Hooters Enters Hot Market

by Julian Ryall
Hooters Enters Hot Market Personalities count at “Delightfully tacky yet unrefined” spot

The opening of the first Hooters in Japan on October 25 has brought a new competitor into the already crowded market for restaurants in Tokyo, although the manager of its new franchise near Akasaka-mitsuke Station firmly believes his company offers something that no one else in Japan can.

“There are plenty of other places around town that are restaurants, but Hooters is unique because what we offer is entertainment and showbiz as well as good food and drink,” said Mark Imacho. “The concept is completely new to Japan, but we are sure it will catch on and we are already looking to expand with another outlet, possibly as soon as next summer.” The most important element in the success of Hooters overseas — the franchise has 455 restaurants around the world and revels in its motto of being “delightfully tacky yet unrefined” — has always been its waitresses. And it may not please the PC crowd, but the company insists on referring to them as Hooters Girls.

They will be playing games with the customers, doing dances and singing songs“They have to be outgoing, they have to have personality and they need to know how to have fun,” said Imacho. “They will be playing games with the customers, doing dances and singing songs, so they have to have what it takes to do that.”

The company interviewed candidates for 50 positions ahead of the grand opening in Tokyo. One successful candidate was previously an airline stewardess and perfectly fit the mould for personality and a sense of fun, Imacho added.

They will be playing games with the customers, doing dances and singing songs, so they have to have what it takes to do that.

The first Hooters opened in the Florida city of Clearwater in October 1983 and the chain was recently ranked 45th in Restaurant and Institution magazine’s top 400 restaurant concepts in the US. The company will be bringing the image of “casual, beach-theme establishments” to Japan, including an array of sporting events on over-sized TV screens around the restaurant, as well as a menu that has served its other outlets well.

Chicken wings are a Hooters specialty and come with a selection of eight different dips, while deep-fried pickles have not appeared on any menu in Japan previously, Imacho believes. Other meals range from an assortment of burgers to seafood platters, salads and grilled chicken.

Outback Steakhouse

Outback Steakhouse

The signature drinks will also be served up, including mojitos, T-Bird Tea, margaritas and a range of other cocktails, while Japanese beers from Asahi and Suntory will be on tap, with Budweiser, Heineken, Corona and Guinness available in bottles.

But Imacho and the Hooters Girls know they will be up against some stiff competition from restaurants already well entrenched in the Tokyo dining scene.

The first Hard Rock Cafe opened in Roppongi in 1983, a little more than 12 years after it had became a landmark in London. Rock memorabilia has always been the HRC’s theme, and it has gone down so well in Japan that there are now eight venues across Japan.

“Our typical customer is a rock fan and people who want to experience a fun, American atmosphere, as well as foreigners living in Japan who want to enjoy their own food and an easy-going place,” said company spokesman Akio Uchida.

The “Love All, Serve All” philosophy is going strong and the most popular item on the menu remains the hamburger. According to Uchida, the inspiration for the menu comes from the truck stops across the southern states of the U.S. and new items are added a couple of times a year.

A more recent addition to the theme restaurant sector has been the US-owned Outback Steakhouse, which has been in Japan since 2000 and now has nine restaurants across the country.

Hard Rock Cafe Tokyo

Hard Rock Cafe Tokyo

“Japan is a dynamic market with many different restaurant concepts, but lacked one that specializes in steaks, like Outback,” said Yuri Shimada. “We offer the real steak experience but at a reasonable price.”

The company’s Roppongi outlet opened in 2006 and more are planned for the future, although the company declined to comment on when the next restaurant might be opening.

Shimada said the casual, Western-style atmosphere, the comfortable ambience and from-scratch items on the menu, combined with the great steaks, have proved a winning combination in Japan.

The restaurants are also planning to release a sirloin steak with garlic prawns ahead of the Christmas season, while another firm favorite remains the “Bloomin’ Onion,” in which a whole onion is cut so that it blooms open, is breaded, deep fried and served with the signature bloom sauce.