Sonya Sorich: Is Hooters a place for women and kids?

ssorich@ledger-enquirer.comSeptember 30, 2013 

Jamie Gunnels, who works at Hooters in Columbus, poses for the Hooters Calendar 2014.

I once ate dinner alone at Hooters.

While you process that confession, I'll note it was for work. And I ordered a burger. And I actually kind of dressed up for the occasion.

But I was there for a purpose. It was the only place where I could watch a live airing of the Hooters International Swimsuit Pageant, which happened in June and featured a contestant from the Chattahoochee Valley.

So I stepped outside my social comfort zone in the name of breaking news. I found a table, set up my laptop and devoured my burger.

Was it a Hooters first? I'm not sure.

While the restaurant chain still has a largely male following, its image is arguably no longer confined to a frat-boy atmosphere. During my solo dining experience, I saw children in the Columbus Hooters restaurant.

In 2011, a Pennsylvania middle school made headlines when some eighth graders -- accompanied by chaperones -- ended up at Hooters during a field trip lunch break, according to the Associated Press.

And earlier this year, Hooters emphasized its efforts to appeal to women by offering free food for moms on Mother's Day.

"Two years ago, just one in four of its customers were female, but last year, after the chain began to change its menu, that number improved to about one in three," according to information from the chain's chief marketing officer cited in a May 2013 USA Today article.

Discussions of the chain's image come as the restaurant marks a milestone. Hooters is celebrating its 30th anniversary this week. The celebration includes a "nationwide birthday party" with specials at the restaurant throughout the week.

Another reason to celebrate: Jamie Gunnels, the local Hooters Girl who competed in the aforementioned pageant and won Miss Photogenic in 2012, will appear in the 2014 Hooters Calendar. It goes on sale this week.

The news will likely lead to discussions about family-friendly things and scantily clad women.

Maybe in its earliest stages, Hooters was shocking. Now, the restaurant exists in a world where the definition of shock value broadens on an almost daily basis. Accordingly, perceptions of the typical Hooters Girl have also gained some substance. Maybe you've heard about the former Hooters waitress who now runs Cinnabon.

In the "About" portion of its website, Hooters notes, "The point is, we're proud of who we are. Yes, we have a pretty face. And sex appeal is part of our thing, but it's not the only thing."

Trust me, Hooters: The big 3-0 is a perfect time for self-analysis. Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses, then figure out what you'd like to do with your future. We're all works in progress.

Just don't change your burger recipe.

Sonya Sorich, reporter, can be reached at ssorich@ledger-enquirer.com or 706-571-8516. Visit ledger-enquirer.com/sonya to read her columns.

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