Urban Tandoor Lures Customers With Campy TikTok Videos - The World News

Urban Tandoor Lures Customers With Campy TikTok Videos

The tables were filling up at Urban Tandoor, a British curry house wholesome enough for a family meal and elegant enough for a low-key first date. Painted flowers twist up its entrance and lights adorn the colorful walls inside, a homage to Bristol’s artistic reputation. The local haunt in southwest England promises an array of crowd-pleasers, from jalfrezi to moilee.

But it wasn’t only the food that had brought diners to Urban Tandoor on a recent evening.

“Their TikToks,” said Jake Smith, 22, who was celebrating his birthday. “I think they’re hilarious.”

Staff members at this local institution have charmed an audience online with their versions of pop songs, anthems and trends. By most judges of talent, the covers are, well, bad.

There is “Bhaji Girl,” in which two employees wear blond wigs à la Barbie and Ken and sing about chutney. There’s a “Grease”-inspired “You’re the Naan That I Want,” featuring the group in leather and lipstick. In “Mr. Riceside,” the popular Killers anthem becomes a tale of a diner whose eyes are bigger than his stomach.

You might, kindly, describe the dancing as “fervent.”

The singing, reminiscent of a bevy of uncles at a karaoke night, is possibly worse. But production value is beside the point. And their “so-bad-it’s-good” marketing campaign is working, said Sujith D’almeida, the restaurant’s owner.

Online, commenters from as far away as Texas vow to visit Bristol one day to eat a meal at Urban Tandoor. In person, Mr. D’Almeida said the restaurant had seen a noticeable boost in diners under the age of 30.

“There is no talent involved,” he said. “There is no practice. Somebody just puts on the wig. We just get on with it.”

Grown men dancing in costumes may seem silly, but Mr. D’almeida is serious about his business, which he started in 2013 after a career in five-star hotels and on cruise ships. He enlisted the Nonsensical Agency, a marketing company in Britain, in 2021 to help further the restaurant’s reach on TikTok.

But he also just wants Urban Tandoor to cheer people up. Some patrons have confided that the videos had entertained them through periods of ill health and depression, he said.

“Happiness is something that is lacking in the world at the moment. It is a sad place,” he said. “We just give them 60 seconds of enjoyment.”

On a chilly Monday morning, I joined the staff aboard the “Bhaji Boat,” a ferry rented as their set for the day. (Most videos are filmed in their restaurant.)

How much work is it to make something so organically bad?

There was not much chitchat at first, as staff members began pulling costumes out of plastic bags. Directing and filming the shoot were members of the Nonsensical Agency team, which also helps Mr. D’almeida come up with ideas and lyrics.

“As soon as we put the team up just enjoying themselves, that was where it really started cutting through,” said Natalie Brereton, the agency’s head of TikTok.

Following TikTok trends helped, but Ms. Brereton said Urban Tandoor’s success was built on a longer-term strategy: “You’ve got to make your own identity.”

Sure enough, when it was time to film, it was as if an energy switch flipped.

Wigs blew in the wind and arms flailed. Tushar Kangane, the operations manager, gyrated his hips. Pramoth Kumar, a waiter, shimmied his shoulders. Passers-by grinned as they watched the group in their pink dresses and electric blue jumpsuits cavort around the boat.

On land, the group filmed more videos. One pedestrian shouted, “Love you guys!” (Ultimately, the ferry video was filmed several times from different angles.)

Mr. D’almeida said the videos had helped the restaurant stay afloat. Curry houses in Britain, which hold a special place in the country’s culinary landscape, have faced challenges in recent years, from labor shortages, changing palates and Covid lockdowns.

“We were very worried,” Mr. D’almeida said. But he also said he never wanted Urban Tandoor to just focus on food. He wanted it to be a place of entertainment or escape.

“I wanted to share much more of the Indian culture,” he said. “I wanted to blend Bristol with Bombay.” The TikToks, he said, had given a “new dimension” to their brand.

“It is matter of one song going viral,” he said, “and then we get clients from all around the world.”

But most of the staff members do not even have TikTok, nor did they fancy themselves as entertainers before working at the restaurant.

“I did not dance in my own wedding,” said Mr. Kangane, 41, who has worked at the restaurant since its inception. “If you don’t have fun at work, then it’s boring.

Later that evening, the group reconvened to prepare for dinner service at the restaurant. The chef took off his Michael Jackson costume and went back into the kitchen, and the quiet was replaced by chatter as guests arrived.

It was Caitlin Piper’s first visit to Urban Tandoor, but she already recognized some faces among the staff.

“I’ve wanted to come here for two years,” she said. The 20-year-old had brought her mother after seeing the TikTok videos, and praised the “realness” of the marketing strategy.

“Like, they’re not on time. They’re not in tune. They know that,” she said. “It just looks like best friends having fun.”

Vivek Singh, on the other hand, has been visiting Urban Tandoor for seven years. The videos are amusing, he said, describing it as a “very pan Asian” brand of humor. But ultimately, he was there for the food. “This is very authentic,” he said.

As the restaurant’s profile has surged, so has the pressure to keep the humor up online and in real life, which can be taxing, Mr. D’Almeida said. Some brands have gotten in touch, and while Mr. D’Almeida said he would eventually like to use the videos’ success to enable donations to charity, he does not want to take on paid partnerships.

His priority now, he said, is ensuring that the restaurant experience lives up to its marketing.

“Our bread and butter is the restaurant,” he said. “Everybody needs to find a niche, and we’ve found ours.”

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