chicken tikka

Curry houses warned to “innovate or die” by Britain’s biggest takeaway owner

Last Updated on: 22nd November 2023, 05:25 pm

Ajmal Mushtaq, the owner of Britain biggest takeaway restaurant,
Mushtaqs in Hamilton in Scotland, has warned that over a third of the
country’s independent takeaway restaurants will disappear from our
high street within five years.

Despite the dire warning, Mushtaq, a former City management
consultant, remains remarkably upbeat about the prospects for the
takeaway sector.

The sector as a whole is thriving as more customers are ordering
takeaways, than ever before, according to Mushtaq, who predicts there
will be a huge shake out, which will see many of our long-established
favourite curry house go out of business in the coming years.

He cites multiple reasons for the demise of these family-owned
business. The shortage of chefs and rising rents and business rates
have been well reported. Many curry house owners find that their own
children eschew the opportunity to take over the reins of the family
concern, in favour of a professional career in accountancy, the law or
medicine. Long, antisocial hours deter many of the younger generation
are turning their back on the hospitality sector – despite the
opportunities for intelligent, ambitious graduates

“The main reason these businesses will fail will be their inability to
keep ahead of the technological advances in this sector. The rise of
aggregators such as Just Eat has shed a positive light on this
multibillion pound industry. This is now attracting hundreds of
millions of pounds of new investment into this sector from companies
such as Deliveroo & Uber Eats. It is going to be hard for a
traditional operator to compete on technology. The problem will be
further compounded by the rise of dark kitchens owned by the likes of
Deliveroo. These kitchens are usually set in industrial estates that
operate multiple food brands from one site

Before opening his own restaurant, Ajmal Mushtaq – who has degrees in
Law and Masters in Corporate Finance– spent just under10 years working
in London for Accenture, the world’s largest management consultancy.
He was responsible for delivering multi-million-pound business
improvement projects for FTSE 100 companies.

He then sought to apply modern business processes to his own
restaurant, transforming it in to the multi-award-winning
establishment, which is now officially the biggest Takeaway Operation
in Britain. The Hamilton operation, employs 60 staff, serving a meal
every 15 seconds at peak times. Orders are cooked ‘from scratch’
using from raw, fresh quality ingredients and delivered within a
3-mile radius, inside 29 minutes.

This is achieved by deskilling the cooking process. Mushtaq likens
his operation to an F1 pit team, compared to say, Kwik Fit. An F1
team will change a set of tyres inside 4 seconds, whereas Kwik Fit
will probably take half an hour to do essentially the same job.

The difference in F1 is having a large, high functioning team, with
each member performing one simple task, in perfect harmony.

Asked how he motivates and retains staff, Ajmal replies, “It’s
straightforward. We’re closed lunchtimes, and every Mondays and
Tuesday. They turn up Wednesdays, refreshed and raring to go. Out
last order is 10pm, so the working hours are short and favourable. We
have regular meetings, training, great benefits and

“As for the future it’s only a matter of time before someone launches
a serious Indian curry high street chain. I predict it will be one of
the larger online aggregators, UberEATS, Just Eat or Deliveroo. And
they will replace the small independent with management, slick
marketing and consumer relevant technology.

“These companies don’t need two takeaways on every high street. They
need one industrial kitchen, on an out of town business estate,
catering for all popular cuisines.”

This said, Mushtaq urges takeaways to get into bed with the
aggregators, because “they are the future”, but insists that operators
build their own customer database and engage with it. Mushtaq has a
12,000 strong database with which it communicates on a weekly basis.

Confident in the strength of the sector, Mushtaqs is planning to
expand the business. A major announcement is expected in a month.

Despite his business background, Mushtaq as the Head Chef insists it
is a food-led business. Which accounts for the string of awards. It
was recently crowned the Just Eat Best Takeaway in Britain at the
Asian Curry Awards, a title successfully defended for the second year
running. Ajmal was crowned Scotland’s Chef of the Year at the Food
Awards Scotland in August last year where he beat off competition from
the best fine dining and Michelin trained chefs in the country.

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