For its entire existence, Atlanta-based Hooters has been mocked and reviled for its entire concept from its double-entendre name to its tight bright-orange short shorts to its efforts to be a “family-friendly” restaurant.
At the same time, the wings chain has grown consistently and become part of the American landscape. So much so that CBS is giving Hooters an entire primetime hour Sunday for its new reality show “Undercover Boss.”
Coby Brooks, the CEO, shaved off his goatee, donned glasses, journeyed to Texas last year and spent several days rotating jobs such as a cook, a busboy,a promotions guy and a store manager. He learned more about his operations from the ground up.
“I went undetected,” said Brooks, whose much brasher father built the company before relinquishing the CEO title to Coby in 2003.
Brooks said as a high school and college student, he did dishwashing and other jobs at a Myrtle Beach Hooters. But two decades later, it’s not any easier. “I forgot how hot it could get in the kitchen and how much running around you can do,” he said.
Overall, though, he said it was “a great experiment. I met a lot of great people. I’d do it again.”
He readily admitted that there was one job he wasn’t eligible to take on. “I’ll never be,” he said, with a chuckle, “a Hooters girl.”
CBS management is banking that this type of inspirational show will work well during a recession, when employees want to show their bosses how hard they’re working during tough times. The network placed the debut episode, featuring Waste Management, in the cushy post Super Bowl slot last Sunday, drawing a sizable 38.5 million viewers.
This is not a risk-free venture for the privately-held Hooters, which has more than 450 restaurants worldwide and about $1 billion in sales. Brooks said Hooters relinquished all rights to CBS in terms of how the show would be edited in return for 10 to 15 million sets of eyeballs the chain otherwise wouldn’t have gotten. In fact, Brooks won’t see the episode until Sunday, like everybody else.
But he’s confident Hooters will turn out just fine.
“CBS is a very reputable network,” Brooks said. “We didn’t have anything to hide so why not?”
Former Emory professor and current Yale business management expert Jeffrey Sonnenfeld said this is a good move for Hooters.
“This makes them seem more mainstream, harmless, and fits with their playful aura – at least playful to many men,” he wrote in an email today.
And Sonnenfeld thinks this show will give the masses some feeling of satisfaction: “There is a great curiosity about the workplace cultures of our friends and neighbors,” he wrote. “The humbling of bosses, after society’s vilification of CEOs, is perfect icing on the cake.”
This humbling of the boss also humanizes him or her. We get to see the CEO as a normal, anxious, dedicated, smart, and perhaps even fair-minded fellow worker. The unanticipated consequence then is a melting of the walls between hierarchical levels and the barriers between top management vs rank & file subcultures within the firm. Many CEOs at firms ranging from UPS, The Home Depot, Starbucks, Xerox, Tupperware, and Hyatt have long encouraged their top leaders to unceremoniously mingle with – and perhaps even join the often forgotten heroes of the front lines.
UPDATE: The New York Post reports that Hooters is being shopped around.
“Undercover Boss,” CBS, 9 p.m. Sundays