Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Hooters in Bristol has closed


A family-friendly restaurant? Err...

After 16 months in a huge and garish establishment on Bristol’s regenerated harbourside (a conservation area, and a police-designated Community Impact Zone), Bristol Hooters has closed its symbolic doors for the last time. A notice on the door implies the parent company, Gallus, has gone into administration. And presumably this is because they weren’t generating the volume of custom they needed in order to meet their running costs.

I am not disappointed. I’m relieved.

“If you don’t like it, don’t go there”, people said. If only it was so easy. Hooters was slap bang in the middle of the city I live in. It was unavoidable.

To be clear, I’m not pleased that people are out of work. And I am not criticising the ‘girls’ who chose to work there – for a wage they knew was low, wearing a uniform they knew to be revealing, and working in an environment they presumably knew would be largely frequented by men. If people want to work in such conditions, that’s up to them.


MY PROBLEM WITH HOOTERS

Part of my problem with Hooters is that it masqueraded as a family-friendly restaurant, while really it’s USP was conventionally pretty waitresses, wearing a short and tight uniform, selling over-priced chicken and beer to mostly men. You can print a kids’ activity sheet up and offer child-size portions, but that doesn’t mean you’re a family-friendly restaurant. If Hooters had been honest about what it was (ie: a stag party destination), I would not have liked it any better – but at least it would have been, excuse the pun, more upfront.

My other problem with Hooters was that it was straightforward high-street misogyny, in the vein of Zoo, Nuts and lapdance clubs (yes, I know the waitresses at Hooters served food, nothing more). It perpetuated a long out-of-date idea that women are only and always sex symbols, but that only women who look a certain way (ie, young, slim, conventionally pretty etc) should be perceived as sex symbols. And by putting it on the high street, the message that women are only sex objects for the gratification of men is readily available for everyone to see, regardless of whether they want to.

After the petition to try and stop Hooters from opening at all garnered around 1,000 signatures in two weeks, the subsequent petition to ask councillors to investigate Hooters following the children’s party fiasco gathered 1,500 signatures in a matter of days – including Jonathan Ross and David Mitchell.

From the symbolic owls/breasts on the logos, door handles and doormat, to the sexist slogans plastered all over the menus and restaurant walls, to the bikini contests and breast-shaped cakes designed to be cut up at children’s birthday parties… Hooters has a simple USP: conventionally pretty women are paid to bring chicken and beer to (mostly) men, and they are paid to giggle and take an interest in these (mostly) men.

What I take comfort in is that clearly the people of Bristol are more intelligent than Hooters gave them credit for. It is not the campaigning or activism against Hooters’ opening in October 2010 that caused the closure of the Bristol branch in February 2012: it was the fact that the business could not generate enough custom, because people evidently don’t want what Hooters sells.


YES, I’VE BEEN TO HOOTERS

There were three Hooters in the UK: Nottingham, Bristol and Cardiff. I’ve been to them all, and eaten or drunk in them all. And in each of them the food was average tasting, the atmosphere synthetic, and the bill astronomical for what it was. I went to them purely because people kept saying: “How can you object to it if you’ve never even been there?”, assuming that I hadn’t been there. So I went, and I spoke to waitresses, and I spent time in all three Hooters branches.

I also applied for a job at the Bristol branch when they held an open interview session a few weeks before the place opened. True, I didn’t actually want a job at the place, and obviously they weren’t going to employ me (in my early 30s, I was a little out of their target age range – as my interviewer quickly pointed out) – despite the fact I have plenty of waitress experience. But I appreciated the opportunity to talk with a member of the restaurant’s management at length and find out more about the company. I wrote a blog post about it, which is available to read here.


YES, WE DID OUR RESEARCH

When we were campaigning against Bristol City Council granting Hooters a licence in the summer of 2010, myself and many others spent many weeks and months researching the company (both in the UK and the US, where it originates), speaking with Hooters waitresses online, and finding out more about how the business operated and what it was doing. After doing a great deal of research and making an informed and educated assessment, we still considered that Hooters was an outdated and unnecessary business model, and could not see in what way Bristol would benefit from such an establishment. And as time has shown, Bristolians felt likewise.

It wasn’t just feminists who objected, either, despite what the local paper tells you. Plenty of residents’ groups (the Bristol branch was opposite some blocks of flats, and close to other residential areas) and religious groups also objected, and when I attended the licencing hearing for Hooters at the Council, members of these groups were well represented alongside the feminist campaigners.

I am not pleased that some people have lost their jobs, but I am pleased that such a degrading business has proven unpopular with the paying public. This really is a case of people voting with their feet. I hope the empty building is soon replaced with a more suitable venue, one that is genuinely family-friendly, and one that genuinely offers something different to the people of Bristol.


AND STILL WE GET ABUSE

It’s been 24 hours since the news of Hooters’ closure has been circulated, and already the online abuse hurled at some of my fellow campaigners has been appalling. But I will not feel bullied out of writing this post by having read some of the awful comments these cowards have written.

These comments are seemingly from men who are saddened to lose Hooters (I wonder why!), and some former Hooters waitresses, all of whom are deliberately choosing to read that Hooters going into administration is the fault of feminist campaigners (it’s not – Hooters went into administration because they couldn’t generate enough custom), and that feminist campaigners are delighted at seeing ‘Hooters’ girls’ out of work (we’re not – and we hope they find more work soon, hopefully making good use of those degrees they kept telling us they were funding through their tips).

In fact, the comments that these people are writing (eg: “[Name of campaigner] is a cunt. I hate her… I’m going to find her address. She must pay”;  “angry stupid narrow minded bitches”, “I want to kick a feminist in the vagina, just for the pure irony” and so it goes on) serve only to prove that we were right that an exploitative establishment like Hooters exists to serve the type of people who enjoy degrading and abusing women, and see women as nothing more than objects.

We presented the licencing committee at Bristol City Council with plentiful similar comments from people who abused us for campaigning against the opening of the ‘breastaurant’ (as Hooters’ lawyers call it), but the council chose to ignore us. All this proves is we were right. I hope those who are receiving such hateful comments are able to recognise it for what it is, and I know those activists will only feel inspired to campaign stronger and harder in the future as a result of this.


The No To Hooters in the UK blog can be found here.

Further information about the campaign can be found on Bristol Fawcett’s website here.

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