|'Breastaurants' Boom as Other Food Franchises Struggle|
|By ALEX PEREZ (@perezreports) and DREW THORRY (@dthorry)||Mar 22, 2013, 1:24 PM|
The "breastaurants" are officially at war. As food franchises fight to stay afloat, there is a post-recession boom for restaurant establishments with added sex appeal.
Breastaurants are a more-than-$1-billion industry, and places like Twin Peaks, the Tilted Kilt, Bone Daddy's and others are in a heated fight to knock the reigning breastaurant king, Hooters, off its throne.
"Hooters' concept has grown stale, so if other restaurants can attract more people because they've got a twist -- kilt or bikini -- I think people are intrigued and are starting to go in that direction," said Kiri Tannebbaum, a food writer for Delish.com.
During the height of the recession, Hooters led the pack, bringing in almost $1 billion a year in revenue. Now, with the competition catching on to the winning formula of busty waitresses serving hot wings and cold beer, Hooters' sales declined 4 percent last year.
"Hooters should be very scared," said Drew Neisser of Renegade Marketing Group. "The category can only grow so much. ... Tilted Kilt and the others are stealing Hooters' customers."
Twin Peaks, a sports bar and grill chain that advertises "Eats. Drinks. Scenic Views," is like if Hooters had a mountain lodge. Waitresses serve appetites and egos while wearing red-and-black plaid cutoff shirts and short khaki shorts.
"We're looking for well-rounded females who can deliver a great experience," said Meggie Miller, the director of training and recruiting for Twin Peaks.
The chain, which had just seven locations in 2008, now has 31 locations across the country and plans to open two more a month through the end of the year.
Stephanie Cukes, 22, travels across the country training Twin Peaks girls to have that natural charm.
The company says its main attractions keep customers coming in: Big, cold jugs of beer and ample portions.
"Well, let's be honest: I don't think there is a whole lot of complicated things about male psychology," Miller said. "I bet if you talked to 75, 80 percent of the guys in here, they would tell you it's not that complicated: 'Get me a nice cold beer. Get me some good food. Bring a pretty girl to my table. I am happy.'"
Also competing is Canz, a New York-based roadhouse-themed sports bar that did what many would consider to be impossible. It successfully launched in the middle of the recession and the customers came flocking in.
"Our profits ranged a little over $2 million in our first year in 2008 and showed great signs of growth," said Canz owner Tim Lorito.
Three restaurants later, Lorito said, the formula or sports, beer and, of course, lots of young ladies -- waitresses wear tight black tanks and jean shorts -- is working.
"I think being a great breastaurant goes hand in hand with being a great sports bar," Lorito said. "I think the atmosphere that that creates gives us an advantage over any other of our competitors."
The Arizona-based breastaurant, the Tilted Kilt, with its obvious Scottish theme, has nearly 80 locations nationwide with 12 more on the way.
"I mean, the girls are wearing a uniform which is appealing to the average guy but, again, it is very classy and clean-cut, as opposed to other competitors' of ours," said Nirav Patel, the owner of a Tilted Kilt in Hoboken, N.J.
The appeal for many is in the price: The average breastaurant meal costs $12.
Hooters, with more than 400 restaurants, dwarfs the competition but is clearly sagging. It has closed 35 locations in the last three years. Many former customers who used to give a hoot say the eye-popping staples that brought them into Hooters suddenly went flat.
But Hooters is fighting back, now pumping up all of its locations with a sleek new decor and expanded, healthier menus. Plus, there's a new target customer in mind: women.
It's a group the competition also is wooing. Canz said only 65 percent of its customers are men.
"It's not necessarily salads for women," Neisser said. "It's finding what a 24-year-old or 25[-year-old] would consider really fun and a cool place for them to go."
Hooters didn't want to talk on camera, but in a statement to ABC News said: "The restaurant model that others have dubbed 'breastaurants' is a moniker too shallow to define Hooters."
Shallow or not, Hooters' challengers have no qualms about embracing the term "breastaurant."
But whether it's Canz, Kilts or Peaks, all say without mouth-watering plates of food, the appetizing scenes wouldn't matter.
"We have a corporate chef that trains all of the trainers very well and we take a lot of pride in the quality of our food that we put out," Patel said.
Not surprisingly, restaurant experts aren't biting.
"It's not about the wings, it's about the breasts," said Allen Salkin, the author of an upcoming book on the history of the Food Network. "No place can serve sludge. But people aren't going there for the wings no matter how good they are. They are going to see the upper-mammalian carriage of young women."