Friday, September 18, 2009
Oh, Hooters. The concept is pretty solid, use something guys love to sell them other things that they love. Hot girls in tight outfits and nice cleavage bringing you beer and wings while you watch sports.
This concept was red hot in the late 80's/early 90's. The news would often have a piece on how the community disapproves of the Hooter girls and woman's groups cried misogynist, saying the women were being objectified. What we see now is a place trying to cling to it's former glory while slipping in many key areas that leave the chain vulnerable to food safety, quality, and service issues. Hooters can make an A, but prefers to rest on it's laurels.
First off, let's get the uniforms out of the way. I hear an argument for the uniform, citing it's tackiness as a part of the concept. If tacky is what you aim for, why not hire sloppy, dejected Wal-Mart patrons and put them in high heels? No, you put them in the uniform because it was pretty hot and racy at the time and it turned heads and garnered press coverage. The trouble now is that our culture has caught up with Hooters in terms of sleaze. High school sophomores now wear more offensive outfits during the summer than what you see in Hooters. The Hooters uniform was a solid 8 or 9 on the skank meter, but through the passage of time, that same outfit is a 4 at best.
My solution goes in one of a couple different ways. First is to stop trying to be racy. Listen Hooters, men can now get porn instantly on their computer or text to their phones. We are no longer seeing anything special and we're desensitized to it. So one solution would be wearing Hooters t-shirts or polos and nice shorts. This would not only reduce the obvious fire hazard, but it will make the waitresses, 'the girls next door' you claim they are. The other solution would be to play to the sports theme. Make Hooters jerseys for football basketball, baseball, and hockey. Hell, you could even do a UFC style design. Make the color scheme highly customizable to the area. In Columbus, the 'OO' in Hooters could be OSU themed block O's and the colors could be scarlet and gray. In Cincinnati, the colors could be red/black.
OK, enough of the Project Runway crap.
Operations in the back of the house leave much to be desired. We have issues that make the food less appealing, less tasty, and less safe.
The food prep and plating is done in plain sight of the bar. I have no problem with this, but you really need your A-game to avoid looking dirty. That goes for both the employees and the actual kitchen. I see employees frequently wear their own personal hats that are cocked to the side, pants sagging, and a non work shirt. It isn't cool, and you can give a laid back vibe through chatter with the bar patrons without looking like total douche-bags.
The kitchen is rarely clean. Flour, sauce, shortening, and crumbs make their way all over the prep surfaces. Cross contamination is commonplace in any Hooters I have ever visited and sat at the bar. One time, I was in the Hooters on Dublin-Granville Rd in Columbus and saw a guy carrying raw wings in a tub. The cook lifted the tub to shoulder height and carried it over the prep table as juices from the wings dripped over people's plates. I have seen cooks wearing vinyl food prep gloves, but sweating to the point that the sweat from their arm ran down to the elbow or wrist and dripped onto the prep table. I've seen cooks working with just one glove because the other one had flour on it and they didn't stop and wash their hands. Then, I have seen flagrant cross contamination when people with floured arms and gloved hands takes off their gloves and handles plates of food with their sweaty hands and the arms were still full of flour. I've seen the cook with the sag in his pants stop, pull up his pants, text on his phone, and continue plating someone's food without ever taking off his gloves and washing his hands. I've also seen managers helping out, but without proper hair restraints which, by this point in the story, seems kinda unimportant.
It isn't just the way in which the employees interact with the food that causes food safety issues, but how the food is situated and prepped. The sauces that Hooters uses is poured into stainless steel round inset pans, ladled into mixing bowls with the chicken/shrimp, tossed together, then poured out onto the plate. The sauces are not refrigerated while being used, which isn't a big deal in and of itself because the sauce has a high enough acidity and low enough free water to keep out most micro organisms. The problem is the sauce that languishes in the mixing bowl with the breading from the wings, juices from the meat, and oil from the fryer. This is a potential breeding ground for a massive amount of M.O. All it takes is one under cooked shrimp or errant droplet of sweat and the bacteria will spread like wildfire.
The toppings and pickles used are not refrigerated either. Sandwich toppings are stored in pans, that are set in ice baths. This is ok for short periods, but is far from acceptable as a means to control the temperature. First off, the ice melts because it's 88 degrees in that kitchen area. Second, the ice water only cools the submerged part of the pan, and not very well. Many times I see plastic pans used for the lettuce/onions/tomatoes. Plastic is not a good conductor of heat, therefore not as much cold gets to the product.
Then there are the quality issues...
The food isn't that bad, but the cooks aren't doing it any favors. Wings routinely sit in the fry basket, above the fryer for several minutes, or they'll do the move where they re-fry it for 10 seconds to heat it up... just long enough for the shortening to soak through the breading. The other extreme is when they don't give the wings any time to drain off excess shortening and it gets tossed with, and emulsified into, the sauce. When the wings are sauced, they have the remains of whatever was tossed before, as we already discussed. When you get your wings, you have all of these tag along crumbs going for the ride. It makes the food seems heavy and oily. Also, stop acting like it's a big deal to not get fixins, beans or a pickle on my sandwich plate. The juice from the pickle soaks into the bun and it's all a waste anyway, all because the hooter girl didn't assert herself and makes sure the food is as ordered before bringing it over.
The service isn't great, but it's slightly better than the sanitation. Servers at Hooters are encouraged to entertain and mingle which my brain hears and converts to flirting. It's great if you are the one getting all the attention, but chances are, you're not. The people they are hanging out with are regulars that they probably give free fries to or refill a beer without charging. Meanwhile, new customers get to sit and wait till the girls are done before they get to order. This can lead to long waits to just order a drink. Plus, the girl just wasted all her spunk and mojo on the 48 yr old construction foreman that reminds her of daddy that ran off when she was 10 and thus, is very short with you.
So what to do...? I already put in my 2 cents on the uniforms, but here is the rest.
Gloves are mandatory while handling raw food.
When going from raw to cooked/ready to eat, hands must be washed and dried thoroughly.
Hats. Hooters logo. Bill must be forward facing.
Any personnel working in the kitchen must wear a hat.
No sagging pants.
Hooters shirt only.
No cigarette behind the ear (yes, I really saw this).
Apron must be changed when soiled.
No cell use while handling food.
There must be some degree of separation between the breading area/fryline and where cooked food is plated.
The kitchen must be cleaned, swept, and mopped after every rush.
Coldwells for fixins and maybe a closed off system for the sauce(squeeze bottle, pump) is mandatory.
Bowls must be swapped out for clean every 15 minutes, no exceptions.
All fryers must have timers with buttons programmed to add 30 seconds of drain time after the initial product timer goes off.
Fryed product must either be used immediately or transported to a 160 degree holding cabinet and marked with the appropriate hold time
Hooter girls must check food before taking it to the customer. Incorrect orders that reach the customer are complimentary.
No boyfriend/girlfriends hanging out without purchasing food.
Hooter girls have 1 minute to greet a sitting customer and 2 minutes after that to bring their drink order.
At least 2 call backs are required after the entree is served.
All customers deserve an equal amount of service and attention.
Implementing these changes would at least make Hooters relevant and an A student.
If anyone else wants me to tell them how to run their business... I'll listen to any reasonable job offers.