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Entertainment

September 12, 2012

As sales drop, Hooters tries to catch women's eyes, too

(Continued)

ATLANTA —

Hooters, which is facing increasing competition from other so-called "breastaurants," including Titled Kilt and Twin Peaks, is vying for customers as U.S. consumer confidence declines and prices for raw ingredients rise. Confidence among Americans fell in August by the most in 10 months as households grew more pessimistic about the economic outlook.

The first Hooters opened in Clearwater, Fla., in 1983, a lark by six businessmen who didn't take the beach bar too seriously. The name is from a Steve Martin comedy skit and the Christmas lights found in most locations became the norm after the owners were too lazy to take them down after the holidays. A group of Atlanta investors added capital and the chain has since grown to 430 restaurants in 44 states and 28 countries.

Hooters of America, the franchiser that hired Marks, operates the majority of stores and is controlled by a group of investors, including private-equity fund Chanticleer Holdings. Marks, a former Coca-Cola bottling executive, has spent most of his 10 months with Hooters improving the menu.

Hooters now touts fresh, not frozen, wings and hamburger patties. The chain doubled its salads to six, replacing iceberg lettuce with mixed greens and adding shrimp, spinach and fresh herbs to give women and health-conscious men more choices. In company-owned locations, burgers now come with fries, and wings are served with blue cheese after research revealed customers felt "nickeled and dimed" buying them separately, Marks said.

The changes come as Hooters scored below Chili's Grill & Bar, owned by Brinker International, and DineEquity's Applebee's for value, food quality and menu variety, according to an August consumer report from Nation's Restaurant News and consultant WD Partners.

There are signs of traction, said Jessi Isola, marketing director at Oceanside, Calif.-based Hoot Winc LLC, a Hooters franchisee with stores in California, Washington and Oregon. More women are showing up at the company's 18 West Coast locations, she said.

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