From cheap pitchers of beer to fancy hors d'oeuvres or sawdust on the floor, most restaurants employ some sort of theme or a gimmick as a way to stand out in a saturated market.
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The recent tough economic times has restaurant owners getting creative to make their place the go-to spot for cash-strapped customers; some are now showcasing specific assets to make their businesses pop.
A growing number of restaurants nationwide are looking to increase profits by decreasing the amount of clothing worn by an all-female waitstaff, turning their restaurant into whats commonly referred to as a breastaurant.
Brestaurants have become so popular that Terra Watson, a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader and owner of BreastaurantUniforms.com, changed her business plan five years ago from selling cheerleading uniforms to selling waitress uniforms.
The market for breastaurant uniforms is growing like nothing Ive ever seen, says Watson, whose company sold more than 6,000 breastaurant uniforms last year. Restaurants are seeing how much more they and their waitresses can make, and the whole concept is becoming hugely popular.
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When restaurant chain Hooters entered the market in 1983 with its iconic orange shorts and tight tank tops, America had never seen anything like it. Today, the idea of an attractive waitress serving food while showing off her curves is not as taboo as it used to be, says Watson. And many new chains are giving Hooters a run for its money.
Hooters did have a monopoly on this, and they still have the most locations, but in the last five or six years, there are a lot of new kids on the block with great new themes, says Watson.
Watson designed the sexy ski-lodge themed uniforms for the breastaurant chain Twin Peaks, based in Addison, Texas, and the cowgirl-themed uniforms for Louisianas Double D Ranch and Whiskey River in the Carolinas.
As more breastaurants have opened, the competition has heated up, and in some cases, the rivalry is fierce. At Canz Citi Roadhouse in Long Island, N.Y., owner Tim Lorito claims Hooters is so threatened by his new establishment, it has sent corporate spies to steal menus and secretly take photographs.
I came into the restaurant one day, and there was a gentleman at a table drinking water who I recognized as someone in Hooters upper management, says Lorito. When he left, the menus had disappeared from his table. This kind of behavior only leads me to believe they are curious as to what we are doing.
Hooters of America Vice President of Marketing, Mike McNeil, says that like all good businesses, Hooters pays attention to what is going on in the marketplace, but no corporate espionage or stealing of menus has occurred.
The idea that a business that admits they are trying to be like Hooters thinks we are spying on them is ridiculous, says McNeil. Through our 28-year history, there have been many copy cats. However, none have yet to create the magic or the success of Hooters. There is a long list that includes places called Melons, Knockers and Mugs and Jugs. None are in existence today.
McNeil went onto say that while Hooters cares about what is happening on Long Island, the company is currently focusing its energy on opening restaurants in Brazil for the 2014 World Cup. The chain, which describes itself as delightfully tacky yet unrefined", has 430 restaurants operating in 44 states and 28 countries.
And with so many locations, its no surprise that when people think of breastaurants, Hooters is the first one that comes to mind, says Mike Currier, director of operations at RestaurantMarketingGroup.org.
Hooters is leading the way when it comes to breastaurants, says Currier. But it doesnt mean someone isnt going to out do them.
Restaurants seeking to embrace the breastaurant concept should be careful where and how they do it, Currier cautions.
It really depends on demographics and the concept youre after. For most restaurants, it would be a hinder to business if the waitresses were put in skimpy outfits. If youre in Southern California next to the beach or in a college town, it could work. But its not going to work everywhere.
One chain thats had success in multiple locations is Twin Peaks, which opened in Texas in 2005 and now has restaurants in Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Kansas and is opening Louisiana and Colorado locations later this year. CEO and founder of Twin Peaks, Randy DeWitt, says that not all breastaurants are created equal.
We are really flying at a different altitude than Hooters, and were not ever going to have a collision with them, says DeWitt. Most of the time, there is a Hooters in the same trade area as a Twin Peaks, but we attract a different customer. We are targeting affluent, college-educated, white-collar customers. We have taken the high road.
DeWitt says he knows Twin Peaks will always face comparisons to other breastaurants due to the use of an attractive waitstaff, but that using sex appeal to gain customers is the oldest trick in the book.
On its Web site, the company writes that customers can expect their food to be served by, our most prized assets: the friendly, attentive, and beautiful Twin Peaks Girls that wear checkered bikini-style tops and barely-there khaki shorts.
We always try to draw the analogy of sports teams with cheerleaders. The cheerleaders are just part of the show, says DeWitt. People dont go eat at a table service casual dining restaurant for the food. If they just wanted food, theyd go get fast food. But they want an experience, and we deliver an experience thats about sports and food, and the sideshow is a cute waitstaff that fits the theme of the restaurant.
BreastaurantUniforms.coms Watson says that fitting the theme is what its about for most breastaurants, and that most are opting for uniforms that are cute and sexy rather than slutty and gross.
Its true that breastaurants are a growing trend, but nobody wants offensive uniforms. You can see cleavage, but you can see more at a beach or local waterpark. It used to be that there was only stripper clothes or boring shorts and a t-shirt, but now theres an in-between.
DeWitt says breastaurants are here to stay, whether people like it or not.
There will always be a small percentage of people who want to see things go back to puritanical times, but thats not going to happen, says DeWitt. This is the way a certain group of the population wants to eat and drink, and were going to give it to them.