There are few things more tempting than the smell of fish and chips. And it can be little coincidence that rosy childhood memories of seaside holidays, Friday teatimes and late suppers are more than often associated with the savoury treat. So the idea of owning your own fish and chip shop will probably seem like a similarly alluring prospect. Don't fall into the nostalgia trap, though, this isn't last of the Summer Wine. The modern day takeaway has big competition so you need to put a lot in to get it right. Get the winning formula, however, and you'll soon be cashing in your chips.
Current market In the past few years, there has been a pretender to the throne of Britain's favourite takeaway - chicken tikka masala. However, all traditionalists can now breathe a sigh of relief; fish and chips is firmly back on top according to a survey by the British Potato Council. Its place at the top isn't down to traditional values. This market of independents has lead the field for much of the first 100 years of its history. Gradually the customer has been faced with a large number of alternatives, from Chinese takeaways to burger vans.
Increasingly fish shops can't just open when they please and customers will vote against poor quality with their feet. This isn't consistent throughout the industry, however, so a good business will have its own very high standards. Broadly, it's about brighter, spotlessly clean shops, well-trained and pleasant staff, good economic practices - and most importantly a flawless product. Vinegar soaked newspaper wrapping no longer meets customer expectations and when 70 to 80% of your business is repeat, this is very important. And it's important to make the most of the product you have.
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Arthur Parrington is the national training co-ordinator for the National Federation of Fish Friers (NFFF): "There have always been a lot of poor quality fish and chip shops but if a shop is clean and bright with the right attitude it will hold its own. Fish and chip shops hide their light under a bushel, the fact is this is a healthier meal than either Indian or Chinese takeaway. " Rules and regulations There are no specific rules and regulations relating to fish and chips but there's a raft of health and safety legislation which governs all premises on which food is prepared.
"Rather than waiting for the environmental health inspectors to arrive, invite them in to inspect the premises before you start kitting it out," advises David Beedle who runs four shops in County Durham. "They appreciate coming in first and it means you get the right advice about where to put your sinks before rather than after you've fitted them, which is obviously preferable. " The Sea Fish Industry Authority (Seafish) has a Quality Award for those businesses which operate at a consistently high standard.
Again, says David Beedle, "they can triple check the quality of your business before you start. " In terms of structured training, the NFFF offers a three-day course covering everything from the implications of taking on a fish and chip business through to the practical side of actually portioning, preparing and frying fish and chips. "There is no legal requirement for this kind of training," says co-ordinator Arthur Parrington, but the course also covers all food safety legislation and offers a 12 month free membership to give you continued access to this advice.
Day to day, those that appreciate the cleanliness of your premises will be your customers. Joyce Willoughby maintains that "customers are far more aware of hygiene than in the past. The counter has to be kept spotless at all times and we purposely have an open kitchen so customers can see what's going on. We get plenty of complimentary comments about the cleaning - although it's no more than I would expect. " So clearly the key is to set your own high standards keep to them, even before you start trading. How much does it cost?
The cost of the premises will depend on its location and size - and whether it has a seating or restaurant area. A seating area will increase costs because it needs extra space as well as furniture, toilet facilities, crockery and so on. You may also need to hire additional staff. There is a specific range of equipment you'll need, but you may be able to buy that from an outgoing owner to cut costs. Seek expert opinion of the condition of existing equipment from your local environmental health department or Seafish, for example, and it may save you buying new. You also need to budget for supplies.
The NFFF provides names and addresses of suppliers in its member's handbook and it can also give advice on the type of fish to buy. There are two choices: fresh wet fish can come via merchants from the ports overnight or you can buy fish which has been frozen at sea. It's largely a matter of preference as to which fish you prefer. People near the sea might choose wet fish for its freshness although the price of frozen doesn't fluctuate so much and is also very fresh. Some owners also buy in par-fried chips as this saves time and staff costs but again it depends on the kind of product your customers will prefer.
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