The Hooters Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas is one of Hooters’ over 400 locations spanning 25 countries. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Short shorts of fluorescent orange and low-cut white tops, nude tights and white sneakers.

Attractive women in these revealing and recognizable uniforms converse with patrons at the bar, while others run steaming food to customers in their sections. Heavy plates piled high with all-American favorites and filled tables on game day. Televisions buzz, declaring touchdowns, and loud music plays in the background.

This is the environment that the ladies of Hooters labor in. They put their bodies on display in a not-so-discreet fashion to earn tips and make a living. It is acceptable in today’s society, but is the uniform and title of ‘Hooters girl’ worth the frustrations that come with it?

In the early 1980s, there was no such thing as a restaurant with female-only wait staff. There was no such thing as a place for people to go and see beautiful women wear skimpy uniforms and serve food, other than a strip club. The “breastaurant” did not exist. The idea came into existence when Hooters founders L.D. Stewart, Gil DiGiannantonio, “Uncle Billy” Ranieri, Ed Droste, Dennis Johnson and Ken Wimmer decided to combine their “fertile imaginations with their favorite manly finger foods,” as is quoted on the Hooters company website. They focused on creating an environment that held on to a “happy, nostalgic time in most Americans’ memories,” according to their company website. The first Hooters restaurant location had its grand opening in Clearwater, Florida, in 1983, and it introduced a phenomenon to America.

The first Hooters restaurant location had its grand opening in Clearwater, Florida, in 1983, and it introduced a phenomenon to America.

Back in the restaurant, one woman interacts with her customers with a honeyed smile. Another approaches her’s with a full tray of burgers and wings. Yet another hollers into the kitchen looking for her table’s fare. All of them are striking, and one has to wonder what goes on in their heads. Plastering on a smile cannot be easy when customers cast lewd and curious glances in their directions.

As a new customer, walking into Hooters for the first time can be an experience. The atmosphere is upbeat; the wait staff is approachable. The aroma of freshly cooked hot wings and French fries breezes out the doors and assaults the restaurant’s clientele gathered outside. They are greeted by a pretty young woman in orange shorts and a white top. After being directed to a table, the customers peruse the menu—and their waitress—and select their meals to enjoy.

With large grins, the waitresses strive to serve their customers to the best of their abilities, and look good while doing it. The way these women look is not by accident. Women who work there are expected to be clean cut and put together; some compare them to cheerleaders because of their perfect makeup and hair, as well as perky attitudes.

“On the day of my interview for Hooters, I felt comfortable,” former Hooters employee Keelee Hurley said. “The people who were interviewing me didn’t make me feel like I had to sexualize myself for the position. They also didn’t look down on me for having curves. It was a boost to my self-confidence being hired there.”

Televisions buzz constantly with any games available, today it is football. Pop music reverberates in the background, mingling with the conversations of customers. According to Business Insider, about 75 percent of Hooters customers are men, and are mostly middle-aged.  However, children with their parents can also frequently be found at the restaurant around dinner service.

In 1997, seven men sued the Hooters company after being denied employment, spurring a legal battle over whether being female could be an occupational qualification. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Hooters is just one of a number of restaurant chains classified by the term “breastaurant.” Business Insider describes these dining establishments as places which “feature scantily clad women.” Others include: Twin Peaks, Winghouse, Tilted Kilt, Spice Racks, Hofbrauhaus, and many more. These places are newer, compared to dining establishments with fully clothed and gender-neutral wait staff, but they possess the ability to hire solely women in the waitressing and hostessing positions due to a 1997 class action lawsuit. The company then fought their case and settled with the agreement they would add three non-discriminatory positions that men have the opportunity to vie for. Since then, Hooters has been allowed to continue to hire only women as wait staff under the claim it was a “bona fide occupational qualification.”

Many of the women who work at Hooters, Winghouse, or others, have the job to pay for their educations. Some just use it as a side position to supplement their main incomes. Jordyn Johnson, currently a Hooters employee, has noticed customers questioning her about her motives for working at a “breastaurant.”

“I can always feel customers trying to figure out if I’m just another lazy party girl trying to make some money, or if I’m the ‘more respectable’ college student or something like that,” Johnson said. “It annoys me. I feel like everyone has their own path and my goals don’t make my job more respectable or more justifiable. Just let us sling wings and have fun.”

Shannon McCauley, who used to wait tables at a Winghouse location in St. Petersburg, remembers being frustrated because people judged the restaurant based upon the attire of the waitresses.

“Winghouse is seen as inappropriate because of how we are dressed,” McCauley said. “The only thing I could think when I received any comments about it was ‘do these parents not take their children to the local pool or beach?’” The ladies of Winghouse wear low-cut black tops and miniscule black shorts. However,  McCauley asserts that their attire does not affect their ability to do their jobs.

“Just because the girls are walking about with their butts out of their shorts and their cleavage shown off does not mean that we just sat there and looked pretty. It was still work, and we still had our jobs to do.” 

“Just because the girls are walking about with their butts out of their shorts and their cleavage shown off does not mean that we just sat there and looked pretty,” McCauley said. “It was still work, and we still had our jobs to do.”

The position of working as a Hooters girl has a societal stigma that can negatively impact present and past employees. While there is always a possibility that these current judgements will affect employees in the future, whether it be with a career position, family matter, or even the way they see themselves, Hooters, in particular, appears to foster a sense of family within their restaurants. Many women choose to stay in appearance-focused industries following the length of time that they work in a place like Hooters.

Johnson’s mother, Treichelle Johnson, also worked at Hooters when she was younger. Treichelle Johnson said having a part-time job as a Hooters girl for a few months did not seriously impact her ability to get a job in her chosen career later in life.

“I worked at Hooters part-time for less than a year,” Treichelle Johnson said. “It was considered an honor to be selected to work there. I never saw any women demeaned or disrespected, but again, I was only part-time.” However, Treichelle Johnson did experience discrimination later as a result of her connections to the restaurant.

“Recently, a client of mine found out that Jordyn was a Hooters calendar girl this year, so I showed him the picture,” Treichelle Johnson said. “An hour later, he told me that my services were no longer needed … There is definitely a negative stigma associated with the Hooters positions.”

The women of Hooters assert that working at a “breastaurant” has both positive and negative impacts on their lives. For some, it is empowering. Is the job of a ‘Hooters girl’ worth the frustrations that accompany it? Employees would say yes and no. And who knows if the era of the bright orange short shorts will last? The “breastaurant” phenomenon might fade out or gain momentum, but it is only up to the young women employed there to decide.

 

Information for this article gathered from: http://www.businessinsider.com/the-toll-of-being-a-hooters-waitress-2015-8, http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1997-10-01/news/9710010254_1_hooters-girls-hooters-restaurant-settlement, http://www.nytimes.com/1997/10/01/us/hooters-settles-suit-by-men-denied-jobs.html?mcubz=3, http://www.originalhooters.com/saga/the-beginning/, https://www.thedailymeal.com/eat/10-things-you-didnt-know-about-hooters

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