A noticeable feature travelling around the North-West, West Yorkshire and the Midlands is the large number of former pubs that have been converted to ethnic restaurants, sometimes Chinese but more often than not Indian. Very often these are large roadhouse-type pubs on prominent sites, in the suburbs or in semi-rural locations. Just the other day, I spotted that an attractive-looking pub on the outskirts of Oldham, one that I had always imagined would have been quite successful, had succumbed to this trend.
I do have to wonder, though, exactly where all the custom for these conversions comes from. Surely the factors that have affected the pub trade in these kinds of locations apply equally to restaurants. I would have thought restaurants, perhaps even more than pubs, benefited from clustering together in town and village centres rather than being on isolated sites. Also, people tend to look for a kind of intimacy of scale in restaurants – sitting in splendid isolation in an echoing room on a Tuesday night in November isn’t going to be very appealing. And they’re essentially more limited in their trade – you can have a full sit-down meal in a pub, but people don’t visit restaurants for just a quick drink or a snack.
Obviously there must be a superfically attractive business case for these conversions, or they wouldn’t happen. But I must admit I don’t really get it – and it’s sad to see so many once-thriving pubs lost. And are out-of-town ethnic restaurants really all that viable anyway? I’ve seen a fair number of former Little Chefs converted in this way that have closed again within a couple of years – the one on the A6 at New Mills Newtown being a good case in point.