I was 23, jobless and full of Sheetz milkshakes when I made my way past the highway signs promising my destination.
Just a week earlier, I had decided that the stuffy, crowded Washington, DC area was not for me, packed all my belongings into my small SUV, and set my sights on Tennessee. The only premise for my decision to move there was that the people had been exceptionally friendly when I had passed through the year before on my way from Arizona. It was a life-trend I had been participating in since I turned 18 -- to pack and move where the wind blew me, whenever it blew.
It was in this fashion that I cruised into Rocky Top -- hair in a messy bun, no bra under my worn camisole, a pair of brightly patterned stretch pants hanging from my hips, and a car full of clothes, pictures and yellowed books with dog-eared pages. Prescriptions, paperwork and car information littered the front seat -- I tried to keep my life organized, but it's nearly impossible when you uproot yourself every nine months for the next great adventure.
Taking notice of my growing hunger, I searched the highway exit signs. Suddenly and without warning, a bright orange sign with a wide-eyed owl promised my favorite food and a cold beer! "HOOTERS" the sign read, "Next exit." I dashed three lanes to the right, risking life and limb for some buffalo wings and a Bud Light.
Just kidding, I was already in the slow lane because I drive like a grandma -- I put on my blinker and carefully merged into the exit lane. When I got there, it looked like my utopia. They promised and delivered on the tacky, with brightly colored signs and an exposed ceiling with pipes laden in thick orange paint. Girls sashayed around the restaurant in what appeared to be relative comfort -- tight cotton tank tops stretched across their chests, satiny orange spandex shorts that rode up their backsides with a thick layer of nylons to keep everything tucked away and in order.
On their feet they wore thick, white socks scrunched ’80s style and padded white non-slip sneakers. Their hair bounced along with their boobies and they smiled when they brought my buffalo wings. When they weren’t busy bouncing, they perched over tables, giggling and talking, or gathered in clumps, hula hooping and cursing and laughing with one another.
It was there, a few beers deep thanks to the generosity of some balding, middle aged men across the bar, and stuffed with chicken wings, that I made the next great proclamation for my Great Adventure of Life. I would become a Hooters Girl.
I spent the next two days settling into a room I had found off Craigslist and procured a mattress and box spring with the help of a young guy I found in the labor section of the site. He was good looking, had a thick southern drawl, and we would make out at a later date, but for now I paid him twenty bucks to haul me and my new mattress home from the mattress depot in his pick-up truck.
I practiced curling my hair and bouncing my boobs in the mirror -- skills I believed would be highly effective for my future career as a Hooters Girl. Finally, I applied, and a Hooters down the road in a less glamorous part of town that was desperately hiring took me up. I was in! Here is what I learned while working as a Hooters Girl.
Those uniforms are extremely unflattering. Seriously. They add at least fifteen pounds and squeeze you in the worst of areas (read: muffin top). Made of spandex and cotton, they were extremely comfortable and provided lots of agility for activities, but looking your best? They were not made for that.
All of my coworkers were beautiful women, and for the curvier of us, these uniforms were a curse. The thick spandex waistband dug into your hips and you had two choices – sling ‘em low and deal with the muffin top or pull ‘em up high and make your hips and ass look like a big orange balloon.
The customers are the best and worst part of the job. It all depended on how they viewed you as a person. Most of the regulars were men, and some of them had a lot of money. It wasn’t unusual to receive a $100 tip on a Monday night after giving mediocre service to a couple of businessmen watching the football game.
There were the regulars who came in every night, and it was their policy to tip $10 or more an hour for every hour they sat at your table, which added up to around $50 by the end of the night. For most, there was the unspoken exchange of money for some conversation and attention.
This is where Hooters really veers off and differs from your regular restaurants. Coined “entertainers,” Hooter Girls are expected and encouraged to chat and hang around with customers, which can be truly awesome, and also horrifying depending on the customers you’re stuck with.
The other side of the coin is that Hooters is cheap eats, which attracts a lot of young hard-working families, blue collar workers, and some down-on-their-luck men angry at women and the world. These tables provide mediocre tips on their small bills and at best, keep us busy when it’s slow. At worst, the women are foaming at the mouth with anger and misplaced resentment toward their Hooter Girl (we’re sorry our boobs are in your husband’s face, there is an Applebee’s down the road), and the men are drunk and pervy, ordering their food and drinks while staring into the depths of your cleavage so deeply that you feel like they can spot the crumbs from the nachos you devoured earlier. Or they're slipping their arms around your waist, or in worse places.
We are not here for your approval or attention. Most, if not all of us, are here for the cheddar. As I mentioned earlier, there’s an opportunity at Hooters to make much more than at your average restaurant, all in a laid-back and fun environment.
In the time I worked at Hooters, all of the girls I worked with were either in school, raising families, helping out their relatives or just trying to make ends meet. Of the fifty or so women I worked with, I could count on one hand the girls who were trying to make some type of career out of modeling, entertainment, or anything Hooters-related.
That’s right, most of us were not at Hooters to practice walking around in barely there ’80s gym uniforms and smiling. There were plenty of customers, typically men, who treated us as though we were pathetic, thirsty females starved for male attention. Most of us, after a long night at the Owl House, were happy to slip on sweats and baggy T-shirts and drink and stuff our face with nachos, unnoticed by the male population. Most of us had strict personal policies against dating men who frequented Hooters.
And to the women who come into Hooters with their boyfriend or husbands: We don’t want him, I swear. Seriously, if you weren’t comfortable with coming to Hooters in the first place, why are you here? I have to imagine that these women who treat us so poorly do it out of resentment, jealousy and anger.
I get it -- you don’t want to watch your boyfriend order his burger into a pair of double Ds that aren’t yours, in a restaurant swarming with more butt-wedgies and tits than an MTV Spring Break, while you sit there fully clothed. That’s understandable. So why not go somewhere else? I don’t get any more pleasure out of your boyfriend ogling me than you do, and it wasn’t my idea for you to come here tonight. If you’re uncomfortable, don’t pretend to be fine just to appease your boyfriend or be the “cool girlfriend” (ew). Tell him you don’t like going to Hooters with him, and if he protests, get a new boyfriend. Trust that one of us won’t be snatching him up in the meantime.
You’re most likely not going to get a date at Hooters. At the end of the night, most of us are throwing out handfuls of wadded up Post-its and napkins with phone numbers on them. I’ve been a waitress for 6 years in other restaurants and I’ve never seen anything like it.
This goes back to the weird idea so many men have that we work at Hooters for the attention. It’s a really twisted logic, considering many men who come to Hooters are essentially paying for female attention. I won’t discount those who genuinely love the wings, cold beer and fried pickles, but most men would be lying if they said they weren’t here for the scenery.
The other girls are truly the best perk of the job. It’s like being in a sorority where every hug is really squishy and delightful. I made lifelong friends working at Hooters that I never would have met anywhere else. We were a working class sorority: down to earth, fun-loving and crazy. Probably because there weren’t a lot of men working in the restaurant, the level of drama was surprisingly low. We bickered about shift swaps and cigarette breaks, but at the end of the night, we all counted tips and drank beers and shared stories.
When extenuating circumstances caused me to return to the stifling snottiness of the DC area and leave my orange shorts behind, a piece of me died inside. I have since been employed somewhere I am required to wear pants, I can't curse or hula hoop, and my co-workers aren't a slew of beautiful women. And while some may call this "moving up in the world," I think about Hooters and realize I'll never have that much fun at work again.