The recession torpedoed the restaurant industry, forcing stalwart chains like Bennigans and Steak & Ale to file for bankruptcy and shut their doors. But maybe they would have escaped this fate if they had just put their waitresses in skimpier outfits.
As Candice Choi of the Associated Press reported, according to new data from Technomic, a food industry research firm, "the nation's top three 'breastaurant' chains behind Hooters each had sales growth of 30 percent or more last year." One of those establishments, Addison-based Twin Peaks, saw sales increase to $44 million, a 35 percent jump from the previous year.
What is a breastaurant? Choi describes it as "sports bars that feature scantily clad waitresses," a concept made popular in the eighties by Hooters, the most famous breastaurant in the industry. Like Hooters, Twin Peaks's waitresses wear barely-there costumes, a red-and-black plaid crop top and short khaki shorts, in keeping with the chain's hunter's lodge theme.
This booming success for the up-and-coming breastaurants is bad news for Hooters, which has experienced, ahem, sagging revenue—sales have fallen from their 2007 peak of $960 million. But this is not the first time the pioneering breastaurant has come under attack from a competitor. In August 2011, Coby Brooks, former Hooters CEO, jumped ship to Twin Peaks to be a "megafranchisee," agreeing to open 35 of the restaurants in ten states over the next ten years. (Breastaurants appear to be in Brooks's blood: his father, Bob Brooks, expanded the chain to 425 restaurants during his time as CEO.) Hooters also filed a lawsuit against the company developing Twin Peaks in September 2011, claiming Joseph Hummel, a former Hooters vice president that also left for Twin Peaks, took "sensitive business information" to the company.
It should be noted that not all breastauranteurs embrace the moniker. Rod Lynch, the CEO of the Tilted Kilt, says the eatery's success is not only about sex appeal, but is based on the 360 experience and that they are popular with entire families. "We want to be very PG-13," he told Choi, who wrote that the establishment's "'class in all things' motto also means servers can't have tattoos, piercings or dyed hair."
But Twin Peaks owner Randy DeWitt makes no bones about the need for the "spectacular talent" for the 22-restaurant chain to succeed. "They have to fit into that costume," he told Choi.
So how does Hooters stay relevant in an increasingly saturated breastaurant market? Doug Barry over at Jezebel has a suggestion:
[I]nstead of just trying to copy its competitors and offer more menu variety or provide diners with little bios of all the waitresses (this, I think, sounds like a decidedly bad and stalker-friendly idea), it should completely change the game of catering exclusively to Homer Simpson-like heterosexual men by introducing a whole new line of specialty restaurants. They could open up ball bistros, where all the waiters are attractive men who wear specially-fitted leggings that make their balls stand out in high-relief. Instead of wings and beer, ball bistros would serve yogurt, pinot grigio, and whatever other food the American marketing apparatus believes that sensible ladies consume. I don't know, Hooters, sounds like you could become the very first testeraunteur.