With an announcement in 2015 that Hooters is opening up 30 outlets in Southeast Asia in six years, Hong Kong was one of the most excited cities to receive the news. At the helm of Hong's Kong's first branch of the iconic American bar is General Manager Mike Warde, no stranger to our fair city. Brought up in Hong Kong, Warde has lived here since the age of 17. Working his way up from the bottom at iconic Hong Kong establishments such as Joe Bananas, Dog House and Shamrocks, Warde got the call 18 months ago to help with opening Hooters in Asia. After successful launches in Thailand and China, he’s back in his hometown to open up the 15th Asian branch. The hoarding came down today to unveil this one-of-a-kind 'family' sports bar in Hong Kong, and Warde says we should bring our kids…
So Mike, for the uninitiated, what is the Hooters concept?
We're a fun-loving entertainment sports bar with great chicken wings. Our icon is our girls. We don’t just employ girls, we employ boys as well. I don’t expect the Hooter girls to be carrying around cans of beer, or cases of beer – this is boys' business.
There are Hooter boys?
There’re a lot of Hooter Boys. There are Hooter Boy Teams. They’re security for the bar, bar supervisors, there are barmen behind the bar too. The concept is that the Hooter girls serve the customers, come and chat with you and give you all the information you need and then, there’s the Hooters dance. Every 45 minutes they do a choreographed dance, and there are 12 in total. So all day, every day, every 45 minutes, they come together and dance!
Everybody, as in the girls and the boys?
Just the girls dance. Some of the guys are really not good dancers.
Is there any difference in the approach to the concept in Asia as opposed to the United States?
There isn’t too much of a difference. We have 10 dishes, five of which are tailored to the local destination. So, for people from the States who have a Chinese wife, if she doesn’t like what’s on the menu, there are still five local dishes for her to choose from.
What’s the hiring process of the Hooter girls? Have you encountered any obstacles?
[A Hooters girl] must be fun, energetic, young, customer service-oriented, physically fit and strong. We provide free gym membership to our employees and a Hooters training programme that runs three times a week. Hiring is never easy, and I’ve worked here for a long time. Because mostly Hooters is providing our girls with an opportunity, it’s not just a restaurant. [After their time with us] they won’t just say to themselves ‘Okay, I can go next door and work there now’. It’s more of a career mix, they have opportunities of going to Vegas to enter the Miss Hooters Pageant, where three of our girls went this year.
What sort of customer service can Hongkongers expect from Hooters?
Hooters girls are the entertainment and the front of house. You can even bring the kids and we’ll hold on to them, so the dad can watch sports and the girls will look after the kid.
So Hooters girls are babysitters as well?
Kind of. In the sense that the customers are the girls’ priority and if the customer’s priority is their kid then it’s the girls’, too. Hooters a fun-loving place and the girls are there to serve the customers. If they’re not going above and beyond, they’re not going that extra mile, they’re just doing the same as everybody else. We can’t be the same as everybody else.
It sounds like the girls are supposed to do a lot. Are you afraid anyone would take advantage of that?
We are not exploiting our girls at all. We give our girls an opportunity to be confident, we teach them to become a stronger and more positive person. To better their careers and their lives. They need confidence and educating and we do that through team-building. When we all do it together, they love doing it. We put them on social media, advertisements and we all go to sponsored events. Hooters sponsors different rugby teams, football teams and other events raising money for charities – each event gives them more and more confidence. At the end of the day, our girls become stronger people.