The 'breastaurant' mini-boom

Hooters pioneered the trend, but there's a booming niche in the beleaguered restaurant industry of eateries that feature scantily clad waitresses.

By John Davenport Jun 25, 2012 6:37PM

By The Associated Press

 

NEW YORK - The waitresses at Twin Peaks wear skimpy plaid tops that accentuate their chests. In case you didn't catch the joke, the chain's logo is an image of two pointy, snow-capped mountains. And the sports bar doesn't stop there: It promises "scenic views."

 

Twin Peaks owner Randy DeWitt downplays all of that and insists that the appeal of the restaurant goes beyond the obvious. Hearty meals and a focus on making customers feel special, he says, are what really keeps them coming back.


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"We believe in feeding the ego before feeding the stomach," he says. Or as the website of the mountain lodge-themed restaurant states, "Twin Peaks is about you, 'cause you're the man!"

 

Twin Peaks is part of a booming niche in the beleaguered restaurant industry known as "breastaurants," or sports bars that feature scantily clad waitresses. These small chains operate in the tradition of Hooters, which pioneered the concept in the 1980s but has struggled in recent years to stay fresh.

 

Instead of relying on lust alone, the new crop of restaurants is growing by offering new themes (think: rustic lodges and Celtic pubs) and varied menus (think: pot roast and shepherd's pie instead of just burgers and wings). In other words, they're hoping maybe people really are coming in for the food.

 

The nation's top three "breastaurant" chains behind Hooters each had sales growth of 30% or more last year, according to Technomic, a food industry research firm. They still represent less than 1% of the nation's top restaurants, but the upstart chains are benefiting as other midpriced options like Applebee's and Bennigan's have experienced declines during the economic downturn.

 

"The younger crowds want to go to a newer place, not where mom and dad took them," says Darren Tristano, an analyst at Technomic.

 

Tovan Adams says he frequents Tilted Kilt Pub & Eatery in Tempe, Ariz., where waitresses wear matching tartan miniskirts and bras that fit in with the restaurant's Celtic theme. He even brings his daughters, ages 6 and 9, with him for lunch.

 

"If you come in the evening, you'll see a lot of kids here," says Adams, an electric engineer who likes the menu's variety. "Everyone's still got their clothes on. If you go to the beach, it's a lot worse than being here."

 

Lynette Marmolejo, a college admissions worker, dropped in at the Tilted Kilt for the first time recently. She likes that the restaurant is dominated by the "corporate crowd" rather than the "college crowd." And she says the half-dressed waitresses don't bother her.

 

"Prices and the food — if those are good, I don't care what anybody's wearing," Marmolejo says.

 

Tilted Kilt, which serves dishes such as shepherd's pie and "Irish nachos" (potato chips instead of corn tortillas), had annual sales of $124 million last year, reflecting growth of 33%, according to Technomic. And by the end of this year, the company expects to have 95 locations, up from 57 at the end of last year.

 

That growth is one reason Tilted Kilt CEO Ron Lynch bristles at the "breastaurant" moniker. He says the word implies that the company's success is based purely on sex appeal. To the contrary, he says his customers — about three-quarters of whom are men and of the average age of 36 — consistently say the experience is about far more.

 

Tilted Kilt doesn't go so far to call itself a family restaurant. But Lynch understands the risks of crossing a certain line.

 

"We want to be very PG-13," he says. Its "class in all things" motto also means servers can't have tattoos, piercings or dyed hair.

 

Rose Dimov, a 22-year-old waitress at Tilted Kilt, says her job is no different from any other waitressing gig; make guests feel special and ensure they have a good time. As an aspiring ballroom dancer, she also says she's not fazed by the revealing outfit that comes with the job.

"Going to a restaurant should be an experience," Dimov says. "We're entertainers."

 

Although the name might suggest otherwise, the owner of Mugs N Jugs in Clearwater, Fla., says his place also is like any ordinary restaurant with entertainment. Sam Ahmed says his game room, pool table and karaoke are why 40% of his customers are families.

 

Sales at the restaurant grew to $3 million in 2008, from $700,000 in 1998, Ahmed says, but have since declined because of the recession. After selling a second location to a franchisee last year, Ahmad is looking to find others who want to open franchise locations under the Mugs N Jugs banner.

 

As for the tank tops and shorts the waitresses wear, Ahmed says they don't reveal too much. And those photos on the Mugs N Jugs website showing waitresses leaning over a pool table? Ahmed explains they are purely for marketing purposes.

 

"They're at an angle because they're at a pool table," he says. "When you're in the restaurant, you won't see that. She'll be standing."

 

Taking a cue from its much smaller rivals, Hooters is also making changes.

 

The company opened its first location in 1983 in Clearwater, Fla., with waitresses sporting the now-famous tiny orange shorts and tight white tank tops. The chain grew rapidly at first but has struggled in recent years. Sales have fallen steadily since peaking in 2007 at $960 million, as the menu and decor grew stale.

 

Last year, a group of private investors bought the chain of 365 restaurants and decided to try to revive the business. In February, Hooters opened a renovated location in Atlanta to showcase its new look with upgraded TVs, an outdoor bar and a covered patio. Remodeling is slated for another six to eight restaurants this year.

 

In April, Hooters also beefed up its menu with items that include a Baja burger, buffalo chicken sliders and a spinach and shrimp salad. The idea is to offer dishes that draw new customers, says David Henninger, Hooters' chief marketing officer. Currently, more than three quarters of Hooters customers are male, with an average age of 45.

 

As part of the effort to improve its image, Henninger says Hooters is looking to showcase the life stories of its servers, many of whom are studying to go on to professional careers.

 

"The public can be misinformed about what we do," says Henninger, who was hired this year. "They jump to their own conclusions."

Without explaining how, he says the "curious" name of the restaurant could easily be misinterpreted. He says the name is "part of the fun" and is about being "in on the joke."

 

No matter how hard they try to open their doors to a broader audience, Hooters and its rivals remain the subject of criticism. "If it's an adult entertainment business, that's fine," says Mona Lisa Wallace, president of the San Francisco chapter of the National Organization for Women. "Where they're crossing the line is when they expose young children to the objectification of women."

 

Not every chain is defensive about the reputation of breastaurants.

 

At Twin Peaks, based in Addison, Tex., sales last year grew 35% to $44 million from the previous year, according to Technomic. Owner DeWitt touts the 22-restaurant chain's amenities but is under no illusions about the main attraction.

 

Waitresses, for instance, vary their costumes for special occasions. Around the holidays, servers dress up like Santa's little helpers. Around Easter, they dress up like bunnies.

 

The owner of Tilted Kilt is just as frank. "We hire only spectacular talent," Lynch said. "They have to fit into that costume."


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92Comments
Jun 26, 2012 9:58AM
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I think I'll start my own chain called "Camel Toes"
Jun 26, 2012 3:16PM
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To RNM2009:

 

There aren't any women being 'forced' to apply for a job at their restaurants; they choose to apply there, just as one might choose to apply at Applebee's, Chili's, Red Robin, JC Penny, Best Buy, Etc. Etc. Etc. Furthermore, you and your family have the right to choose not to go there. Great!!

Jun 26, 2012 1:37PM
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I've noticed in my many years of girl-watching - women are about 25% heavier than they were 20 years ago, yet they wear about 25% less. Walk down the street of any major city during the summer and you'll see so many floppy breasteses, muffin tops, and thunder thighs stuffed into tiny short-shorts, that if you were to walk into one of these breastaurants the girls working inside would be over dressed in comparison. But by then you would have lost your appetite.
Jun 26, 2012 11:02AM
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Women who sell their beauty to make profit... tell me something I don't know. This is more an exploitation of men than women.

Jun 26, 2012 12:03PM
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good business sense says you give the customer what they want  as far as objectifing women no one forces the girls to work there
Jun 26, 2012 3:10PM
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Exactly how r they forced? Does the owner go around towns and homes door to door and take them at gunpoint and say "work naked or die?" Everything in life is a choice. Choosing to work in almost nothing or completely naked is a choice. Choosing to be objectified is a choice. If u don't take off ur clothes, men can't see ur goods. These women realize that sex sells and they r willing to sell it. Y blame men for buying into it? Women don't need 20 pairs of shoes, u only have 2 feet, but some idiot model or ur friend says they're fashionable and u buy it. Same damn thing. If you want it to stop, tell the WOMEN to stop doing it. It's not slavery, they have a choice.

Jun 26, 2012 2:26PM
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Weird. There are actually guys here that are against boobies.
Jun 26, 2012 8:31AM
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NO, please, not another made up word.  Can we please just stop this stupid idiotic mind numbing trend of combining words.   PLEASE!!!  "Breastaurants"!?  Really?   Just make it stop. 
Jun 26, 2012 12:55PM
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It doesn't matter what they wear, if the food is good, the prices reasonable and the service fast and efficient they will come.
I'm not a boob man, but a cute waitress with no skill is out compared to an average waitress with good service skills. 
Jun 25, 2012 10:20PM
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$20.00 for a lousy hamburger?  Yeah, men are stupid.
Jun 25, 2012 10:01PM
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Nothing like a side of sexual exploitation with your hot wings.
Jun 25, 2012 9:24PM
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And here I thought it was a restaurant that caters to breastfeeding mothers.

Duh

Tits and nachos, who cares! Hubby wouldn't be impressed, he is an a$$ man.

Jun 26, 2012 1:34PM
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If you don't appreciate a place of business - don't go.  If you are diappointed with your country - calling out how it rates on the filth factor - don't live here. At the end of the day It's just a gender trying to make money.  And where to they learn Sex Sells?  Shopping malls, in school and on TV / Hollywood.  I think we need to start teaching american's what's right and wrong at home from childhood.  Then these senseless articals won't be taking up valuable time away from REAL world issues.

Beleive me - I am not in the mood sometimes to look at halfnaked people either, but this is where we are - it's what we teach our children i society unfortunately, if you don't agree, go to the Mall and open your eyes..  Sorry - but IMHO - you have nothing to comlain about here..

Jun 26, 2012 1:06AM
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haha "dickaraunt" thats funny but not a smart business move cuz like its said in the movies - the power of the V compared to the D is incomparable.  Nobody would want to eat anything after seeing that.  But women are different for whatever reason even other women are okay with seeing beautiful women however subjected to sexual innuendos and clothing aren't always accepted openly.  Some girls are just jealous and play that you shouldnt be using women like that, however unfortunately in every aspect of entertainment and marketing the sex theme is always and has always been used and will continually for the foreseeable future!  its just da way it is and has been.   One thought I had while watching that then reading the only negative response in the article from Mona Lisa who says degrading women is not okay for children is logical and makes sense but really anybody ( PARENT ) who brings there children into an environment like that must be blamed for their poor judgement , while also be free to make there own decisions on how to raise their kids, even though we all know there are far too many piss poor parents out there making life harder for kids to have a good happy normal life or what is supposed to be close to that !!   My final thoughts are to be positive and look for the white light in everything cuz there is always some positive with everything negative or anything in general can have both  AND  with this I see a movement making it possible for women ecspecially young Girls who are working for families they already have like babies or college career funding WONT HAFTA STRIP THERE CLOTHES OFF FOR HEPATITIS DIRTIED ONE DOLLAR BILLS !  and more importantly WHAT THEY DO FOR 5'S, 10's , 20's , 50's, & 1hundee's  can easily be replaced with becoming a waitress or server or hostess or even management n corporate jobs in this environment with training and skills like dancing, entertainment, and beauty management which almost all girls know how to do.  SO DONT SAY THIS IS THE WORST MOST DEGRADING THING OUT THERE cuz its not YOUNG 18 YR OLDS ARE STRIPPING THERE CLOTHES OFF  For Money and this is what you see out there among teenagers nowadays anyways no matter where you go - turn - and look there are skimpy dressed women of all ages FIGHTING FOR THAT ATTENTION and money !!  hey   I'd rather have a daughter handling hamburgers than getting drugged up and getting nekid on stage for a bunch of derelicts and savages who will only make her life harder and more miserable.
Jun 26, 2012 10:45AM
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Huh, wings are good, but, I like the thighs!
Jun 26, 2012 7:09AM
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I've been to Hooters and other "bewbie-rants" and have to say I have always been pleasantly surprised. The last time I dined there I ordered a "rack" of ribs (a full - rack not a half - a- rack) and the young lady that served our table had a smile as big as Texas! I promise you that is all I noticed about her. She lit up the room with her smile, her personality and she made us feel special because she was a great waitress! I went in expecting one thing and came out with a whole different POV!

These ladies are earning money to pay college tuition, car payments, maybe even help support their family. Yea, I suppose the owners look for ladies who are well blessed.  But they ain't hard to find. But finding waitresses who are smart, talented, and have the wits to go with the *** make me a return customer! 

Jun 26, 2012 7:06AM
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Did anyone notice who the women were serving? If the food is that great, why are there no women eating there?
Jun 25, 2012 9:31PM
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Just goes to how you that Americans cannot be sold a can of beer without being offered a piece of **** to go along with it...
Jun 26, 2012 1:06PM
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I'm sorry...hasn't this been done before? What was that place wher women wore tight fitting skimpy shirts and served wings...Oh, thats right Hooters! You know the place that has been open since 1980. Nothing to see here folks move along...
Jun 25, 2012 10:39PM
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I like good looking women. Always have and always will...

 

I like good waitresses too...

 

Mix the two, not a problem for me...

 

My wife might think otherwise, so for her. I wouldn't go...

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