When the first Hooters location opened in Clearwater, Fla., in 1983, few could ever have predicted that more than two decades later this down-home, beer-and-wing joint with its scantily clad, well-endowed servers would grow to become a symbol of America, let alone an international sensation.
And now, with the opening of its 435th branch in Beijing, Hooters is now being touted as a barometer for globalization.
With the 2008 Summer Olympic Games just 11 months away, Beijing has set about sprucing itself up for the surge of sports fans, media and tourists — refurbishing its airport, updating security systems and launching foreigner-friendly restaurants.
Once known for its ancient Forbidden City, historic Tiananmen Square and, of course, the awe-inspiring Great Wall, today's Beijing is rapidly feeling the effects of global commerce.
Although Hooters Beijing is the Alabama-based restaurant's fourth branch in China, this opening is making waves. It was one thing when the first Hooters opened in the more cosmopolitan Shanghai in 2004, but in conservative Beijing, the "Hooters Makes You Happy" mentality feels a little more out of place.
Regardless of its exotic location, walking in to Hooters Beijing feels exactly like walking into any other Hooters location. With the same wooden tables, orange hot pants on the waitresses and that same smell of fried wings wafting through the air, Hooters Beijing could easily be found in America's heartland.
While this chain may seem routine here in the United States, the Hooters phenomenon for most Chinese is a new and exciting import from the West.
"I like Hooters," said one waitress in an interview with ABC News. "It's very happy. It is enthusiastic and energetic. I love Hooters."
Lost in Translation: Owls Restaurant?
Like with any cross-cultural trend, some things get lost in translation, including the name's reference to the female anatomy.
In Beijing, "Hooters" simply means "owl," but that doesn't mean the point goes overlooked.
The opening of Hooters Beijing follows a long line of American food chains into the Chinese market, such as McDonald's and the Hard Rock Cafe. However, the introduction of this chain brings a relatively new cultural idea — the idea that sex sells.
When one Hooters patron was asked whether he preferred the food or the waitstaff, he answered, "The girls better than the food."
Still, the Hooters' franchise is not banking solely on new clientele for the success of its Beijing store. With the Olympics just around the corner, Hooters executives are also hoping to attract foreigners visiting this ancient city who may miss a taste of home.
As with everything in China these days, the restaurant's potential for growth and success is massive. With nearly 18 million people in Beijing alone, Hooters hopes that, with any luck, about half the population may soon be telling their wives and girlfriends, "I swear, honey, I just go for the wings."