By Nadeem Badshah
LEADING Asian restaurant bosses and chefs have urged ministers to provide more cash to save jobs and businesses from the Covid-19 crisis.
Eateries across the country have been forced to close since November under lockdown rules and owners warned that many will be unable to survive without further financial support.
Under the latest national restrictions, restaurants can continue delivery or takeaway services, but click and collect is banned until at least mid-February.
Recent research found eight per cent of workers from BAME backgrounds are employed in hospitality roles, compared with about one in 20 white British workers.
The Resolution Foundation study also found that BAME men were paid 65p an hour less than white British men on average, while ethnic minority women were also underpaid compared with their white counterparts.
Cyrus Todiwala, who runs Indian restaurants in London, was part of a panel discussion last week at Company of Entrepreneurs to discuss the need for a minister of hospitality to be appointed.
He told Eastern Eye: “The hospitality sector is worth £140 billion to the government, yet there is no dedicated minister for it. Within this, the ethnic sector is naturally going to suffer, as historically as the [Resolution Foundation] report says people get into the work scene with little or no qualifications.
“Historically, our people have applied for menial tasks due to many of them not having moved or progressed into higher education. However, the Indian segment is paid better and, at times, higher than most white workers due to their levels of skills, education and expertise.”
Todiwala, who runs Cafe Spice Namaste and two branches of Mr Todiwala’s Kitchen, added: “We are all badly hit and we cannot compete with the low priced offers others give. The delivery companies take away a huge chunk of your money, so mostly takeaway business delivered via third parties is not viable profit wise, but brings the revenue in.
“The new lockdown has put the nails into the coffins for many, but after this current lockdown is lifted and the furlough scheme ends, we will see a wasteland of collapsed businesses.”
More than 1,600 restaurants closed last year, costing 30,000 jobs, according to property adviser Altus.
When hotels and other hospitality businesses are included, almost 300,000 jobs were lost in 2020 due to the pandemic, the Office for National Statistics said.
The UK Hospitality group predicts the figure will hit 660,000 by the end of March.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has offered a cash grant of up to £9,000 for restaurants, pubs, cafes, and bars based on their property value.
Pasha Khandaker, senior member of the Bangladesh Caterers Association and a restaurant owner in Kent, told Eastern Eye: “We need the government to fund us now or the industry will be finished, not only the curry industry but hospitality.
“They are offering £9k, they are going to need another grant immediately for all businesses. Last year our restaurants had 14 people working for us, it’s now eight and it could go down to three.
“Unemployment will go up, Universal Credit claims will go up. They should invest now, in the summer it will be better, or businesses will shut forever.”
The Resolution Foundation think-tank report also found the typical age of a Bangladeshi worker in hospitality was 42 – higher than the average age for Bangladeshi workers across the whole economy, at 25 years and higher than white Britons in hospitality, at 28 years.
It also said Indian workers in the industry were among the highest paid ethnic group, averaging £8.96 per hour and are among the most likely to be in senior roles such as restaurant managers.
Asma Khan, owner of restaurant Darjeeling Express in London, said: “Some of the problems have to do with how a lot of the high street Indian restaurants were created. Many were started by people of Bangladeshi origin who used immediate and extended family members as staff in a very informal way. “That legacy has continued in Bangladeshi restaurants who, until very recently, still had the tradition of hiring people from within their own families and historically people they knew.
“This makes it very hard for workers to ask for rights and better working conditions because of the informality of the recruitment process. Also, because there are very big cultural hurdles to discussing wages and rights for many in the industry.
“The slightly better statistics of Indian origin people has, of course, to do with the recruitment directly from India of chefs and other skilled staff from five-star hotels and restaurants before the visa regulations were changed.”
Khan added: “The furlough system – which all of us are very grateful for – allowed many restaurants to keep their staff on during these long closures since March of 2020, but there is no recognition that as a business owner very little has been done for business owners to pay for fixed costs or the national insurance contribution that we have had to pay for all furloughed staff. [There is] no support from the government for wastage of perishable goods or other costs incurred with suddenly having to close at short notice.
“When this is all over, the hospitality industry will be a shadow of itself because many will not have survived a year of lockdown,” he added.
Meanwhile, recent research found that takings in restaurants and pubs plunged by almost 80 per cent between Christmas Eve and Boxing Day compared with the same three-day period last year.
Total sales during the period slumped by 79.4 per cent compared with last year, with food sales down 64 per cent and drinks takings 84 per cent lower, as the majority of UK venues were forced to close because of the tiered system of coronavirus restrictions.
Anjula Devi, a chef and food author, said: “The latest set of restrictions is entirely understandable on medical grounds. Economically it is a huge hit for Asian restaurants though.
“The headline £9,000 promised by Rishi Sunak is only for larger venues, with smaller venues receiving much less and therefore probably not enough.
“The most financially secure and robust restaurants will survive with some extreme pain, but I believe the recent restrictions announced by the government will sadly be fatal for a significant number of talented, hard-working and popular restaurants.
“Hopefully, a successful vaccination programme offers light and encouragement at the end of the tunnel.”
Chancellor Sunak recently announced the furlough scheme would be extended until the end of April.
He said the £9,000 grant “will help businesses to get through the months ahead – and crucially it will help sustain jobs, so workers can be ready to return when they are able to reopen.”
Sunak added: “The new strain of the virus presents us all with a huge challenge – and while the vaccine is being rolled out, we have needed to tighten restrictions further.”