Saturday, 26 February 2011

Hooters Cardiff

[This post is based on a piece I wrote for a different purpose in the week Hooters Cardiff opened in November 2010]

While working at the University of Georgia in the 1990s, I took my visiting sister and her boyfriend to Hooters – being an American sort of thing to do. We drank ice-cold beers, ate chicken wings and tried to figure out the rules of American football; while watching the waitresses go about their business. Boyfriend and I were enjoying it, when my sister took against the place. Hooters is not for everyone.

Hooters opened its first outlet in Clearwater, Florida, in 1983; it currently operates around 450 locations in 44 states. The first UK branch launched in Nottingham in 1998 and the chain is now expanding with branches in Brighton, Bristol and Cardiff.

A chorus of “Welcome to Hooters” greets you on entering. Clearly, it’s not the place for a quiet lunch. As in the USA, the Hooters Girls are the unique selling point, with their distinctive low-cut white tank tops sporting the Hootie the Owl logo (“hooters” also being American slang for breasts), tight orange shorts, money pouch, white socks and trainers. When not serving, they perform with hula hoops and beach balls, and at regular intervals congregate for a song and dance routine. You need to be in the mood for this - all the jollity could get tiring. A succession of Hooters Girls drop by to sign napkins. After a couple of days they can already spot the potential regulars.

The décor recreates the US model, with reruns of American football on numerous TVs and music that spans the decades. It’s all a bit retro. Unfortunately, this extends to the food, where it’s still 1983. I was disappointed that iced tea was not flowing, as it’s a popular drink in US Hooters, but the curly spiced fries did bring back memories of the Deep South. The seafood is not up to Gulf States standards: mussels that should have been plump and juicy, were small and poorly cooked. Overall, it’s not a place to come if you want a finely-cooked meal. It’s somewhere to come for a cold beer, share a platter of chicken wings, and enjoy the hospitality; in short, more bar than restaurant.

This is the first Welsh Hooters. The Florida sunshine can’t be replicated, but the heating is cranked up to a level appropriate for skimpy clothing - which makes it a good place to warm up on a wet Welsh day. Although there is no Welsh-language menu, there is a Welsh flag. Most importantly, the waitresses are from Cardiff, Barry and the Valleys, and proud of it. Recruited for their vibrant personalities and looks, rather than waitress experience, they are the reason that this Hooters is distinctly Welsh.

The Hooters ethos derives from American football “jock” culture. The company describes the average Hooters Girl as an “all American Cheerleader, Surfer, Girl Next Door." This culture is alien to the UK, and branches (franchised to Bubo Ltd) will probably take on their own character. Hooters Nottingham has been operating for twelve years and, like its US parent, it claims to be a family restaurant, but the promotion of stag parties, bikini contests, and so on, has angered feminists. Their objections, echoing those of my sister many years ago, centre on the objectification, exploitation and potential harassment of woman.

I won’t be taking my family, or my sister, to Hooters, and probably won’t go there again myself (unless sister’s boyfriend – now brother-in-law - insists). Either we’ve moved on, or the world has, because Hooters doesn’t hold the same attraction as it once did. We’ll leave it to a younger generation to enjoy its obvious charms and debate its merits.


Hooters, St. Ann's Street, Cardiff


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