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The Sad Ballad of Guys Who Think Hooters Ain’t What It Used to Be

The first and last time I went to a Hooters restaurant was in eighth grade, during the lunch break on a field trip, when some determined boys snuck off from the food court where we were meant to be eating. Our excitement at the mission abated the moment we sat down to be served by underdressed waitresses who had no interest in flirtatious banter with 14-year-olds, and by the time we got our sorry plates of chicken wings, we were fully embarrassed, regretting our decision to check out the horny establishment. And that was before a teacher caught us there.

The chain reached nearly $1 billion in revenue in 2007, but then the Great Recession hit, and locations started closing. The COVID-19 pandemic also hurt them badly, as it did the entire casual dining sector. But analysts have attempted to explain the decline of the brand in other ways, too: Supposedly millennials are turned off by the retrograde sexism of the 1980s-vintage concept (or simply don’t appreciate boobs). I don’t think that’s the real story. In truth, Hooters has managed to survive a number of death knells — yet always remains in peril — because of the same disappointment my friends and I felt back when we were snot-nosed kids hoping the place would be a hedonistic pleasure palace. It’s just never lived up to anyone’s expectations. 

The sorrow and torment here isn’t that of a first-time customer, but a guy who believes that Hooters used to be great and has very recently gone downhill: unenthusiastic service, employees bringing their boyfriends to work(?), sub-par food, depressing atmosphere. You could only write this as someone who has been there many times, and remembers positive experiences. In my opinion, however, this is another delusion. The men who are keeping Hooters in business against all odds have, I would wager, always been somewhat let down by the experience; after all, they’re eating mediocre pub grub, drinking cheap beer, watching their sports teams lose and pining after much-harassed women who wouldn’t dream of giving them a phone number. They keep coming back to chase the promise of a wonderful meal at Hooters.   

The women’s curves, the bar banter, the deep-fried appetizers… all of them were once worthy of regular patronage, and more of a bargain, according to baffled Yelp and Tripadvisor reviewers. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few of these dudes took “Make America Great Again” as a specific reference to their declining local Hooters — it’s all nostalgia for unrealized and unattainable fantasy. I’m sorry, you’re never going to feel like you’re at Playboy Mansion soirée walking into a heterosexual-themed eatery in Dayton, Ohio, and you’re not going to walk out without some kind of gastric distress. Tell yourself it’s a despoiled former paradise if you want. You’re fooling yourselves and no one else besides the other long-term and frustrated loyalists.

Come on, now, fellas. Life is short, though full of delicious food and beautiful people. No reason to waste your money on a business that doesn’t pair them as advertised (or to write 900 words on the internet explaining how they’ve betrayed you in particular.) Go out into the world and discover the countless alternatives. You owe this company nothing. Plus, if you stop returning in search of elusive satisfaction, your bogus memories will become that much happier.