2/20/2010

What the Hooters Episode of "Undercover Boss" Taught Me...

I'll admit that Undercover Boss hooked me with its first episode. It was a bit ironic since Waste Management lost the contract for trash and recycling in our complex the very same day it aired. Anyway, I finally caught the second episode where Coby Brooks the CEO of Hooters of America goes undercover in his restaurants.

I really wanted to see that one because Hooters has always struck me as borderline sleazy. My first experiences there were colored by being in the company of straight men who could have been served pig slop (which the food nearly was) as long as the "Hooter Girls" in their tight T-shirts tied in knots under their breasts and their hot pants riding up the crack of their butts managed to graze them with a boob while serving the food.

My next experience with Hooters was for a happy hour for surgery. The three straight guys working in surgery were given a chance to choose the bar and they chose Hooters. So, it was a several gay guys, a bunch of women and three straight men. I don't really drink beer so ordered a Malibu Screwdriver. My friends ordered beer. The girl informed me that they didn't serve "alcohol" at Hooters. I asked her why she was bringing beer then and she replied "Beer isn't alcohol! Duh!" Later on we asked if we could pay by the drink rather than running a tab because we didn't want to have to stand and split the tab with people coming and going at our table. We were told that wasn't possible because she was assigned on a certain number of order slips! It was the most bizarre thing I'd ever seen. Finally, a manager came by our table. He was a rather nice looking blond guy. One of my companions expressed her disdain at the outfits the girls had to wear and he explained it was the "brand" and how they appealed to people. I answered that if he wanted to appeal to me he'd best slip in the back and throw on some hot pants and a tight t-shirt himself. He was not amused.


And that, is why I have always though the protest that Hooters was not sexist and exploitative was a false one. See, the guys wouldn't be caught dead showing skin. In fact, Mr. Brooks himself in his episode of Undercover Boss seemed hesitant when he was to go out with some Hooter girls and they explained that ALL their shirts were skin tight. He didn't think it odd for them but seemed to EXPECT that as a man, he would be given something that fit properly! Note to Mr. Brooks: Without your little goatee thing and with the glasses I found you to be really kind of nerdy hot. Wonder how you'd feel about that or like your restaurant manager in South Carolina would the idea of being seen as a sexual object by another man make you uncomfortable? Imagine, then how girls must feel daily in your employ.

While on the street passing out free wings to people he was told by several people that they thought Hooters was exploitative and demeaning to women. He just couldn't get his head around why people felt that way. His answer to all that was not to perhaps dress his "girls" in something less vulgar and make them paint up like $20 whores in makeup with hair down to their butts, but rather to start a "marketing campaign" to show that the "girls" were "real people." Yes, Mr. Brooks, we know they are real people and that's why thoughtful people object to using them as decoration and sexual objects. It doesn't matter that you would allow your children to work there, all that proves is you might have questionable judgment as a father!

But the most telling portion of the show and the one that proved without doubt that Hooters only gives lip service to its critics was a manager in South Arlington, Texas that he met who treated the women working for him as chattel. He made them perform demeaning activities like eating beans from plates without their hands, he called them "prima donnas" and treated them like children, he held "inspections" where he criticized their hair, nails, and even bodies. In addition he treated customers as irrelevant.

I fully expected, if Mr. Brooks were serious that Hooters was not an exploitative enterprise founded on nothing more than mediocre food and overactive testosterone, that he would summarily fire someone who seemed to cross the line into harassment. Yet, at the end of the day he had a heart to heart and sent the boorish pig back to his restaurant with an order to "apologize." No, real consequences to his behavior at all just a stern look and back to business as usual. After all, as Jimbo the pig pointed out, his restaurant had great numbers. What's a little sexual harassment when it allows Mr. Brooks to buy another boat, another car, or another jet?

In short, this episode, rather than showing me my notions about Hooters were wrong, solidified them. I certainly wouldn't be seen in one of their restaurants and now that I know they also are tied to the "Naturally Fresh" brand, will make sure to avoid it as well.

Mr. Brooks, if you want to bring in more people to your restaurants try balancing your staff. Try putting your "girls" in something appropriate for someone serving a meal (there's nothing worse than 3 foot long hair dragging across your table), take the stupid "bumps" sign in the shape of boobs off your boardroom wall, and serve some decent food. As one lady told you on the street, there's no way she'd take her family there. Likewise, I go out to eat with friends (both gay and straight) and there's no way we'd eat there either. Your concept appears sleazy and suited to drunk horny rednecks and college boys than to families, professionals, and people who want an enjoyable dining experience. Too bad you didn't learn any of that in your episode as evidenced by the fact that your slogans and gimmicks are all still ripe with sexual double entendre. "More than a Mouthful! - really?

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