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Scandalous world of Hooters from bikini pageants to uniform rows and famous staff – as racy chain shuts dozens of sites

IT’S the controversial chain known for its ‘three B’s’ — beer, bar food and buxom waitresses.

But after Hooters dramatically shuttered 40 of its restaurants without warning this week, fears are growing for the future of the US institution.

Staff were left furious in 2021 when Hooters decided to try and shorten the iconic shorts[/caption]
The chain is known for its uniform, which comprises of a tank top and tiny shorts
The girls are hired in part for their looks, as well as their hospitality skills[/caption]

Famed for its female waitresses, whose revealing uniforms play up their sex appeal, Hooters has enjoyed staggering success over the last four decades – leading to the brand even launching its own airline.

It also holds in-house bikini pageants where winners can walk away with a $30,000 prize, and produced a calendar series starring 200 members of staff.

At the height of its powers, Hooters had more than 600 locations globally, but now that figure is down to 293.

Over the weekend, branches in Florida, Kentucky, Rhode Island, Texas and Virginia were closed, with the company blaming the rising price of food and rent.

However, a spokesperson insisted it remained “highly resilient and relevant”, highlighting a new range of Hooters frozen food which is being sold in supermarkets across the US.

A spokesman told MailOnline: “Like many restaurants under pressure from current market conditions, Hooters has made the difficult decision to close a select number of underperforming stores.

‘We look forward to continuing to serve our guests at home, on the go and at our restaurants here in the US and around the globe.”

Over the years, Hooters has courted controversy, being slammed for its “regressive” mission statement, while facing lawsuits from members of the public and its own staff.

However, it has also been praised by ex-employees – some of whom are now celebrities and Hollywood stars.

Here, we look back at the highs and lows of its 41-year history.

The ‘Hooters Six’

The founders were all male and came up with the idea in the 1980s[/caption]
The brand also have the girls compete in bikini competitions[/caption]
The main target is families but the uniforms are designed for the male customers[/caption]

The chicken chain was founded in 1983 by Gil DiGiannantonio, Edward C. Droste, Billy Ranieri, Ken Wimmer, Lynn D. Stewart, and Dennis Johnson.

“We were six clueless knuckleheads who called ourselves the Hooters Six,” Droste told USA Today.

“We wanted to open a neighborhood joint with a beach theme — that we couldn’t get kicked out of.”

On the day they opened their first branch in Clearwater, Florida, they had to call a friend for help as they had no idea how to get the fryers lit.

My daughter might look at me and say, ‘Why work at Hooters, that’s not very feminist?’

Katherine Ryan

They broke the law, too, with Ed revealing: “I paid two fake cops to bust one of my partners because we didn’t even have our beer license yet.”

Nonetheless, the ‘breastaurant’ took off and inspired a host of copy cats, including the Tilted Kilt in 2002, and Twin Peaks in 2005.

At the height of its fame in 2003, Hooters even had an airline, but it only took to the sky for three years.

By it was canned, it had lost $40million (£23.65million).

Uniform backlash

The uniform for waitresses has been a source of contention for years

The original owners came up with the name Hooters because it is a double entendre – slang for owls and women’s breasts.

It was decided that in order to up the sex appeal of the waitresses, their uniforms would comprise of a tank top and tiny shorts.

Each waitress had to sign and agree to three statements, which included accepting that the chain is based on sex appeal and that they have to entertain customers.

While the uniform has remained pretty similar since the first restaurant opened, the chain came under fire for making the shorts even smaller in 2021.

Employee handbook

  • My job duties require I wear the designated Hooters Girl uniform.
  • My job duties require that I interact with and entertain the customers.
  • The Hooters concept is based on female sex appeal and the work environment is one in which joking and entertaining conversations are commonplace.

The New York Post reported that employees who were “uncomfortable” with the new tiny shorts were told to hand in their letters of resignation in a directive from Hooters.

However, many female employees still hit out at the change because it left barely anything covered.

Hooters waitress Kristen Songer, 22, said on TikTok: “There’s no longer anything covered by these shorts.

“This is why all the Hooters girls are upset — because this is not what I agreed to wear a year ago when I was hired.”

Famous waitresses

Katherine Ryan used to work at Hooters and said she enjoyed her time there
Playboy bunny Holly Maddison also had a stint at the restaurant before finding fame[/caption]

Over the years, several famous women have shared their experiences of working at the chain.

Katherine Ryan, 40, credits her time working for Hooters in Ontario, Canada, as the reason she became a comic.

During her time at the restaurant, she took part in bikini pageants – Winning Miss Hooters Toronto – and even visited the Playboy mansion.

The comic told The Observer: “I wanted to exploit that reverence given to delicate, innocent youth.”

While hosting her branch’s bikini competition she left customers in stitches with questions like “Where are the bin bags?”

Nowadays, the comic is very aware that her daughter might wonder why she ever worked at the chain.

She said: “Violet might look at me and say, ‘Why work at Hooters, that’s not very feminist?’ Well, I was just living in the world that I was in, and it was different. And we didn’t have smartphones, Violet, and this was still acceptable.

“It’s not like I was misbehaving – that’s what the world was.”

Late Glee star Naya Rivera also worked at Hooters before finding fame.

“In my 20-year-old brain, I knew I was cute. So I thought ‘Cute + Hooters = better tips,” Rivera wrote in her autobiography Sorry Not Sorry.

But it didn’t work out as well as she had hoped.

“As it turns out, Hooters may have been a job for bimbos but it was not a job for slackers,” she said.

Other famous staff members include Amy Adams, Chrissy Teigen, Playboy bunny Holly Madison, and Anna Burns.

Legal troubles

The brand came under fire for its refusal to hire men as they only wanted female waitresses[/caption]
Customers aren’t allowed to touch the girls and get removed if they do[/caption]

Hooters’ all-female waiting staff has landed the chain in hot water over the years – partly due to wannabe male staff launching lawsuits.

In 1997, three men sued the chain after being denied employment at a branch in Orland Park, Illinois. They each walked away with $19,100.

Another four men filed a similar lawsuit in Maryland and received $10,350 each.

As a result, the brand decided to make roles like bartenders and hosts non-gender specific, while retaining all the all-female waitresses.

But the problems haven’t ended there, with several of their waitresses taking action against them for more troubling reasons.

In 2000 Hooters paid out $275,000 to former waitress Sara Steinhoff, after an order from a federal jury.

It was to compensate her for being the target of unwanted sexual advances, demeaning behaviour and recrimination from managers during her time working at the restaurant in the 1990s.

“I just hope this makes a difference,” Sara said after the verdict was announced.

“I am happy for the women [who] are not going to be subjected to this type of atmosphere anymore.”

Waitresses can compete in their bikini pageant to win prizes[/caption]
Hooters produces a calendar every year and even includes British servers on occasion

Despite the controversies, Hooters has been hailed by former employees for the benefits it provides to long-term staff.

In an interview with Cosmopolitan, former waitress Courtney Dietz, now 30, said: “Hooters helps pay for books and schooling, so it’s really awesome.

“You have to work up to it. If you’re there for a year or two, they offer scholarships, too. My managers would let me do homework in the office as long as I was taking care of my tables.”

She also claimed she hadn’t had any bad experiences during her four years working at Hooters in the 2010s.

Hooters gave me that self-esteem to own my body and my sexuality

Ashley Yonan, former Hooters girl

Courtney also revealed the clever way girls put off punters who didn’t want to take no for an answer.

She told the magazine: “Well, actually a lot of the girls buy fake engagement rings. We’ll go to Target or whatever and buy huge big rings and wear them so that if someone creeps us out enough we just hold up our hands like, ‘Sorry, I’m taken.’”

Fellow former Hooters girl Ashley Yonan, now 33, claimed the tiny outfits made her feel more confident.

She said: “I got curvier in my uniform, but I felt better because Hooters gave me that self-esteem to own my body and my sexuality.”

Ashley reckoned that, outside of a few innuendo comments, most of the punters who came in were pretty respectful.

She only saw one incident of something being touched inappropriately, and the man who did it was swiftly removed from the restaurant.

She added: “All the girls I worked with, myself included, worked there because it was fun. I never felt degraded; quite the opposite, actually. I felt empowered while working there.

“I was able to take control of my sexuality and my body and use it to be seen how I wanted it to be seen.

The uniform was designed to show off the girls’ breasts and bottoms[/caption]
Chrissy Teigen recycled her old uniform for Halloween[/caption]
Famous fans have visited the chain including Vincent Pastore from The Sopranos[/caption]
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