from various quarters, including celebrities, politicians, media and restaurateurs. Many are saying it was the best award ceremony ever in the hospitality sector.
Since we started the British Curry Awards in 2005, there have been over 16 other awards ceremonies. But as the Prime Minister said, our event is regarded as the curry ‘oscars’.
Live footage of the event was shown around the world through our media partner, ITN News, and the consequent international coverage has been a huge success. The event was publicised at a national, regional and international level in newspapers, magazines, radio, and TV. Watch out on Christmas Day, as Star TV will broadcast the programme in full. But if you are too busy that day keep an eye on our website for a repeat date of the broadcast.
The team at Spice Business and The British Curry Awards are striving hard to showcase the best of the British curry industry to the whole world. I think we are getting the message across globally that British curry is the best there is!
There are winners and losers in every competition, but competition can bring out the best in us. My message to all my fellow restaurateurs is keep up the good work, our industry is proud of your achievements!
I cannot help mentioning the need to please book your seats for the next awards ceremony well in advance to avoid disappointment. There were desperate calls for seats to our office at the eleventh hour when all the seats had been sold out and unfortunately, we were helpless due to the limitations of the venue.
A word of praise for the chief guest at the British Curry Awards this year, the Rt. Hon. Eric Pickles MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Development. Himself a curry lover, Mr Pickles talked about the great contribution the curry industry is making to the national economy and local communities and that curry has a huge place in our national affections. Let’s hope Eric will become a great champion for our industry in government.
After all, the last thing I want to see is for all our hard work to be undermined by the adoption of harmful government policies. I know that our government is in a dilemma as to how to deal with the need to import chefs from overseas, and especially the Indian subcontinent. The statistics show that cutting down on chefs coming into the UK will have an insignificant impact on the whole employment scene.
A sound policy on the immigration of chefs will catalyse our curry industry and we are not opposed to a cap in principle. However, if it is applied in a harmful way then it could jeopardise the whole curry business, which is a £3.5 billion turnover industry, as well as the eating out delights of many millions of Britons.
As I write this, the harsh winter has come back much earlier than usual and it is causing chaos with roads closed and deliveries affected. But curry restaurants, it seems, always get the better end of the deal in these conditions as people like to have a hot curry in snug surroundings. Let us hope it is the same this time! There is no doubt that 2011 will be a time of uncertainty, starting off with the VAT increase. However, there are signs that the economy is improving so fingers crossed that this continues. In the meantime, may I wish all readers a Merry Christmas and best wishes for a prosperous New Year.
It has been a busy few month for me on several fronts. I have devoted a lot of time and energy to a major refurbishment of Le Raj and I hope those of you who come to visit will be impressed with the outcome! It is important not to stand still and it is time for Le Raj to enter a new era. I believe we have to continually aim for higher standards - of food and interior design - if we are to compete in our industry.
I was also fortunate to receive an Asian Award at the House of Lords on July 18th. This was a great honour and I am grateful to Dominic Grieve MP for taking time out of what must be a hectic schedule as a new minister in the coalition government to attend and present me with the award.
There was also an opportunity to attend the launch of the private Bangladeshi bank, Prime Bank, in the UK. I am sure they will provide useful support to our industry and community at a time when getting access to finance from some established High Street banks is proving hard to achieve.
Then there was the Camden Mela, where there was a great atmosphere and much to enjoy and learn about. Guest artist Mac summed it up when he said: “It does feel good to be in the fold of a lot of wonderful and exuberant people in the UK.”
Of course, work on the next British Curry Awards is also gathering pace. The last date for nominations for the event, which takes place on 21st November, is September 1st. So please get yours in as soon as possible.
As I write this, the month of holy Ramadan has just started. This will be a demanding time for the many Bangladeshis working in spice restaurants, as the need to get ready for service leaves hardly any time for a cool and quiet iftar. May Allah accept their fasting.
The one-month long world cup football in South Africa kept the whole world glued to the TV but it drastically affected restaurant business in the UK. This was perhaps the biggest downturn we have seen in many years and was compounded by the extremely hot spell, which kept people out of restaurants and in their gardens enjoying BBQs. Hopefully the timings of matches in four years’ time when the World Cup is in Brazil will be better for us.
I must make mention of the Bangladesh cricket team, which although still in its infancy has beaten all the countries, including the big guns like Australia, India, Pakistan and South Africa. Only England remained unbeaten but this record was ended when Bangladesh beat England for the first time in July. The Bangladesh Tigers, as they are fondly called, certainly made us proud.
Finally, I would like to congratulate the new coalition government, which has made a good start. The cap on immigration announced by the present government seems to be the most appropriate and if we need one chef, we should be able to bring in one chef. It should prevent a glut and address a cause of resentment. The high number of student visas is a cause for concern though and is something that needs to be tackled so that only genuine students get to enter the country. Student visas should not act as a back-door route for immigration.
However, we will have to wait and see how this government really performs. Spice restaurants have a shortage of certain staff and we need assistance to address this issue. Governments in the past have promised and not delivered. Let us hope this one is different