Workers reveal what it's really like to work at Hooters

Restaurants usually bring people together, whether they're friends catching up, family enjoying a night out, or coworkers bonding over their shared miseries. But Hooters is something different — it's super polarizing, and for every person who loves it and swears they only go there for the wings, there's another that says it's demeaning to women and super uncomfortable.

But what do the women who work there have to say about it?

It is mostly women who work there—as wait staff, at least—and those hiring practices are a strange thing. According to Business Insider, Hooters can get away with only hiring young women with a certain sort of appearance because they've legally argued — successfully — that their servers' bodies are a "bona fide occupational qualification" that's "necessary to the normal operation of the particular business." That essentially means Hooters Girls are hired more as entertainers than servers, which is why you'll notice all the girls there conform to a certain type.

While job experiences vary by location and individual circumstances, let's hear what some Hooters Girls have to say about what it was really like to work for this controversial restaurant.

The dress code

Courtney Dietz had worked for Hooters for almost four years when she was interviewed by Cosmopolitan for a look at what being a Hooters Girl was really about. As a trainer, she talked about the insane amount of work that went into a waitress's uniform — and it's not just about clothes.

Hooters requires their girls to be wearing "a full face of makeup," and to have their hair styled and down. Only nude or French nails are allowed, and there's no jewelry allowed save a ring on the ring finger.

Then, there's the uniform. There's a particular place for the nametag, those pouches aren't supposed to go below the shorts, and The Talko adds that white sneakers and scrunched socks are just as important as those orange shorts — which Dietz says are called "chicken wings" in Hooters' slang. In theory, they should be slightly less than skintight, and she adds that when they're worn properly, they should form what she calls "the smile" underneath. That's a lot of work, and Hooters is incredibly strict about making sure each one of their girls gets it 100 percent right before they get to work.

Pre-shift inspections can get uncomfortable

Before any waitress is allowed out on the floor, she has to go through a pre-shift inspection. According to what one retired Hooters Girl said on Reddit, it was the worst part of the job.

"Having to stand up with legs spread and arms straight out so our managers could inspect every detail of us (armpits for hair, hair for bobbypins, face for makeup application, tights for runs/holes, shorts for stains/tears, shoes for whiteness, tank tops for stains and to make sure bra straps weren't peeking through) was always torture."

Other former employees agreed, with one saying the process was made up of "really long, super invasive inspections" and another even volunteered her manager did a little more than look.

"We had one creepy manager who made us stand up on a chair and twirl… He also quite regularly smacked my a**."

And still another former waitress not only supported what others had said about the inspections — also calling them "invasive" — but said that if it was determined shirts wasn't tight enough and revealing enough, they would be told to go change into a smaller size before they started their shift.

Fake rings and handsy customers

Long-time Hooters Girl and trainer Courtney Dietz told Cosmopolitan that everyone is told to tell their manager if someone does or says something that makes them uncomfortable. She also added many of the single girls resort to buying fake engagement rings to show off if a customer starts to get interested in more than what's on the official menu. When it comes to touching, that's actually allowed in just one circumstance: during photos, which are usually group photos.

When the Arkansas Times spoke with a current Hooters Girl in 2013, she had a different take on how they deal with overly friendly customers. She commented, "They come in because they want attention and they know that's what we're going to give them, because they're paying for that — which, you know, kinda sounds like prostitution!"

She also added that while she hadn't had anyone grope her, she had known colleagues that were grabbed. In theory, she says they are supposed to tell their managers but some don't. "I've known girls who were too embarrassed. They just kind of laughed it off and kept waiting on the table because they thought the tip was more important."

Putting on an act

Go into Hooters, and you'll notice all the girls are happy, super-cheerful, and clearly having the best day of their life. If you suspect that's just an act you're absolutely right, and according to what one waitress told the Arkansas Times, it's not always easy.

"Being a Hooters Girl is constant acting. … You have to put on a facade. The week after my ex-boyfriend and I broke up, it was so hard for me to put on that uniform and that facade. … I just put myself in a different mental state. I took reality out of it and went into Hooters Girl mode."

Ashley Yonan worked at Hooters for two years, and mentioned the act that was expected of them when she talked to Cosmopolitan. "They presented it as a modeling job. … That's the role I took on when I put on the uniform. I became a character."

Cameras and recordings

Being a Hooters Girl is all about the performance, say many present and former waitresses. According to what Courtney Dietz told Cosmopolitan, a huge part of their job is having their picture taken… as long as customers ask. She says people "want to take photos at Hooters 24/7 — like, constantly." They do group photos, get up close and personal, but there are other things that happen, too.

In another interview with Cosmopolitan, an unnamed Hooters' Girl said the location she worked had a no-camera policy. While asking to take a photo was one thing, she added that they didn't have to agree to it and they could absolutely ask someone to stop if they saw them taking photos or filming the waitresses without their consent or knowledge. Just how often that happened wasn't clear, but they did say it was all a part of the job — part that went along with being "undressed with someone's eyes" and feeling "vulnerable and violated".

Dealing with objectification

In 2015, two psychologists from the University of Tennessee did a fascinating study on the psychological toll working in a "breastaurant" took (via The Conversation). They found about 75 percent of customers were men, and when they started interviewing waitresses who worked at Hooters (and other similar establishments), many reported regularly being exposed to lewd comments, sexual harassment, groping, having pictures taken of them, and even being stalked. (The Talko says one of the hard and fast rules is that Hooters Girls aren't allowed to wear their uniforms outside of work, including when they're walking to and from their car.) Not surprisingly, that often cause feelings of anxiety and anger.

One anonymous waitress who spoke to Cosmopolitan said figuring out how to deal with the objectification — and comments about their bodies — was one of the things she needed to come to terms with. After one particularly insulting exchange, she said, "… I reminded myself that I shouldn't feel bad about myself just because of what some jerk thinks." That's a hard way to earn a living.

There are a lot of complaints about management

While you might expect management is there to protect the waitresses against feeling uncomfortable or being harrassed, Hooters Girls on Reddit say that while some certainly do take a big-brother sort of role, that doesn't happen all the time.

One straightforward commenter said simply, "Management were sleezebags," and there are a lot of others who experienced that, too. Another current Hooters' Girl commented that they were between managers at the time because their last one had gotten fired for taking advantage of one of the girls, while another says her location got through six different managers in the year she was there. She says three were fired for inappropriate relations with the girls, and added that even after slicing her arm open on a broken bottle she wasn't allowed to leave.

Still another Redditor said the horribleness some managers inflicted on the girls wasn't just restricted to male managers, either. Sometimes, the female managers felt they needed to establish the pecking order in some odd ways. "Bosses were bullies," she says. "One dumped out my belongings on the office floor and made me pick them up in front of her (it was a … dominance thing.)"

Lose one: weight or your job

Customers might suspect that Hooters' Girls are held to almost impossibly high standards when it comes to their appearance, but according to the Redditor running "I'm a Hooters Girl AMA", corporate goes even farther than you expect.

"They take a picture of us when we get hired and we're told that if we vary too far from the picture (weight, hair color/length) they reserve the right to fire us," she says. She also adds there's "No specific weight requirement. However, Hooters only carries uniforms in sizes xxs, xs, and s."

In order to help them maintain their figure, they're given things like a free gym membership but sometimes, Hooters Girls have run afoul of management for their weight.

In 2010, CBS reported on the case of Cassandra Smith. The 20-year-old, 5-foot-8 Hooters Girl weighed 132 pounds and wore a size extra-small when she was called in for her yearly review. Even though she was outstanding in every other area, she was told she was being put on probation. She had 60 days to lose weight or she would be fired. Smith ended up pursuing legal action against the company, and NBC says the lawsuit was dismissed.

Meal discounts… but only on healthy food

Hooters isn't just concerned with how their employees look, they're also concerned about what they eat and what their personal habits are. According to the Orange County Register, Hooters' Girls go through days of training and testing before they're allowed to serve customers, and part of that training is given by fitness experts who school them on everything from exercise to proper nutrition.

And Hooters makes it very, very clear what choices they want their wait staff to make by how they set up their free meals and discounts. Free meals is one of the perks of working in a restaurant, and Hooters' Girls can get free food, say the girls who spoke to E! with some insider secrets. But, there's a "but."

The only time they get free meals is when they choose something off a list of approved, healthy options. If they want something that's not on the list, they'll be paying for part or all of their meal, depending on how unhealthy it is. There's a sliding scale that dictates the percentage they need to pay, and fries? Those are full price.

Those crop tops are hard to come by

The idea of running around in those tiny, tight-fitting outfits all day brings up a few important questions. First, isn't that uncomfortable? According to what one anonymous waitress told Cosmopolitan, they're not as uncomfortable as they look. She said they were soft, thick, and stretchy, and the mandatory tights were so heavy they helped relieve the aches and pains of being on your feet all day. OK, so what about those crop tops?

According to what one former Hooters Girl told E!, not everyone is authorized to wear those extra-short shirts. You need to be approved to add it to your wardrobe, and in order to get that approval you need to show that you have a super-flat stomach and no muffin top. Which, the anonymous waitress adds, "… is basically impossible in those shorts."

The girls are, however, allowed to trade shirts with each other — that's why many locations will have waitresses wearing shirts from all different locations. That means someone was visiting somewhere and they swapped uniform tops.

The pressure wears on you

Hooters Girls have some insanely high standards not just to achieve but to maintain, and one Redditor spoke candidly about the toll it took on her. She worked for Hooters for six years at three different locations, and says the uniform just didn't suit her. One location just stopped giving her hours and definitely never put her on shift when anyone from corporate was going to be in town, and she says it was no secret what they were doing.

"It's been a while since I worked there but it really did a number on my self esteem," she says. "I am finally starting to regain confidence in my appearance again."

And that's what studies from psychologists at the University of Tennessee found when they looked at the psychological toll waitressing at Hooters took. They surveyed (via The Conversation) hundreds of employees and former employees, and found that the constant monitoring of appearance and body increased levels of shame, depression, and dissatisfaction with their jobs and with themselves.

Once a Hooters Girl, always a Hooters Girl

Some jobs you can leave behind when you quit for the day — or forever — but a number of Hooters Girls past and present have spoken about how the stigma has followed them. One Redditor says not only were her friends and family not happy with her choice to work there, but that she had a ton of random people who "felt it was appropriate to start telling me how stupid Hooters Girls were."

When Cosmopolitan asked a former Hooters Girl what she wished she had known before she started working there, she said that while she found her coworkers to be "super-empowered," her relationship ended in part because her then-boyfriend was embarrassed by what she did. She was also a beauty pageant contestant while she waitressed, and found she needed to keep it secret because of the judgements that came. 

She said, "If you worked there once, you will always be judged for the simple fact that you were a Hooters Girl at one point. … once I hit 26, I realized I had to keep that information hidden forever because otherwise I'd feel judged and objectified by anyone I told."