A former Hooters manager ran a UK branch for 21 years. Some people traveled hundreds of miles for the same authentic experience that US customers enjoyed.
- Mark James ran the only
Hootersrestaurant in the UK for two decades.
- He told Insider that people traveled for hours to visit the branch in the city of Nottingham.
For more than two decades, Mark James ran the only Hooters restaurant in the UK.
The branch, which is based in the city of Nottingham, attracted customers from far and wide, James told Insider. On a regular afternoon, he said people would drive up from London to Nottingham — which is roughly a three-hour drive — to dine at the American-style chain.
In August, Insider's Mary's Meisenzahl reported that Hooters' loyal customer base was helping to drive post-lockdown sales.
James said that keeping the chain's core customer base happy led to a certain level of pressure. "We had to make sure it was run as a Hooters as it would be run in the United States," he said.
People were traveling for what the Hooters brand seeks to represent, according to James, and he needed to ensure the restaurant delivered on that. "You've got a strong style of American service. You've got the Hooters girl, which is that kind of girl next door cheerleader type, and we're serving 95% American dishes."
In terms of cuisine, the chain was big on the likes of chicken wings, boneless chicken, and ribs, James said.
"It was a real aggressive attack on the UK, which was a challenge because when no one's ever seen it before. You've got to make sure you're delivering great food and service in a Hooters, which is recognized worldwide," he added.
The image of the Hooters girl was a key component of the brand that James said he needed to execute. This entails girls "with a smile on their face, leaving any kind of problems they're having at home," he said.
Last month, Hooters came under fire from employees over their new revealing uniforms. Employees took to TikTok to push back against shorts so short they were described as "underwear." The company later said in an email to Insider's Bethany Biron that waitresses could opt for either traditional uniforms or the new ones.
James' Hooters journey began when he was approached by a franchise group from Louisville, Kentucky, in 2000, which was looking to bring the Hooters concept to the UK. "I looked at the concept and I questioned it because I was unaware of it. I had never been to see a Hooters in the US," he said.
"I thought this is going to be a massive challenge to make a Hooters restaurant work in the UK," James added. But after six weeks of debate, he took the job.
Despite the challenges, he said it was a very exciting experience to take on such a massive brand like Hooters, which opened its first US branch in 1983.
This year, James left the position to set up his own restaurant, and took the lessons he learned from running Hooters with him.
There are many key components to running a successful hospitality business, he said: "From the style of service to the speed of service, to the environment that [customers] are eating and drinking in."
Elements such as the building's temperature and the volume of the music are also crucial to ensuring customer satisfaction. "You're creating that small world for the customer," James said.
James wanted more control over his future "without the parameters of being involved in franchise restaurant groups, such as Hooters," which is ultimately what fueled his move away from the brand.
Even though his new restaurant is smaller than Hooters, he added that he hopes it will be one of many.
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