Hooters nods to nostalgia while looking ahead
Hooters nods to nostalgia while looking ahead

A new store design and test menu breathe life into the brand.

More than 30 years after its founding in Clearwater, Florida, Hooters has evolved its menu and decor while also staying true to its roots, with the brand’s original logo and uniforms from 1983 remaining intact.

Mark Whittle, Senior Vice President of Development at Hooters, connected with the 1851 staff to explain exactly how the restaurants have changed to keep up with the times and stay competitive.

Two of the main updates to the brand have been in design and menu innovation. In June 2013, Hooters launched a new prototype, which has been the biggest overhaul since the company’s inception. The interiors are now “more comforting, inviting and warmer,” according to Whittle. And since that time, Hooters has embarked on a major remodeling program. Currently, about one-fifth of the 430 locations have been updated to the new design.

The new prototype features a center island bar, a “second-to-none” AV package, and massive media wall featuring nine 55-inch TVs all in sync. With textures and colors consistent with brand standards, there is a good blend of paint, wood and brick throughout the restaurants. Another huge differentiator is that there are now padded chairs and booths, moving away from the wooden seating of the original design. The walls are another area of noticeable change. The company took a fresh look at its artifacts and how to update the décor.

“To be Hooterized, the ambiance needs to feels like Hooters even if we took the girls out of the restaurant,” Whittle said. “We’ve finally done that with our branded, themed tables. We have taken images and inserted Hootie into them, such as, Hootie driving a VW bus or flying a plane.”

Another image update is that some of the stores now have tables that boast a local flavor, as well. The Hooters team has taken what the area is famous for, whether that is a sports team or iconic skyline, and applied those market-specific images to half the tables in the store. They have also been livening up some of the brickwork by having local artists paint scenes that continue to pull from the rich local history.

“It’s all about fun and color, and something to start a conversation,” Whittle said. “And we didn’t just stop with the inside of the stores. On the outside, we added a lot more ambient lighting because we want people to see the energy of the store from the outside.”

But an updated look isn’t the only change the corporate team concocted; they’ve also been taking a close look at the menu to find improvements. When it comes to the food, Hooters is - of course – most known for its wings, but the company has been examining the entire menu and reviewing the product offering and quality. Over the past few years, Hooters reinstated LTO offerings. By and large, many of the dishes are created to test out different menu items that can be added to the regular menu if well received. A recent example of this is that the company currently has smoked wings in about 55 stores.

These smoked wings are a great product, are totally different, and we’re going to add them into more stores,” Whittle said. “It’s anticipated that we will probably roll them out nationally to give the guests even more choices on our already expansive wing offerings.”

And more excitingly, the new combi oven that makes the smoked wings can create an entirely new product line, inspiring the brand’s Executive Chef to work up new ideas and get creative in the kitchen.

All in all, Hooters is looking to take what the company already does well and find ways to do it differently or better. An example of this is that Hooters has offered ribs twice as an LTO. Hooters style ribs allows the customer to get the ribs in any one of the wing sauces. Hooters stands out in the marketplace because the company has the ability to offer 16 sauces for ribs, an option that many restaurants simply don’t have.

Hooters knows that its fans need a nice refreshing beverage to wash down its famous wings, so the company has been making changes in that department, as well. To stay competitive, Hooters has significantly increased the number of beers on draft. Stores historically had eight to twelve taps, but now boast at least 24, with some locations offering up to 40. Additionally, Hooters increased its cocktail offerings, and added Moscow Mules to the menu, which are doing extremely well.

Even with the familiar logo and uniforms, Hooters’ new revamp has brought the brand into the current times. Now, the restaurant is a welcoming place where consumers can go to catch a game on the big screens and swig back a variety of beers and cocktails. Patrons can try exciting and different menu items all while settling back in the new, more localized and comfortable atmosphere.