Running a Chinese takeaway in the UK ⦁ 點樣喺英國開中餐外賣店

Hong Konger Ella moved to the UK 16 years ago. Ella worked in a bar, in a Chinese restaurant as a waitress in Tesco stacking the shelves. Now she is a business owner with her own Chinese takeaway in North Yorkshire. She shares with Ying Goi Dim her experience running a catering business in the UK, and why British people don’t like their chicken with bones. 

What kind of food do British people like?英國人鍾意食乜嘢中菜

British food is by comparison more bland than Chinese food. Afterall, we offer many flavours: sweet, sour, bitter and spicy. This is why Chinese food is quite popular in the UK.

Some Brits are quite conservative with food. For example, I have this customer who orders from us every Friday, and when I saw him approaching my shop I already placed his order for him – he orders the same dishes every time and does not want to try something new.

Our best selling dishes are really quite boring by Hong Kongers’ standard. The top three are sweet and sour chicken (咕嚕雞球), chow mein (炒麵) and fried rice(炒飯).

The chicken is served as a ball – chicken meat squeezed in a ball then deep fried. Then I usually have the sweet and sour sauce on the side for dipping. British people don’t like bones on their plate so we cannot serve chicken with bones.

My takeaway shop also offers different options for British customers. We have vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free dishes for example. In Hong Kong, this may never cross your mind but if you want to cater for British customers, you might want to have these options. Our vegetarian and vegan options are very popular.

Ella’s best selling dish in north Yorkshire is sweet and sour chicken (咕嚕雞球)

How should people decide where to start their takeaway shop?點樣揀喺邊度開外賣店 

It is important to do your research. Do you want to serve the Chinese population, or British? It is very different. For example, people who order from my takeaway shop are all British, as there aren’t many Asians in my area. So there is no point of serving special Hong Kong dishes. All my dishes are what the Brits like – to be frank they are unimaginative about how they like their Chinese food. Also, what British people want varies from place to place. Where my shop is, some people want chips with Chinese food.

Wherever you want to start your restaurant or takeaway, check the make-up of the population, and the number of restaurants (including Chinese) around. Clearly you don’t want to compete in an already saturated market. I picked my location back then because there were only two takeaway shops around.

Chinese food can be served in a pizza box in the UK! Ella’s customers love chips with their Chinese food and she sells up to 200kg of chips every week.

What are the typical costs of running a Chinese takeaway/restaurant?開外賣店或者中式餐廳有乜嘢開支 

To run a Chinese restaurant certainly entails higher costs than a takeaway shop. For a restaurant, you need to pay the rent, business rate, and utility bills etc. Also, you need to pay for different licences, such as a liquor licence for a restaurant. A takeaway is cheaper to run in comparison. 

We source our food from Chinese wholesalers who deliver to our door. There are so many wholesalers in the UK, this really will be your last concern in starting a Chinese takeaway here. 

I want to mention that hiring staff can be difficult here. Whether it is a restaurant or a takeaway, you will have to hire kitchen and waiting staff. 

All of our staff expect to have their food and accommodation covered, on top of getting a salary. What this means is as a business owner, you need to rent a place for your staff to live in. I am not sure whether there will be more Hong Kongers ready to be hired to work in Chinese takeaways after the BNO Visa application opens, let’s see. 

Any advice for those who want to start their own restaurant/takeaway here?有冇提議比想自己開舖嘅香港人

You can start and build a restaurant from scratch, but it is costly. What many people do here is buy an existing business. Many Chinese restaurants and takeaways are up for sale and there are websites for it, such as Y Birds. It is an easier and cheaper option for someone who is just moved to the UK.  

If someone has the experience of running a cha chaan teng (茶餐廳) or a Cantonese bakery  (麵飽餅店), I think they can seriously consider doing that in the China Town of Leeds, for example. This is because there are no proper places serving Cantonese fast food, buns or egg tarts. But to do this your potential customers will be Chinese, because it will be hard to build up a British clientele. 

I don’t recommend anyone trying to start a takeaway or a restaurant right now when the Covid-19 pandemic is still serious in the UK. For existing restaurants, it’s survival of the fittest at the moment. 

Where can people find work for Chinese restaurants/takeaways?可以去邊度搵中菜或外賣店嘅工

Even for someone with kitchen experience in Hong Kong will probably have to retrain themselves to cater for the UK market. Afterall, many Chinese restaurants/takeaways are serving British customers, so it is very different from Hong Kong. 

I told you about the chicken balls – we never serve that in Hong Kong. Prawn toast is also very popular and we make our own ones twice a week – this is not a popular dish in Hong Kong at all. We also make our own wontons for frying – again not the most popular dish back in Hong Kong. 

For those who want to find a job and work for Chinese restaurants and takeaways, try Y Birds. Again most of the restaurants look for staff there. 

As an example, a chef here typically gets paid £500 per week.

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