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Why are Indian Restaurants Unimaginative?

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 
The town where I live has now just seen it's eleventh Indian restaurant open. Because the demand is so high I can understand why more would open.

But the thing I don't get is why do they all have to have the same carbon copy menus? Nothing is ever different - even the prices are more or less the same. Surely one would try to get the upper hand by offering something different? Even if it were just something like trying to make the nutritional balance of their meals better (example - they almost always only use white rice which has no nutritional benefit compared to other grains).

I walk past many on a friday night and see them less than half full when once they were packed. Perhaps restaurant managers can't see when it's a case of too much of a good thing?
post #2 of 8
I believe that Indian restaurants suffer from the same problem that most ethnic cuisines suffer from, for years. It takes awhile for people to catch on to the foods of a country, and at first, don't tend to be very adventurous. Think about Italian restaurants, for years they were pasta, red sauce (and maybe alfredo & clam sauce) and veal parmesan. It took years for Italian restaurants to "go beyond" these simple, easily recognizable foods, to explore other aspects of Italian cooking. The same goes with Chinese restaurants. It has only been recently that they have offered fare beyond the standard Chow Mein, Fried Rice, etc. Mexican restaurants are now just starting to explore "Mexican Food" beyond Tacos, Enchiladas and Burritos. 5 years ago you would have never seen "Mole" in a Mexican Restaurant, now it is quite common. It is the same with Indian Restaurants. They all serve Chicken Tandoori, Tikka Masala, Rogan Josh, etc. because these are the items that are familiar to Americans. As this country begins to really explore Indian cuisine you will see restaurants become more and more adventurous in what they serve, but for now they will serve what sells, and that, for the most part is what people recognize.
post #3 of 8
I agree, but Dancing Ganesha in Milwaukee is an exception. I have not eaten there but they are gaining a reputation for innovative food with Indian flavors as the base.

This is a cuisine I'm only just beginning to learn about. I love the flavors but my misbehaving stomach can't take the heat, so I have to be somewhat timid in my explorations.
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post #4 of 8
Interesting thread, considering I just came back from my dear friend's new Indian restaurant. She had in mind to open something different, more modern, and "experience", cool world music, a loungy athmosphere, comfort-Indian food from mom's kitchen, a different menu concept. What she's finding is that every little step she takes to look more like the standard Indian restaurant is rewarded with increased business. For example, she just renamed her badami as shish kebab, and she's selling twice as much. She fought to the death against having a buffet. Now due to popular demand, she will start one in September, lunch only.

The real question is not why Indian restaurants are unimaginative. It's why are people not ready for somehting more interesting? I can certainly understand why one would open a generic restaurant. The best business decision you could make is to copy an already successful business model. In a business already fraught with so many risks, why add the risk of novelty and creativity? In my friend's case, she's paying the price for trying to be different. She's had to do a lot more promotion and marketing to survive than the average Indian restaurant.
post #5 of 8
I think it's education. We're going to see Indian food fall to the lowest common denominator and then rise up again after everyone has had a chance to incorporate those funny words into their vocabulary. We took my wife's parents out for Indian food for the first time and they were ecstatic! Now they want to go out for Indian food all the time, in fact they want to eat Indian food so much it's gotten kinda boring for us because we want to take them other places!

Indian food is also not what we "western" folk think off as fine dining. It will be difficult for any Indian restaurant to attain the status of even a Ruth's Chris or Morton's. The image is difficult to change. Even Chinese restaurants still, despite all the movies which depict huge banquets with 20 courses, have to serve that $4.95 Kung Pao Chicken lunch special in order to survive.
post #6 of 8
It seems that those who rise above this are doing fusion food. We have a couple of really upscale fusion chinese and fusion indian places here. Maybe that's what it takes to "break" people in and introduce them to these new foods.
post #7 of 8
Thread Starter 
I think they are. Personally I look for restaurants that will offer a menu with a range of different ethnical dishes. There's a vegetarian restaurant near me that does wonderful asian dishes with marinated tofu and a choice of grains to accompany the meal, not just rice. They use real seaweeds like Arame and Hijiki and not the fried cabbage you find in some chinese restaurants. Not a million miles different but different nonetheless.

Another problem may be that where I live Indian restaurants seem to suffer from having a bit of a limited clientell. More than any other ethic restaurant, they seem to be aimed mainly at the weekend drinker/student/party crowds - the ones who are likely to try and eat the hottest curry in the house after a few beers, not look for inovation. So I guess for that market as the gourmet experience isn't the top priority it's a case of not broken don't fix it.
post #8 of 8

Seinfeld Lovers

This thread reminds me of the episode of Seinfeld where they convinced a restaurant owner to rename his restaurant "the Pakistani" and to serve traditional foods instead of American food. For those of you who are familiar with that episode remember the humorous results. That's all...I had no other deep comments other than that memory.
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