American restaurant chain Hooters, known for its skimpily dressed female servers is about to open its first restaurant in Hong Kong. A month before its launch, however, the sports bar that bills itself as “delightfully tacky yet unrefined” is already attracting controversy.
Set to occupy a prime location in Hong Kong’s Central district along Wyndham Street, Hooters Hong Kong will be just one of the 30 branches that Bangkok-based Destinations Resorts will be bringing to Asia on behalf of Hooters Asia.
While preparations are all well under way for the Hong Kong opening, Hooters Asia general manager Mike Warde is also fending off criticisms about the company’s image and hiring processes.
“We’re a sports bar, a family-oriented, fun-loving, entertainment outlet. We have standards for our service and food,” Warde told South China Morning Post in an interview.
For Warde, the Hooters girls who he calls the chain’s “brand ambassadors” are not dressed provocatively but are simply wearing sportswear. He also denied that breast size is a factor in the company’s recruitment.
“That’s a myth. That was 30 years ago,” he said while showing a photograph of Thai Hooters girls with small breasts. “The reason they don’t look flat chested is because they are wearing Wonderbras.”
A friend of one Hong Kong applicant, however is refuting his claim. Scarlet (not her real name), an applicant herself, said her friend who applied didn’t pass because of her breast size.
“Her boobs are smaller, so of course they won’t hire her,” she said.
The recruitment process has been going on for months and so far 12 Hong Kong women, one Japanese woman and two European women are being considered for the job.
Aside from normal food-serving tasks, Hooter girls are also expected to perform two-minute dance numbers at certain intervals.
“They stop whatever they are doing, wherever they are, and dance every 45 minutes,” says Warde. “In Thailand guests pay them to do hula hoop and the money goes to charity. We have pom-poms and we take them to the rugby pitch to support teams.”
To stay in shape, they are also required to attend three kickboxing classes per week.
“We teach the girls to be a lot more respectful of themselves, have more confidence in themselves. They have a fit body and fit mind and we bring out their characters because we put them all over social media,” he added.
The pay and fun environment attracted Scarlet, a former beauty therapist, to the job. However, after she found out how the uniforms actually looked during the uniform fitting, she began to reconsider.
“They said, ‘This is the largest size’ – I think that was true. But it’s crazy that the largest size is extra small. My boobs were exploding and my ass was half showing out,” the 24-year-old said.
“When I went for the uniform fitting they said I’m the only girl with boobs. They want to hire locals, but most local girls are really skinny.”
Scarlet also found the salary disappointing and realized she could earn more as a beauty therapist. The HK$15,000 ($1,932) per month offered for a five-and-a-half-day week is barely above standard.
“They said I would get good tips, but in Hong Kong I don’t think the guys would pay a lot. There isn’t the tipping culture here,” Scarlet said.
Back in the U.S., the company has closed about a dozen stores in recent years, with observers saying the concept of “breastaurants” is outdated.
Warde believes that it will be a different story in Asia. “In Asia we are a new brand. And in America they’ve been closing the ones that haven’t been performing and reopening others. Over the last four years it’s growing, they are on the up again,” he said.
In the next five years, the aggressive expansion plan of Hooters Asia will also see restaurants opening in Indonesia, Thailand, Macau, the Philippines, Cambodia, Laos, Singapore, Myanmar, Vietnam and Malaysia.