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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 Bangl adesh 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!

Enam Ali MBE-FIH

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