The 'breastaurant' boom: Why Hooters knockoffs are thriving

The Week's Editorial Staff

The Great Recession and slow recovery have been hard on restaurants... unless they serve up a hearty portion of cleavage with their food

The beleaguered restaurant industry can claim at least a few bright spots: Namely, eateries sporting handles like Twin Peaks, Tilted Kilt, and Mugs N Jugs. The top three "breastaurants" after Hooters — the 1980s pioneer of scantily clad waitressing that now struggles along with other middlebrow chains — each grew at least 30 percent last year, according to industry tracking firm Technomic. The proprietors of these restaurants, which serve up both pub fare and cleavage, say that lust alone doesn't explain their gravity-defying balance sheets. So what does account for the recent boom in breastaurants? Here, four theories: 

1. First-rate service is the key
In a tough economy, the newer breastaurants say they're winning customers with a focus on service. Tilted Kilt CEO Ron Lynch says his waitresses go out of their way to make diners feel at home, employing a tactic dubbed "touchology," or touching the table to make diners feel welcome. Twin Peaks waitress Nicole Bass agrees: "The boobs do come into part of it, but a lot of it has to do with the girls and their attitude," she tells Esquire. "We just sit there, and talk to all of our tables, and make sure they're all having a good time."

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2. The food is surprisingly good
Unlike Hooters, the new crop of breastaurants serve more than just wings and burgers. Tilted Kilt's "signature dish, Irish Nachos" — nachos with potato chips instead of tortilla chips — "actually sounds pretty good," says Doug Barry at Jezebel. In any case, something has to explain why the clientele isn't just "strange men who take a table in the corner" and leer. Mugs N Jugs, for example, says about 40 percent of its customers are families.

3. Diners like entertainment with their food
"Why bother dining out if you're not going to have a unique experience?" says Maressa Brown at The Stir. Most restaurants have some sort of "schtick to get people in the door," and for breastaurants, "waitresses showing a little skin and serving regular ol' pub food in a fun, kitschy way just happens to be theirs." That's why, as "a longtime self-described feminist," I'm all for these "almost unavoidable, non-threatening" signs of the time.

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4. Come on — it's the breasts
Lots of restaurants have schticks, but places like Twin Peaks, Tilted Kilt, and Mugs N Jugs have two big things that set them apart, says MSN Now: Breasts and profits. That explains why "non-sexualized eateries" like Applebee's struggle while these upstart breastaurants are "swelling at a hormonally imbalanced rate." As Twin Peaks owner Randy DeWitt says: "We hire only spectacular talent. They have to fit into that costume."

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