When brands disappoint: Hooters

Hear me out.

Put aside your disgust about women parading around in orange short-shorts in a PG-rated version of a strip club named after a derogatory term for the female anatomy. If you can. I agree. Only a few people can really pull off orange well – I know one of them. So that’s exploitation right there.

I am actually a fan of Hooters. There, I said it. I like the tacky sports bar atmosphere. I like that the waitresses get to wear the most comfortable footwear in food service history (thick-soled sneakers and warm socks) while on their feet all day. I love the wings…truly. They are yummy. When I want to get in touch with my inner redneck, I can go there. And I love that Hooters understands that in order to thrive and attract men, the restaurant has to be a place that wives, girlfriends and sig others are okay with their man patronizing.

Have you ever been in a Hooters, as a woman? I kid you not, you are treated like royalty.

See, they get it. They know they have to get you on-side so you don’t freak out if your mate goes there. So they fawn over women. They offer impeccable service to you, they make sure your every need is met, they get you your food piping hot, they make interesting chit-chat (most of the time). In San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf location, they even have a rule that each waitress needs to check in on your table and sign her name on your placemat to prove someone has greeted you, taken care of you, etc. The waitresses are fun, and friendly, and not overtly sexy and make you believe this could be someone you’d hang out with if you wanted. Their goal is for you to have such a positive experience that you’ll either go with your mate or at least be okay with him going with the boys.

And the wings. The wings really are damn good. Since I don’t have access to the best wings in the world, BW3, here on the West Coast, I have to make do with what I have.

Would I hang out there every Friday? Heavens no. Once or twice a year is fine with me. But even a former fellow female colleague agreed with me – especially about how they treat women customers.  And we made a special trip, by ourselves, to the Vegas one when we were in town. We had a blast.

So Hooters knows what it is. They make no apologies for it, in a “wink-wink, nudge-nudge” sort of way. It’s not like women are twirling from poles bolted to the floor and ceiling. They create an atmosphere of good, cheeky fun. And they get that in order for their brand to survive, they must get women on their side. That kind of self-awareness is rare.

Therefore, I was disappointed when we went to Hooters last weekend in Seattle. The wings were small, greasy and not very tasty. And the service, while great at the beginning, faded away until we finally had to flag someone down to get our check. They weren’t crowded so there was really no excuse. We left disappointed in what we thought the brand experience was going to be and the reality.

The lesson here is don’t make promises you can’t keep consistently. While every location has a different manager, it’s the company’s job to ensure the experience is the same no matter where you go. See McDonald’s. if you are going to invest so much into creating a strong brand experience, you have to work just as hard to maintain it again and again and again.

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