Hooters’ Big Experiment: New Menu, New Decor and a New Target Audience

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Hooters is trying to revitalize its brand after increased competition from other so-called breastaurants.

Over the past several years, Hooters’ sales have been on the decline. So the “breastaurant” is now undergoing a three-to-five-year revitalization plan, which will include an updated menu, renovated restaurants and an attempt to attract a demographic that has not historically patronized Hooters in large numbers: women.

In 2008, Hooters had 400 restaurants bringing in revenue of about $960 million. But the recession, plus the rise of competitors like Twin Peaks and the Tilted Kilt, began chipping away at sales — and at Hooters’ decades-long dominance in the male-driven sector of restaurants featuring wings, beer and shapely women. By last year the number of outlets had dipped to 365 and revenue had fallen to $858 million, according to industry analyst Technomic. The only growth Hooters has seen over the past few years has been outside the U.S.

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So Hooters will spend the next several years trying to update its brand. It started by changing its tagline to “Feed the dream.” It hired HBO’s Eastbound & Down creator Jody Hill to direct new TV spots that include ESPN football analyst Jon Gruden. It unveiled a revamped menu that includes salads, burgers and an “expanded line” of chicken wings. And it plans to remodel about 25 stores each year.

“They’re taking a new approach to the marketplace,” says Darren Tristano of Technomic. “The brand has been very dominant, but they have set the stage for competitors to come in with a more contemporary concept.”

One of those more contemporary competitors is Tilted Kilt, a Celtic-themed pub chain that brought in about $124 million in sales last year. Tilted Kilt locations tend to be much newer than competing Hooters restaurants, some of which are decades old and haven’t been renovated since the ’80s.

“For years they’ve only been working toward Generation X, but now they need to try to get Millennials to come through the doors,” says Tristano.

And female customers. Since its founding, Hooters has essentially targeted one demographic: men. But that leaves 50% of the market entirely ignored.

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“Historically, the lion’s share [of the brand’s] position was all about the girls,” CMO Dave Henninger told Advertising Age. “It’s worked relatively well, but we see ourselves in a bigger place than that.”

To reach that place, Hooters will likely need to do more than merely update the decor, Tristano says. Menu options beyond standard pub fare like wings and burgers would be a good start, for example. He suggests they’ll even experiment with more ethnic-style foods.

But the biggest challenge may be holding onto the customers Hooters already has while trying to draw in a younger and more female demographic. Tristano sums it up this way: “How do you appeal to a new generation without pissing off the generation that’s coming in the doors?”