Touts keep on touting

Welcome to Brick Lane

“My friend I give you very good offer. Very good offer my friend. Ten pound. Rice, naan, main, poppadom and two Cobras. Ten pound only.”

I had to admit. It was a very good offer.

Tower Hamlets council is currently considering the license of The Famous Curry Bazaar after reports of customers being approached within half a kilometer of the restaurant, a practice forbidden under the licenses owned by curry house owners on the infamous London street. The authorities launched a crackdown several years back in an attempt to curb the behaviour.

No touting. On Brick Lane. Who did they think they were kidding?

I hate marketers as much as the next person. They ruin everything. From the adverts that interrupt your favourite TV programme to the holiday reps intent on disrupting an otherwise peaceful airport transfer by desperately trying to tie you into all the local attractions before you’ve even seen them.

Not only is touting annoying. It’s also inefficient because the business has to employ someone to do it. Instead they could be spending more on ingredients and making better curries but because every other restaurant’s touts are up in the potential customers’ faces, employing all their persuasion tactics and whatnot, it becomes a necessity. If a Brick Lane curry house doesn’t tout, people are less likely to notice it. We can ask if touting is ethical but in such a competitive environment, the question quickly becomes whether restaurateurs can afford not to.

I was quite happy with my ten pound curry with all the trimmings. Granted it wasn’t the finest Indian cuisine ever to grace my lips but this is East London, not Mayfair. Touting is half the reason us Londoners flock to Brick Lane in droves, even if it annoys the chutney out of us. It gives the area an exotic twist, which makes us feel valued and like we’re on holiday.

Of course there are going to be some complaints. British people love complaining in general. The restaurant has been accused of employing “aggressive” tactics. Aggressive? What exactly have they been doing? Hurling boiling vats of madras onto the public out of a first floor window? Disposing of their glassware by smashing it on the back of diners’ heads? These are the kinds of violent acts that our law is here to prevent, not, god forbid, offering someone a cheap curry.

I can’t remember a single time I’ve been to Brick Lane and not been approached and hustled about some deal or another. Part of the fun of it is learning how to rise above the professionally rehearsed sales pitches and decide for oneself at which establishment one would like to dine. If a person gets up in arms, becomes helplessly seduced or feels unduly harassed whenever a fellow human tries to convince them to do something or go somewhere, they’ll encounter far worse problems as they go through life than a sub-standard korma.

There have been other alleged indiscretions at The Famous Curry Bazaar in recent times. Assault. Serving alcohol to a minor. Does touting deserve to be listed alongside these more serious crimes? Some restaurant managers would have us believe so. Touting has been blamed for “killing” the area’s business and scaring away tourists who are sticking to the West End instead.

At the risk of sounding like a snob, I’m not sure the touts are the only reason tourists prefer the West End.