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'Undercover Boss': Deep inside Hooters

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You can bet I tuned in to Undercover Boss again this week, eager to see what paragon of upper-management would lower himself to mingle with the hoi polloi. It was the CEO of Hooters, Coby Brooks, who passed as “Scotty,” entering the neon nether-world of chicken wings, beer, and female employees in orange-and-white hot-pants and tight t-shirts.

In this “tough economy,” Brooks told us, he needs to “increase my customer base.” So in addition to what now looks like an Undercover Boss stand-by — footage of the boss doing grunt-work such as trash-hauling — he took to the streets of Texas with a couple of “Hooter girls” to pass out free samples of wings. The boss also took the temperature of the passersby, and acted abashed when a woman told him that she felt the company’s image is “degrading for women.” Brooks tells us he knew “that stigma is out there,” but that he’d “never seen it first-hand.” He resolves to improve the Hooters image “without really messing with the Hooter Girl uniform.”

Good luck with that, Mr. Brooks. Your “billion dollar a year business” (as we were informed) is nestled in the tight business-niche cleavage between a bar and a strip club. Your logo is a pun on breasts which you (wisely, for your continued existence) admit you’re not going to alter. I think you’d better resign yourself to the fact that a lot of people are going to be turned off by the image and concentrate on just getting more people who like beer/wings/breasts into your palaces of poultry and pulchritude. You’re never going to win over that “degrades women”-woman by informing her how much Hooters also “does for the community” in the way of donations and good works.

Undercover Boss knew it had really hit pay-dirt with one Hooters manager, Jimbo, who insulted his female employees and made them eat plates of beans without using their hands before letting them off their shifts. (Is there a name for that particular fetish?) Brooks becomes so upset at Jimbo’s behavior, he leaves the restaurant — aw, we never got to see who won! Oh, sorry; wrong attitude. I should have written: Brooks is so outraged at Jimbo’s management style that he leaves to call the local franchise owner to tell him Jimbo is doing “inappropriate” things.

In keeping with the series’ mandate, however, the good, hard-working people shown out-numbered the inappropriate, hard-working people. By the end of the hour, Brooks was doling out an all-expenses-paid vacation to one worthy Hooters manager and made a donation to a charity in the name of another diligent employee.

Undercover Boss certainly is irresistible, with its clever editing and its having-it-both-ways approach. And I found Brooks’ back-story — his problematic relationship with his late father, one of the founders of the chain — truly fascinating.

Next week: into the Slurpee-slick empire otherwise known as 7-Eleven stores. As a regular patron of my gleaming local one, I’d better see the night-manager who sells me my 16-ounce coffee receiving a big bonus check…

Did you watch the Hooter-ized Undercover Boss this week?