“At that time, there was a lot of stability needed,” says Mark Whittle, senior vice president of development. “Once the business was stabilized, it was time to look at growth.”
No Small Changes
Make no mistake – Hooters went well beyond minor tweaks and fine-tuning. Rather, it marked the start of its fourth decade with a significant makeover that included an updated logo, remodeled restaurants and a fresh menu. Couple that with significant growth in several countries, and Hooters has come on strong in recent years.
Hooters’ made the changes for several reasons. First, it wanted to appeal to a bigger market segment including women and millennials. It also wanted to remain the leader in an increasingly competitive market that contains other restaurant chains imitating the Hooters model. “Hooters is still the 800-pound gorilla in the market,” Whittle says. “We are the leader in the category.”
The restaurant offers strong lunch, dinner and late-night menus, and is the perfect location for a variety of occasions, including friends watching a sporting event or family celebrating a birthday, Whittle says.
Despite the changes, Hooters remains true to its roots. For instance, the iconic Hooters girls will remain a significant part of the revamped restaurant, Whittle says. “The Hooters girl is a role in and of itself,” Whittle says. “It’s very difficult to replicate.” The girls are the face of the restaurant chain and embody hospitality, friendliness and excellent service, he says.
Time for Change
Hooters developed a prototype for the new restaurant in 2012 and opened the first remodeled location the following year. Progress had been steadily since that time. By the end of 2015, Hooters will have remodeled 75 corporate and 15 franchise stores, and is on pace to remodel approximately 50 stores a year through 2019, Whittle says.
The remodeling is designed to update the restaurant on a number of fronts, Whittle says. First, the bar is becoming a more significant part of the overall Hooters experience. “We want the bar to have more of a focus in the restaurant,” he says. “In the past, the bars were an afterthought.” The new bars are bigger, situated in a more prominent location and offer as many as 40 draft beers, including several craft beers, he says.
Hooters also is improving the audio-visual experience for its patrons. The remodeled restaurants feature numerous 50- to 80-inch televisions – approximately one for every six seats, Whittle says. Additionally, the screens are arranged so that patrons can view at least four different games or events from their seats. The audio equipment also has been significantly improved.
“We’re not a sports bar,” Whittle says. “But we want to be No. 1 for the sports-watching experience.” To achieve that goal, Hooters subscribes to most sports television packages so that it can televise nearly any game, he says.
Patrons entering a newly designed Hooters will also appreciate a new look and feel. For example, new furniture and décor are included in the remodeled restaurants. New seating includes backs, and booths were added, he says.
Additionally, artifacts that adorn the restaurants were updated to convey 21st-century themes and pop culture. The amount of interior wood was scaled back in favor of exposed brick or walls painted with muted tones, he says.
Hooters works hard to avoid a cookie-cutter approach to interior design, Whittle says. Instead, each restaurant reflects the community in which it is located. For example, Notre Dame posters and pennants can be found in the Mishawaka, Ind., location, but Alabama gear adorns the Tuscaloosa, Ala., restaurant. “We don’t think our stores should be identical,” he says.
The restaurant exterior also was updated as part of the redesign. Both the outdoor sign and the backlit LED entry element are more prominent and alert patrons that other changes await inside.
Hooters is not solely focused on remodeling existing stores. The popular restaurant chain has more than 420 locations in 25 countries, a number that is expected to grow significantly over the next few years, Whittle says.
Expansion will occur throughout the United States, but scores of locations are expected to open in Latin America and Asia, two regions of the world where Hooters is extremely popular, Whittle explains. In addition, the brand will continue to add restaurants throughout Europe, South Africa and Russia – regions of the world where it already has a presence.
“The Americana concept is widely accepted in those parts of the world,” Whittle says. Plus, ex-patriots living in Asia support the restaurant, he says. “We’ve got a great presence in Latin America and Asia already and look forward to tremendous growth in these regions of the world,” he says. Future locations are planned over the next few years in Mexico, Columbia, Brazil, Nicaragua and Guatemala. In addition, Hooters has development agreements with partners in Asia to open more than 40 locations over the next six years, Whittle says.
In 2015, Hooters will open four corporate and 15 and 20 franchise locations in the United States. Construction of a new restaurant takes about five months, while remodeling requires approximately 75 days, but with only seven to 10 days of closure time. Most restaurants have between 200-240 seats, however the company recently opened “The World’s Largest Hooters” at the Palms Casino in Las Vegas, which features close to 500 seats.