Japan’s first Hooters restaurant and sports bar opens at Tokyu Plaza by Akasakamitsuke subway station on Monday night. It has taken nearly five years of negotiations between Hooters Japan and the company’s head office in Atlanta to bring the famous franchise to Japan. Since the first Hooters opened in 1983 in Florida, the company has expanded to now operate in 455 locations in 44 U.S. states and 28 countries.
In Japan, the brand’s logo, uniform, menu and ambiance will be the same as back in the U.S., as will the menu of seafood, sandwiches, salads and spicy chicken wings. And of course, no Hooters would be complete without the famous sexy Hooters girls.
These are busy times for Mitsuo Tanabe, one of the partners of Hooters Japan. Originally from Tokyo, Tanabe joined hooters Japan four years ago after having spent 18 years at McDonald’s Japan as a store manager and operations manager.
We visited the Hooters restaurant to get an eyeful and hear more about the business.
Why has it taken so long for Hooters to open its first restaurant in Japan?
I think the headquarters in the U.S. spent a long time making a decision because they were very sensitive about which company should get the franchise and what the potential for Japan might be. They didn’t want to pick a company that operated nightclubs or cabarets, for example, and they didn’t want a company that already ran several restaurants. They turned down offers from those sorts of companies. What they were looking for was a company that could differentiate Hooters from those nightlife places.
How strict is HQ on the operation in Tokyo?
Of course, they have minimum rules on the concept, menu, uniforms, interior design and so on. They sent a management team over here and some Hooters girls to train our girls.
Is the menu the same as in the U.S.?
Yes, but one small addition is that we offer a pasta lunch here, which is different from the U.S. I think that our customers come here expecting an Americans dining experience. As time goes by, we may think of including some original items for Japanese consumers. We are open from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m., so you can dine all day.
Of course, the image of Hooters has a lot to do with the famous Hooter girls, doesn’t it?
That’s true, but we’re not emphasizing the overt sex appeal of the girls, although, of course, we expect lots of guys to come here to see the girls. It’s not the image of Hooters that we want. Instead, we want to emphasize the restaurant’s qualities as being healthy, friendly and hospitable.
How many Hooters girls do you have?
We have 40, including 10 foreign girls from the U.S., Europe and other places. We’ll probably hire 10 more. Even before we started advertising for waitresses, girls had seen our home page and we got more than 400 applications from girls of all ages. A lot of them were big fans of Hooters. Some were models and comfortable with the exposure that they’ll get as Hooter girls. Basic English, a friendly manner and good communication skills are the main requirements for the girls.
Will they be eligible for next summer’s Miss Hooters world contest in Florida?
Yes, one Japanese waitress will be selected to represent Hooters Japan at the contest. It won’t be management that picks her. Rather, our VIP customers will vote for the winner.
How hard was it to find this location for your first store?
We were looking for a long time. There are some conditions from head office. Hooters can’t be in a basement and it can’t be up high in a building because those locations are associated more with nightclubs rather than with family restaurants.
We plan to open one a year until we have 10. The next one will be in Tokyo and then we will start looking at the greater Tokyo metropolitan area. Somewhere like Ginza or Shinagawa would be good. Roppongi is not at the top of our list, although somewhere like Tokyo Midtown would be OK. But we don’t want to be on the main Roppongi street because then the restaurant runs the risk of attracting the wrong sort of people off the streets. We have to think of the girls’ safety.
How are you marketing the restaurant?
We have only done limited advertising, mainly in the Japanese language version of Daytona magazine. That is popular with middle-aged readers who love American culture. We have been fortunate in that many media have come to us. However, our rule is that they do not focus on the Hooter girls.
Amid the recession, is now a good time to open a restaurant?
Yes. For one reason, property prices have gone down, making it easier for us to acquire locations. Another reason is more psychological. Workers have lost their energy. Hooters – with its positive and energetic vibes—will pep them up.
For more information, visit www.hooters.co.jp