Once upon a time if you asked someone what comes to mind when they think of Hooters, they’ll probably answer three things: well-endowed servers, chicken wings, and beer. But these days, when you ask the same question, you might be met with a question: “Are they still around?”
Hooters was once known as an American Icon that appealed to young and middle-aged men. They were a go to place for food, drink, and nice scenery. But these days, the brand seems to be diminishing not just in store numbers but also the younger Millennials don’t seem to be drawn to the concept the same way previous generations were.
Why have Hooters locations closed? Is there any hope of a turnaround for the brand? I break down my findings below.
Is Hooters going out of business?
Despite some misunderstanding on social media, Hooters is not going out of business. Hooters recently celebrated their 40th anniversary by opening a new location in 1799 Joe Battle Boulevard, East El Paso. The size of the restaurant is 7,000 sq. ft. This is also the 2nd one in El Paso.
Chief Development Officer of Hooters of America Brands Michael Arrowsmith, the parent company of Hooters & Hoots Wings, said they plan to expand their domestic footprint in both their company-owned and franchise-owned stores. “We believe a franchisor should have skin in the game, and we don’t ask franchisees to make large capital investments, like opening stores, that we’re not willing to do ourselves.We’re confident in our investments, believe our franchisees are equally confident, and know first-hand the challenges of making those investments and the ongoing support that comes with it. Hooters’ franchise partners know that what works for the company-owned stores also works for their restaurants – we have gone through exactly what they’re going through. This validation and shared mentality translate to strong performance.” Arrowsmith also added.
This announcement is a win for the fans of the iconic breastaurant. And for those who don’t know what a Hooters is, it’s high time to try and visit one either for their beers, alcohol, or waitresses.
Are Hooters locations on the decline?
According to various reports, there were 307 – 311 Hooters in the United States as of 2023. At Hooters peak, they had more than 400 total units. So are their locations on the decline? It would seem so. But do note that Hooters of America is still planning to expand so this data might change in the coming months and we might even see additional Hooters locations popping up.
Why aren’t customers attracted to the Hooters brand any longer?
Hooters was once a popular chain of “breastaurants” with a lot of interest surrounding their food, drinks, and waitresses. And though they’re still around, the popularity of the restaurant has declined these days due to a number of reasons. Here are some of the reasons why:
Loss of Interest
One of Hooters’ main attractions is their waitresses. They call them “Hooters Girls” and they’re known for wearing their white and orange uniforms showing a lot of skin and cleavage. The sex appeal of these Hooters Girls is what catapulted Hooters to fame and they continue to be one of the restaurant’s pride and joy (the other two are their chicken wings and beers).
Hooters is worth a follow on social media.
However, there has been a decline in the interest of breasts from people of ages 18 to 24 according to some national report. The appeal of women baring their cleavage just doesn’t interest people as they did before which was probably one of the reasons why some people just stopped going to Hooters in general.
Effects of The Pandemic
Though Hooters was already losing locations, the pandemic accelerated that trend. If you can recall, the lockdowns affected restaurants wherein dining in was strictly prohibited. There was no need for waitresses and no need to visit the restaurant. Takeout and delivery simply didn’t have the same appeal since the entire concept relies on in-person dining so much.
One of the Hooters restaurants impacted was located in Phoenix, Arizona, that was in business for 32 years had to close down. This is one reason there are a lot less Hooters restaurants than there used to be.
Shift To Virtual Kitchens
If you don’t know what a virtual or ghost kitchen is, it’s basically like a kitchen cooking up several brands of food. There’s no dining in and no pick ups involved (unless stated). Virtual kitchens rely on deliveries in getting the food to their customers and orders are done via website or app.
Hooters joined in the virtual kitchen concept and opened 196 virtual locations in 2022 to drive sales. So one might think that Hooters is disappearing when in fact, it’s just shifting to more virtual locations. And yes, even though Hooters has been closing up locations for real, their virtual kitchens are growing.
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Hooters is not the only breastaurant in the industry. Hooters is actually facing off against another giant called Twin Peaks. This restaurant’s concept is like a mountain lodge and also features waitresses dressed in revealing outfits and are called “Twin Peaks Girls”. If it seems like such a huge coincidence then that’s because apparently, Twin Peaks co-founder Joseph Hummel was accused by Hooters for stealing “trade secrets”.
But despite being in the same line of business, Twin Peaks is growing. They hit their 100th lodge milestone in July and their footprint grew by 3.5% from 2021 to 2022. As for their revenue, it’s estimated that they might hit their billion dollar mark in the next five years. Maybe breasts are still appealing to a certain consumer demographic after all?
The Menu Stays the Same
As mentioned above, the most popular item on Hooters’ menu are the wings. And up until now, the menu has been the same. If anything else, according to Mashed, the food came from frozen bags. Hooters may want to start crafting a better menu if they want people to come in more often.
Hooters has been under fire for a lot of discriminatory reports. The discrimination covers racial discrimination, wage theft, weight discrimination, and sexual harassment. That’s a lot of reports for one brand. Sadly though, it still continues to this day which is probably why Hooters is losing their popularity.
What’s Hooters Doing to Win Over Younger Consumers?
Since Hooters has already established that they’re here to stay despite the challenges being faced, then what are they doing to win over younger customers?
One of those strategies is the virtual kitchens that are mentioned above. One can only expect that most young people are into ordering via apps and websites which they find convenient and the only way to order from a virtual kitchen is through online. This is one way to capture the younger market.
Another strategy that Hooters did is opening Hoots Wings. They are a chain of restaurants where one can order their famous chicken wings with different flavors alongside fries, tots, mozzarella sticks, and chicken sandwiches. The take-out fried chicken market is expected to grow to $9.85 Billion by 2030. So many people, not just the younger crowd, are into fried chicken so Hoots Wings might appeal to them. What’s the difference between Hooters and Hoots Wings? Let’s just say Hoots Wings looks more like fast casual restaurant than a sports bar and there aren’t any Hooters Girls around at Hoots Wings.
On the topic of Hooters Girls, the brand is also celebrating women with their Hooters’ I AM initiative. Hooters is celebrating women, especially Hooters Girls, by sharing their stories. I AM stands for Image, Attitude, and Memorable and this initiative helps put the spotlight on these women to show that they’re more than just the girls in orange shorts.
Beer, wings, and football.
Chief People Officer Cheryl Kish and Hooters Girls alum started this initiative as a project back in 2019 and continues to do so. “My story goes back to the late 1980s. I’ve been in this industry my whole career, from the orange shorts to operations management, to corporate. I was the first female VP promoted in the brand in the 90s and I’m proud of that because it’s a female-based concept and, rightfully so, it should have female leadership,” said Kish regarding this project.
HOA Brands is also targeting young franchisees. “If you want to attract younger generations into your brand, either as a consumer or as a customer, you’ve got to be sure that you’ve got those people on staff, because they’re gonna know that language. I can study it all I want, but I’m not a millennial.” Chief Development Officer Michael Arrowsmith said of this move to include the younger generation in the business world.
There’s a lot going on to reel in the younger crowd and Hooters is quite serious about all these plans happening soon.
How Could Hooters Make a Come Back? What’s the Plan?
Hooters looks like they’re surviving for now but they need to do more than just staying afloat. They have a couple of plans up their sleeves in order to make a comeback.
One of them is opening in overseas markets. Hooters expanded their digital footprint by adding two restaurants in Mexico, one in Durban, South Africa, and one more in Guatemala.
Hooters is currently in 17 countries so the chain has strong global brand recognition. The expansion into overseas markets also helps them strengthen their global presence which can help in increasing their revenue.
Celebrate National Chicken Wing Day at Hooters.
Aside from opening more restaurants overseas, they’re also continuing to open up stores in the United States. For instance, they’re opening in Corpus Christi, Texas in early 2024. They’re also opening mostly in retirement communities such as Florida and Las Vegas. Maybe the brand will ditch trying to appeal to the younger demos and stick with their proven consumer base from yesteryear?
Hooters also released a special franchise initiative for those interested in signing up with them last April. The initiative involved offering an incentive package that has free royalties for 40 weeks to new franchisees that signed this year. Other incentives to note is that veterans also get a 10% discount on franchise fees which they were already offering. This lowers the barrier to entry aspiring franchise owners that can lead to a higher number of units.
These plans look promising but as to whether or not they’ll work, we’ll just have to wait and find out. At present, Hooters’ revenue for their U.S. locations in 2022 amounted to $860 million according to Restaurant Business Online. This number increased from their previous year’s data which is good news for Hooters.
I only hope that the chain’s ascent is a longer term trend and not just a bounce off the pandemic lows of the restaurant industry. I believe the brand must focus on tackling all their problems from improving their menu, empowering more of the women who work with them and capture the younger crowd if they want to continue gaining popularity. And who knows, Hooters could make a come back as an iconic American restaurant that appeals to Millennial and Gen Z diners.