Hooters opponents missing the point

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According to the media, many people in Newfoundland and Labrador are vehemently opposed to the potential opening of a Hooters in downtown St. John’s.

Curiously, the objections aren’t because of the fact that the food at Hooters is standard deep-fried sports-bar franchise fare. Instead, people seem to base their distaste for Hooters on the notion that the chain objectifies and “sexually exploits” its female waitstaff.

Seriously, has anyone who objects to Hooters on these grounds actually been out to a bar or restaurant or even left the privacy of their own house in the past 40 years? When was the last time you were served a drink at a bar, or greeted by a hostess at a restaurant who was over 30 and wearing a frock?

Almost all bars and restaurants are guilty of objectifying and exploiting their employees. But to go so far as to say that the girls at Hooters are being “sexually exploited” is perhaps a bit too much.

Comparing the environment of Hooters to one of a strip club is also completely over the top and totally wrong. Hooters is a restaurant where girls wear Hooters T-shirts and shorts.

There is no nudity and you can often see girls wearing similar type clothing anywhere you look during the summer months here on the streets of St. John’s. Besides, in the service industry, most bartenders, hostesses, and waitstaff are usually hired purely on the basis of looks and sex appeal, and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.

I’ve worked in the restaurant business throughout Canada for over three decades in all kinds of establishments from pubs, and sports-bars, to fine dining and hotels, and believe me, almost all establishments are guilty of hiring girls (and boys too) not based solely on their experience or skill level, but largely according to their overall look. Most women and men in the service industry fully understand the concept of “if you got it, then flaunt it.”

So in an attempt to generate tips, and capitalize as much as possible, they use their physical charms to their fullest advantage. The very word “tip” is an acronym of “to insure prompt service.” However, the very meaning of the word has been all but lost. Bartenders and servers all realize the potential for increased tips is based not only in providing excellent service, but also on their overall appearance and sometimes not-so-subtle flirtatiousness.

In complicity, all restaurant/bar owners fully realize the reality of increased revenues generated by a winning combination of good product, good service and sex appeal.

Unfortunately, in an attempt to capitalize, and in their own selfishness, restaurant owners and managers often place more emphasis on “front-of-the-house” sex appeal than on good food product or great service. As sleazy as it may sound, this realization is translated into discriminating hiring practices.

Thus, over the past 40 years, and in reflection of most European- and Western-based cultural viewpoints, the entire face of the service industry has become sexualized.

Therefore, most restaurant waitstaff are largely comprised of “good looking” or “beautiful people.”

This is why almost all restaurant hostesses and servers often know very little about the menu or wine list, but are both incredibly good looking and young, and often dressed somewhat provocatively. Many hostesses are actually too young to legally serve alcohol, but not too young to be painted and propped up at the front door. Why do you think almost all hostesses, servers and bar staff have that “too good to be true” smile on their face when they greet you? Well, it’s because it’s their job and they are being paid minimum wage to do it. People in the service industry make a living from their tips, and until the industry raises its standards by increasing pay rates and begins hiring people based on skill level rather than looks, customers will continue to provide tips based primarily on appearance rather than good food or excellent service.

Clearly, cleavage sells, and surely Hooters wouldn’t be the only establishment in St. John’s that hires pretty girls and has them wear tightly fitting girlie T-shirts and short shorts.

However, what is often overlooked by the few outraged and self-righteous protestors is the fact that the Hooters franchise is very community-minded. Hooters is actively involved in fundraising for breast cancer research, and is a major contributor to many health related charities and research organizations. Yes, the franchise is a celebration of the female body; is that really such a negative thing?

Besides, in case you haven’t noticed, many parents right here in Newfoundland and Labrador allow their 13-year-old daughters to walk around town wearing even shorter shorts and tighter girlie T-shirts than you would ever see at a Hooters establishment.

At least you have to go into a Hooters restaurant to actually see the so-called scantily clad girls that work there, and unlike the young “townie girls,” the waitstaff at Hooters are card-carrying adults and are of legal age to serve alcohol. Really, who is forcing anyone to go to Hooters?

If anything, the people of St. John’s should be opposed to Hooters because of the type of establishment it is. The judgment should be based on Hooters typically unhealthy, alcohol-related, high caloric, largely deep-fried menu items. Not to mention the restaurants self-admittedly tacky franchise qualities.

Here is where the main judgment should be focused, instead of solely on the uniform requirements of the girls that work there. Whether you want to admit it or not, the food service industry is reflective of society’s values and both are totally guilty of objectification and exploitation of women and men alike.

Hooters just happens to be less pretentious, and pardon the pun, more up front about it. Perhaps the island-wide outrage as reported in the media lies in the unquestionably fetishistic nature and undeniable double entendre of the Hooters namesake.

Oh well, Long Dicks Sausage Emporium, anyone?

Al Latham writes from St. John’s.

Geographic location: Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador

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