The Hooters brand is about fun, said chief marketing officer Dave Henninger, and creating a welcoming atmosphere for everybody to watch sporting events and let loose.
“We want to be welcoming to everyone from teenagers, boomers, men, women…everyone should be able to come to Hooters to have a great time,” he said.
The one of the company’s latest ad spots shows just that: A group of men and women coming to Hooters to dine on salads and crab legs.
The Atlanta-based company is aiming to expand its current customer base by offering a more varied menu and by marketing late-night deals at its more than 400 locations.
Last year, the company overhauled its brand, expanding the menu and improving service quality. Nation’s Restaurant News followed up with Henninger on those initiatives and what’s next for the breastaurant brand.
Tell me a bit about Hooters’ current marketing strategy.
I think from a marketing perspective probably one of the single biggest ideas we’re bringing to bear is this whole idea of ‘stepping into awesome.’ Defining our purpose, why we exist, is probably our biggest single focus this year.
In the past we were so focused on what we did — be it wings, sports, hooters girls, beer. What we started to realize is that when the Hooters girls open those doors and say hello you’re entered into this awesome world of awesomeness. It’s a chance to just have a great time and leave all your worries at the doors.
We are very different from that tragically hip nightclub that people go to...you can come the way you want. It’s just fun. And people leave with a smile, and that’s a really good reason for us to exist.
Last year Hooters revamped its menu. Are the changes you made (more salads, healthier options) resonating with consumers?
Very much. Salads are approaching 5 percent of our mix. Wings are still clearly leading the pack, but salads are a great part of our mix.
It’s getting rid of that veto vote. If you’re in a group, and people say ‘let’s go to Hooters,’ and somebody says, ‘I can’t eat fried food’ — we’ve got salads now, we’ve got seafood. We’ve got other items coming out in the fall and in spring next year.
Operationally, we’re continuing to improve the menu.
In what ways will you improve the offerings?
We’re going to start to offer LTO menus. In July, we’re going to launch a national campaign around our ‘Back to the Beach’ menu. We’re going to be offering a seafood menu that harkens back to our beach heritage. We’re also going to bring back drunken mussels, a blackened Mahi sandwich and crab legs. And that’s probably going to bring in new folks.
I think folks still look at us as a fried food place, but this gives us a chance to expand our relevance like we did with salads. It gives people something different to eat — the motivation to come back and try something different at Hooters. At some point you can’t eat wings six days a week.
Fried pickles started as an LTO in Texas and are now our best-selling appetizer. Drunken mussels might become the best-selling appetizer at Hooters some day. Who knows?
Leveraging holidays, late-night daypart
Tell me about Hooters’ Mother’s Day and Father’s Day promotions. Did customers respond?
Mother’s day was perfectly absurd. The pictures we got in via social media were just off-the-hook fun.
We’ve had a Mother’s Day promotion the last couple of years. Why not take your mom to Hooters for Mother’s Day? What’s so fun about that is we had 35,000 moms take us up on that this year. Sales were up 25 percent year over year for the day. We had stores on a wait from noon most of the day.
What about Father’s Day?
Dad’s day is a little more logical, I guess. We had 55,000-plus dads come in. And that was up, I believe, 11 percent on average across the system over last year.
I think what you’re seeing is more of a focus on these holidays through national advertising. We’re doing a better job of telling our story and doing a better job of showcasing these special events.
The late-night menu is a new focus for Hooters. Why is that?
We clearly want to facilitate the late-night occasion. We began back in February when we launched a new liquor menu. (Hooters is traditionally known for beer as the primary alcoholic choice.) We highlighted our margaritas, Long Island iced teas, bloody marys and Coronaritas. Although we had mixed drinks we hadn’t really talked about them much until February this year.
Even though we’ve always had a full menu up until closing, which is typically midnight, we also wanted to highlight half-price appetizers. It’s great sharable finger food.
Is focusing on liquor, as well as beer, a way to increase average check during late night?
Yeah, clearly. Part of it is average check, of course. You’re going to get better margins out of mixed drinks. We also offer Jell-O shots.
I think our bigger opportunity is just driving traffic into the stores for late night. It clearly gives us a reason for Millennials to come into the restaurant. They may not have been as exposed to the brand as older generations. We wanted to show people we’ve got great tunes and great drink offerings, and that we’re a great choice for going out.
‘Breastaurants’ are a hot segment these days. What makes Hooters different?
There are clearly those imposters out there who try to mimic what we do. At the end of the day, we’re the original. We’re the one and only. We created what we do and we stuck with it. Our Hooters girls are the iconic, most recognizable staff, if you will, in the restaurant industry. Other will try to copy what we do. Many have tried. Most will fail.