The End of Men, for Real: Hooters Is Desperate for Female Customers

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Guys, this really might be it. 615_Hooters_Reuters.jpg

(Reuters)

There are lots of statistics you could break out to illustrate the growing power of women in the economy. But if numbers don't do it for you, then just look at what's going on at Hooters. 

After five years of falling sales, the restaurant chain is trying to revamp its fortunes by easing up on its unreconstructed frat-boy image and appealing more to female customers, all without ditching the waitresses parading around in skimpy t-shirts and shorts. Sound like a tough sell? I think so.

But according to Bloomberg Businessweek, CEO Terry Marks believes that by tweaking the menu with more salads and fresher ingredients, lightening up the beach shack decor, and adding space for a bit of nightlife, the company can at least make its franchises an acceptable destination for more wives and girlfriends. As of now, about two-thirds of their patrons are guys.

"There's an opportunity to broaden the net without putting wool sweaters on the Hooters girls," Marks told the magazine. "Everything we do should appeal more to women, but nothing we will do will turn men off."

What to make of this? Bros aren't the reliable customers they once were, and that it would be a bit daft to keep catering almost exclusively to their tastes. "Face it, females are 51 percent of the population," says John Gordon, principal at Pacific Management Consulting Group, told the magazine. "They've enjoyed more employment growth, and you can't ignore them."

But despite the number the recession did on men's employment, they're  still more likely to work than women and continue to bring home bigger paychecks on average. They certainly haven't disappeared as a customer base.  

Rather, this might be more about evolving gender norms. Plenty of men don't want to feel like they're at a stag party, and getting more women in the door might help convince guys that, tank tops and all, Hooters is a socially acceptable place to get a beer (As Businessweek puts it, the company would like to "remove the Hooters stigma.") Or take entertainment. One of Hooters' initiatives is to start buying pricey pro sports television packages for each restaurant. The company's chief marketing officer seems to suggest that's part of their female-friendly tack, pointing out that NFL games, for instance, are a "huge draw" for couples. And indeed, at least one survey has suggested 42 percent of the the league's fan base is female. But the fact that football fandom is now a co-ed pastime means that to make their investment count at all, Hooters needs to have a menu and vibe that will lure women on game day along with men. Otherwise, those couples will just head to another sports bar.

So it's not just about the economic demise of the Y chromosome. Instead, it's a sign that perhaps more than in the past, marketing to men now means marketing to women. 

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Jordan Weissmann is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic.

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