Gave a hoot

Here’s a little secret. Everyone you know wants to go to Hooters, at least once. I’m not just talking about single, hetero dudes with lustful eyes and low dining standards. I mean married people, gay people, people with children, people of refined sensibilities and me—a feminist vegan who really ought to know better.

The compulsion to visit Hooters seized me a few weeks ago during the Sacramento Autorama, where the sight of so many attendees in Hooters paraphernalia boggled my mind. To me, a man wearing a Hooters shirt conveys two conflicting messages: “I want to get with the ladies!” and “I’m not even aware that tacky, sexist T-shirts repel women, so how can I possibly know where the G spot is?”

On a woman, a Hooters shirt is even more confusing. Obviously, it means “Look at my breasts!”—but do men need encouragement in that direction? I simply could not understand why anyone would wear such a garment—unless that person is serving chicken wings to put herself through college. (In which case, more power to her and please tip generously.)

I felt I had to investigate the mysterious lure of the franchise, and I was not alone. Whenever I mentioned my plans to lunch there, people expressed interest in joining me—purely for research purposes, of course.

Six friends joined me in braving the Arden-area Hooters on a recent Friday afternoon. None of us had been to Hooters before, with the exception of Trust Your Ears columnist Jackson Griffith, who happens to work on the same block as the eatery and who says he always gets a kick out of the place “because you look around, and it’s just the same dudes at every table.”

Indeed, the dudes were out in force, though in button-down corporate garb and fairly subdued. There also were a few single women reading books or staring resignedly at their plates, as if this were the only lunch option available to them. More surprising was the large table occupied by a family, complete with a grandmother and several small children.

Not that Hooters isn’t doing its best to be seen as a family-friendly restaurant. There are orange and white “I [heart] Hooters” balloons tied to the front steps, and there’s a kids’ activity page with Hootie—the restaurant’s cartoon pirate mascot—on every table.

Alas, the establishment sabotages its attempts at a wholesome, kid-friendly image with its prolific interior signage. The walls are covered with yellow diamonds reading “Bumps” or “Double Curves” over breast silhouettes, and plaques bearing statements like “Caution: Blondes thinking” and “Hooters Girls are flattery operated.” It’s obvious (to everyone except the Hooters marketing team) that cultivating a family atmosphere conflicts with the very reason people go to Hooters: to ogle waitresses fairly bursting out of tiny tank tops and shorts so small that the only reason not to call them underwear is to conserve syllables. I mean, it’s not like you’re there for the food!

Wait, I’m serious. Do not go to Hooters for the food. My $5.99 garden salad was made of wilted iceberg lettuce and a few cucumber and tomato wedges, accompanied by a sealed plastic tub of dressing. My companions were equally unimpressed with their sandwiches, which ranged in price from $5.99 to $9.99 and came with only a tiny cup of overly processed potato salad. I hadn’t expected culinary genius, but perhaps something on par with Applebee’s or even Denny’s. What we were served would be considered passable only when flying coach.

Well, at least there was plenty of female eye candy to distract us from our meal—especially for those of us attracted to the retro-fashion combination of running shorts, flesh-colored nylons and tennis shoes. “I used to dress like that in the 1970s,” SN&R Editorial Assistant Kel Munger said over her barbecue sandwich, “only my tank top would have said something like ‘Get your laws off my body!’”

Now that’s sexy.