Nottingham: a great Anglo-Saxon settlement. A manufacturing powerhouse, an important historical site. Also, the proud owner of the only Hooters in the UK.

I was quite confused when my friends suggested Hooters for lunch on the second day of their visit. I couldn’t imagine why any self-respecting, educated woman would want to eat at a place where the bodies of women are part of the commercial experience. But she told me the food was amazing, so I went.

And let me tell you, if you’re a fan of cheesy entrees and steak then this is the bar-restaurant for you. The food, the wood panelling, the brainwashing slogans – the faint smell of pine in the air – it was all distinctly American. Yet the atmosphere is difficult to analyse. The furniture is giving you this sense of nostalgic, log-cabin reality, but the décor also includes pictures from the venue’s beauty pageants. There is a weird mix of blokey-blokes watching the footie and having stag dos, whilst a few metres away families are enjoying a meal out with their newborn and their little girls. So, upon walking in and being seated, I didn’t really know what to think of the place.

“Were we just being ironic and trendy, or was I marinating in the patriarchal atmosphere?”

I couldn’t work out if it was right to go to a place like this to enjoy a meal with my friends. I felt sort of guilty and nervous for being there – were we just being ironic and trendy, or was I marinating in the patriarchal atmosphere?

The actual waitresses, who are the entire focus of this controversy, deserve more attention in this argument. However, I shouldn’t paint them as a commodity or a source of shame – these are real people. And more than that, they were nice people. Our server seemed genuinely friendly; we got good service and not just minimal, empty chatter. As my friend reminded me, these people wanted to work there – a decision I think it is very important to respect, even if the institution itself is grounded in more malevolent principles.

The staff at Hooters are just like any other waiting staff – hard working individuals, but what makes them unique is that their job is highly competitive. I’ve been told that in America being a ‘Hooter’s girl’ is highly coveted by some women – the hard work put into getting a job like this should not be dismissed.

And of course, the place was packed. We shouldn’t underestimate its popularity. The food was an experience in itself, although I wouldn’t recommend Hooters to a vegetarian. I’m still unsure what to make of the enterprise and the atmosphere but there is definitely no reason to belittle the people who work there – they don’t decide who the customers are.

Jo Ralphs

Featured image by Flippunkrocker license here

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