Before I begin I would like to ask our women readers to please excuse themselves. For this one column, we men need a few moments to ourselves.
Thank you, thank you very much.
Okay guys: By now you have heard that the new Hooters has indeed opened for business at Mercer Mall, across from Joe Canal’s Liquors and in the space where the old Palace of Asia Indian restaurant used to be.
If you hung out for more than an hour at any bar in town this past summer, you probably heard talk about Hooters. First it was just a rumor — who would believe that the staid old Mercer Mall, home of K-Mart, would ever allow a Hooters? Then it was a reality, subject of more rumors: Don’t expect to meet any hometown women in that bevy of beauteous Hooters waitresses — they only hired from out-of-town — women from across the country whose physical attributes were already confirmed by Hooters management. In other words, there isn’t enough silicone in central New Jersey to endow a decent Hooters staff.
And then there was the rip-off factor: The Hooters girls are it, one guy told me. They serve you a drink, they charge you double, and that’s all there is to it. You go once, but not twice.
For whatever reason, when I walked into the new Hooters at the Mercer Mall the other day, I was reminded of a scene from a cable television documentary on topless dancers. One of the dancers was interviewed as she sat smoking a cigarette and drinking a soda at her kitchen table. As she described it, her job — half exotic dancing and half getting the customers to dig deeper and deeper into their wallets — was about as exciting as selling lumber at Home Depot. But when asked if she ever got sexually involved with any of the clientele, she lit up: "We have a saying in our business," she replied. "All of our customers get f — — d. But none of them ever get l — d."
So am I about to be had? That feeling is in the near reaches of my mind as I visit Hooters the other evening. Patting my wallet once or twice, I make my way past the "greeters" (young women dressed like gym attendants in shorts and polo shirts) at the front door and make my way to the bar. A large draft beer at $2.95 and a heart-healthy pasta salad with fresh tomato at $7.99 hardly feels like a rip-off.
Nursing the drink, I let my eyes make the casual — very casual — look around: Large screen televisions on every wall, tuned to professional football at the moment but likely to display NASCAR racing whenever it comes on; loud classic rock blaring from the speakers; surprisingly few smokers and a surprisingly efficient ventilation system; large platters of chicken wings and rolls of paper towels on the tables; and a sports bar kind of clientele, with a few wives and girlfriends and even a few kids here and there.
Finally, I let my eyes home in on the wait staff. Dressed in their tank top shirts, short shorts, and running shoes with bobby sox, most are in their 20s, all are very trim, and only a few appear to have surgical enhancements. There’s more variety in shapes and sizes than there is in the beverage menu — beer and wine only, no liquor.
Walking that thin line between being interested and being interested, I chat up the waitresses a little. "Is it true," I ask one, "that you’re not allowed to date any of the customers?"
Not exactly, she replies. "What we do on our own personal time is our business."
I ask another waitress about the rumor that all the Hooters girls have been brought in from out of town. In the very beginning that might have been true, so that all the staff would have the benefit of the Hooters training program (which I know from an Internet search includes coaching on how to present menu items and how to treat wives and girlfriends so they might actually have a decent time). But now some true "girls next door" are on the staff. One of waitresses is from Hamilton, worked at a law firm and at a health club, and now is attending a massage therapy school.
The Hooters girls are there to sell, but in a low-key way. A nearly empty beer glass quickly brings an offer of a fresh one. One waitress distributes free raffle tickets, for a drawing to be held an hour or so (and another beer or two) later. Another waitress sells Hooters T-shirts: $16 and it would be signed by every Hooters girl on the floor. Later I hear a different waitress offer a T-shirt for $12.99 to a couple at the next table. Is this a rip-off or a mistake? I suspect it’s the latter.
As I present my credit card my smiling waitress tells me how much fun it was talking to me. "I hope you’ll come back some time when it’s not so busy and I can talk more," she says. Could it be that this 20-something young woman truly finds a 55-year-old guy interesting, or is this something out of the Hooters training manual? I know the answer, of course, but I double the tip just the same.
No, I will not get l — d at Hooters. But I won’t get f — — d either.