Over The Top

You may remember a saying that the British, bearing up under the burden of American G.I. guests during WWII, came up with: the “Yanks” were “Oversexed, Overpaid, and Over Here”.

So it was with some amusement that I saw an article in The Independent entitled “Over the Top, Underdressed, and Over Here”. It was about, of all things, the invasion of the United Kingdom by the Hooters restaurant chain.

The subtitle was “It’s a feminist nightmare: an American restaurant chain whose unique selling point is the vital statistics of the waitresses. Now Hooters is coming to a city near you.” Hooters has had one quiet outlet here, in Nottingham, for about five years but plans to open 41 more in the next 4 years. Apparently, UK feminists are not amused and now politicians are getting involved. Campaigns, demonstrations, and news articles have ensued. There’s even a counter “Hands Off Our Hooters” movement with web sites and petitions. Golly, the English can be entertaining!

Curiously, the article mentioned that the driving force behind the Hooters “breastaurants” was a 69-year old, introverted Christian family man who bought the rights from the founders in 1984 and who passed away two years ago. Robert H. Brooks parlayed his formula: “Beautiful women, cold beer, and food that never goes out of fashion” into a $1Billion-a-year empire of 435 eateries in 46 U.S. states and 23 countries. What a true Capitalist!

The article also revealed some of the company’s exhaustive dress code: “no buttocks showing, no bare midriffs allowed, no body piercings or tattoos, and no exposed bra straps”. That was surprising. Critics call the restaurants little more than glorified strip joints with bad food; maybe so, but the very few times I’ve been in Hooters I haven’t seen anything suggestive. The waitresses certainly smiled a lot but were not flirtatious or salacious. Their outfits were not as revealing as those often worn by women in public. The food was nothing to write home about – mostly deep fried everything – and the atmosphere was 50’s diner–ish.

I’m not for blatant exploitation of women but I wonder if, in this case, the PR strategy has successfully and profitably managed to get our imaginations to go well beyond the reality.

Brooks, who was known as the “World Wide Wing Commander” (that would be for chicken wings), built his fortune with the patent of the Burger King milkshake formula, by selling non-dairy creamer to airlines, and by creating the sauces and salad dressings of the Naturally Fresh Foods brand.

It’ll be interesting to see if Hooters in the UK goes bust.


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