17,000 (!) Indian restaurants will vanish from the highstreet in the upcoming decade according to Yawar Khan, chairman of the Asian Catering Federation (ACF). That seemed like an awful lot and started us thinking – how many curry restaurants are there in the UK? And are there really so many vanishing?
The Growth of Curry Houses and Restaurants in the UK
According to the Guardian, an industry trade group stated that Britain’s curry houses generated annual sales of £4.2 billion and employed an annual average of 100,000 people in the last decade. But let’s go back in time. How did we get to this huge figure?
In the same article, the Guardian mentioned that there were around 300 curry restaurants in the country in 1960. Though not the first, arguably the most famous of these was the acclaimed Veeraswamy’s on Regent Street in London, which was opened in 1926. The owner of this restaurant was Indian spice importer Edward Palmer, a retired army officer who was the grandson of an English general and an Indian princess. He rose to fame in 1924 as the caterer at the British Empire Exhibition which was located in Wembley. With his restaurant he focused on Indian princes and upper-middle-class Londoners, who were charmed by the eccentric waiters and the decadent interior, complete with its grand chandeliers.
The golden era for curry restaurants came during the 1970s and the 80s. There were two main reasons for the exceptional growth seen during this period; a large number of immigrants came from Bangladesh to the UK and started working in the Indian restaurants; and the second reason was that there were hardly any competitors for these restaurants.
As stated by the Guardian, around 1980 there were approximately 3,000 curry houses in the UK. In the following ten years, larger Pakistani owned restaurants started to appear and places such as the Curry Mile in Manchester became very well known. By 1990, there were 6,600 curry houses in the UK. In 2011 this number had almost doubled; there were around 12,000 curry restaurants across the nation.
Current Numbers of Indian restaurants in the UK
The Financial Times published an article in 2016 which said that there are around 12,000 curry restaurants across Great Britain and they can be found in almost all sizes of towns and cities. Another article from 2017, on the website Asian-voice, said that the curry industry contributes £4.5 billion to the British economy annually. They also said that there are around 12,000 Indian restaurants in the UK. Meanwhile the Sun newspaper is reporting that we spend around £250 million a year on Indian food and that there are just 9,000 Indian eateries in the UK. These two figures are very different and £250 million divided across 9000 restaurants is only £27.8k of turnover per year, so that can’t be right.
Our conclusion is that nobody really knows how many curry restaurants there are in the UK, but it will probably be around 10,000 restaurants in the country. The conclusion of Yawar Khan that 17,000 Indian restaurants are closing in the upcoming decade seems a little bit unlikely as there aren’t really enough to support this number.
We believe that those restaurants who continue to evolve, create new market trends, serve a great meal and do it well, will continue to thrive. If they remain the same, offer poor service and a terrible experience we will be glad to see them go.