The world-famous 'sexy restaurant' concept clearly befits Phuket, which has earned itself a reputation for being a partying hotspot. The restaurant opened there in 2014. At that point the chain already had locations in Australia, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and even conservative China. But the success in Phuket led to the recent announcement that Hooters' international franchisee Destination Resorts would commit to further expansion.
"The moment the doors opened to Hooters Phuket, we realized the tremendous opportunity to greatly broaden our efforts to develop the Hooters brand across Asia," said Gary Murray, CEO of Destination Resorts, which will dedicate "significant capital and resources" to the new ventures.
The franchisee has set sights on Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Vietnam and Macau, but will concentrate heavily on Hong Kong and the Philippines in the coming years. Some of the countries slated in the accelerated expansion plan are just as conservative, if not more so, than China, where Hooters had to rebrand as a family restaurant.
We can safely assume that Hooters will modify the direction of its cleavage-and-hot-pants branding in these new markets, though David Duncombe, vice president of Hooters Asia, did not address Campaign Asia-Pacific's question on that issue directly.
"Guests will experience the sporty, fun and glamorous all-American Hooters Girl the brand is known for," he said. "Hooters Girls are the cornerstone of our brand, and their superior hospitality is what keeps our guests coming back."
The brand has not shared specifics about communications campaigns, but brand guidelines, marketing, advertising and PR resources will be provided to franchisees. It is likely that Initiative, its media agency in the US, will help to manage communications strategy, media investment, digital and analytics for Hooters in Asia.
In Hong Kong particularly, competitive chains like Double D (supposedly short for 'dirty and decadent') Burger also use sex appeal to sell food. That establishment uses outdoor advertising featuring lingerie-clad women in saucy poses and poss staff-recruitment notices requiring employees to have a "double sense of humour" and "understand the dirtiness of our juicy burgers".
Duncombe countered that Hooters is more than just a dining destination. "Any restaurant has waitresses, only Hooters has Hooters Girls. Plus, our Hooters Girls consistently bring energy and fun to every guest that walks through our doors, but they’re also involved in supporting each of the communities we serve, from raising money for cancer research to contributing to local outreach programs."
The concept of food franchising has been growing in Hong Kong for the past decade, and last year Hong Kong saw growth of 3.5 per cent in this segment alone. Nearly 80 per cent of the franchise operations in Hong Kong are of US origin.
Duncombe said the new locations will likely attract "educated professionals and the middle‐income group in society", who go for the American-themed restaurants for meetings, fun and enjoyment, and for the iconic Hooters Girl hospitality.
"Whatever the venture, whatever the time, it all comes down to not being afraid to let loose and live a little," accordng to a Hooters statement. "The first few decades have been a hoot, and the chain looks forward to a bright future. Hooters has no plans to alter the concept and feels doing so would be a tremendous disservice to its franchisees, employees, and you."