American restaurant chain Hooters is gearing up for an aggressive expansion into Asia, hoping to serve chicken wings all over the region. The Atlanta-based company, banking on its specific brand of Americana dining, plans to open 30 restaurants across Southeast Asia.
The company, which was founded in 1983, is expanding its Asian presence after seeing some success in Thailand and mainland China. Presently, the company boasts 430 locations in 28 countries; 160 of the restaurants are privately owned. Now, Hooters is hoping to expand its empire even further. In a news release last week, the company announced its intention to open franchises in Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong and Macau over the next six years.
“The moment the doors opened to Hooter Phuket, we realized the tremendous opportunity to greatly broaden our efforts to develop the Hooters brand across Asia,” Gary Murray, chief executive of Destination Resorts, a Bangkok-based international franchisee known for developing brands like Hard Rock Cafe in Asia, said in the release.
Sold as an American-style casual bar and restaurant, the Hooters brand doesn’t carry the same notoriety overseas that it does stateside. In the U.S., the restaurant is known mostly for its wait staff rather than its food or ambiance. “Hooters Girls” are a vital part of the brand in the U.S., known for their bright-orange hot pants and low-cut white tank tops. Over the years, the company has faced lawsuits and investigations of sexist hiring practices, among other things.
Wait staff at the company’s Asian outposts also will wear the classic uniforms, but if the brand succeeds, it probably won’t be because of just that.
The success of Hooters in Asia will likely hinge on the restaurant’s ability to tap into selling American culture, not simply sex. Part of the allure of the restaurant is that it is stereotypical America, packaged in a dining experience. During the 2008 launch of Hooters Beijing, one of the restaurant’s waitresses, Cici, described what attracted local diners to the place.
“A lot of the Chinese customers think of American food as fresh and new food,” Cici told a Chinese reporter. “This is not an ordinary restaurant. It stands for American culture. Many things here are from America.”
Similar to the way Hard Rock Cafe and TGI Friday’s keep a consistent ambiance and branding in foreign outposts, Asian branches of Hooters are in line with the American design aesthetic, complete with surfboards, trophies, mugs, calendars and other kitschy, branded items.
This approach may see traction in a market like the Philippines, where several U.S. restaurant chains have gained popularity. TGI Friday’s, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and Hard Rock Cafe have laid the groundwork in the market, allowing Hooters, and even Buffalo Wild Wings, to more smoothly debut there.
However, success may not come so easily in one specific Asian market: Hong Kong. Investing in a city where dining options are competitive, commercial rents are high and interest in novelty American dining is low may be a risk for Hooters.