NOW has bone to pick with Hooters at Harborplace Use of scantily clad help found offensive

November 03, 1990|By Holly Selby

Going to Hooters of Harborplace for the chicken wings is like subscribing to Playboy magazine for the articles.

Both the wings and the articles are meaty -- and both are enticingly packaged.

Hooters -- part of an Atlanta-based restaurant chain that features beer, chicken wings and scantily clad waitresses -- opened in Baltimore two weeks ago and has drawn crowds and controversy ever since.

The Baltimore chapter of the National Organization for Women has charged that Hooters is unsuitable for its harbor location and practices sexual discrimination by hiring only women as food servers.

"We consider it discriminatory and sexist to use women in scanty clothing to sell food," said Fran Everett, president of the Baltimore chapter of NOW. "One of the reasons we have chosen to object to Hooters is because of the location -- we consider it an insult to the women of Baltimore."

This afternoon NOW members will be at Harborplace collecting signatures for a petition exhorting city officials to evict the restaurant.

In addition, Baltimore City Council President Mary Pat Clarke has called upon the management "to bring this establishment into the spirit of Harborplace."

Ms. Clarke, who hasn't been in the restaurant because "there was a long line of men waiting to get in," suggested Hooters order new uniforms and change their hiring practices.

And Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has requested that his staff look into the NOW objections, his spokesman, Clinton R. Coleman, said. "He doesn't plan to go to Hooters, and from what he's heard, some of their employment practices are of deep concern . . . It doesn't appear to be part of what we have come to love about Harborplace, its family environment," Mr. Coleman said.

However, Harborplace management feels Hooters fits in just fine. "Harborplace is about offering a large variety of things, and not everybody likes everything," said Kate Delano, public relations director for Harborplace and the Gallery. Nonetheless, she added, "Any time a City Council member or the mayor's office calls, we consider it seriously."

Bruce Attinger, president of Hooters of America of Atlanta, said he was surprised by the objections. "We supply a work environment that we think generates a good atmosphere and good income," he said. "We refer to ourselves as a family restaurant."

Hooters is a well-lighted sports bar that offers "nearly world-famous chicken wings," sandwiches and burgers. The waitresses wear orange running shorts and T-shirts tied into midriff tops, often with scooped-out necklines.

It is also one of the fastest-growing restaurant chains in the country and has expanded to 45 restaurants in seven years, according to Ed Droste, one of the six original partners.

The name Hooters refers to the company mascot -- an owl, said Mr. Droste. However, the word hooter also is a slang term for breast, said Laura Newman, who is a NOW member.

"It's a take-off," Mr. Droste said. "There was a comedian, Steve Martin, who referred to hooters as an anatomical part, but that's just a sidebar. It's nowhere near the whole concept [of the restaurant]."

In the restaurant logo, the Os in the word Hooters are made to look like owl's eyes. But when the owl is missing from the logo -- as on the neon signs at the restaurant front -- the Os look like breasts.

The Hooter concept is neither discriminatory nor sexist, but is one of laid-back comfort, "cute, vivacious girls, simple menu and oldies jukebox music," Mr. Droste said.

"The reason we don't hire men [as waiters] is that the girls play a very significant role. From the very inception, seven years ago, we sort of put them on a pedestal," he said. "It's a bona fide occupational qualification."

Some customers say they don't understand the fuss. On a recent evening, Hooters was packed with suited men munching spicy chicken wings and requesting the waitresses to demonstrate the hula hoop.

"I think it's ridiculous. They protest anything that's a little bit sexually stimulating. Baltimore is so conservative," said Vince Iatesta of Annapolis, who was visiting Hooters for the first time.

"I have a right to be here, and these girls have a right to work here, so protest all you want," said another man who declined to give his name.

There was a line at the door, but only four customers were women.

"I hardly see another woman here," said Fran Wilson, a Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. employee who had heard about the NOW objections. "The concept doesn't offend me, but the men are acting like children."

The waitresses, some of whom reported having made $100 in lunchtime tips, said they see nothing objectionable in either the uniforms or slogans. "My hair covers the slogan, and we're not those kinds of girls anyway," says Staci Quartin, a 21-year-old senior at Towson State University.

"I guess I was a little nervous about what my father would say, but he went to the one in Atlanta and he thought it was cute." She was unaware of the multiple meanings of the word hooters, she said.

And the uniform, which may look brief in more northern climes, is standard attire for anyone living in Florida, pointed out 20-year-old Becky Bulgar, who came from Atlanta to train the other waitresses. "When the restaurant started, these shorts were in style, that's how everybody wore them," she said. "You're talking about exploitation? We're making money off the company, too."

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