The people who visit a Hooters restaurant for the food can safely fit underneath a hamburger bun. Since 1983, this Georgia chain has offered a menu of mediocre burgers and chicken wings through 230 franchises in the U.S., England, Mexico, Asia and Puerto Rico.
The Hooters gimmick is as old as a caveman's scrawl on a wall: sex, sex, and more sex. Nearly 10,000 Hooters girls are employed across the globe, flouncing around the restaurants in required orange hot pants and push-up bras. The babe factor has expanded to calendars, trading cards, online pinup photos, a Playboy feature spread and an Internet Hootercam, which shows babe waitresses working in various locations (in real time!).
But one Hooters waitress in Kentucky says the sex gimmick got ugly behind the scenes. She sued for sexual harassment. This week, a federal jury ordered the restaurant to pay her $275,000.
Sara Steinhoff, 24, worked at the Hooters in Newport, Ky., from October 1996 to October 1997. In court, she testified that her managers tried to force her to go home with them, and one even threatened to tie her up. The court also heard from other former waitresses, who testified that restaurant managers would "discipline" them by forcing them to perform in bikini contests.
After the verdict was announced, Steinhoff told reporters, "I just hope this makes a difference ... I'm happy for the women (who) are not going to be subjected to this type of atmosphere anymore."
The Upriver Restaurant Joint Venture, owner of the Newport Hooters, insisted it would appeal the decision. "We will fight this in any legal way we can, because we believe it is wrong," said Upriver president Shannon Herlihy. There are no known plans to improve the menu.