Hooters began the rollout of its Hoots Wings fast-casual brand well before the pandemic, but a virtual version of the concept has been the brand’s saving grace throughout the past year.
As CEO of the Atlanta-based Hooters of America Restaurant Group, Sal Melilli told Nation’s Restaurant News, “When people think of Hooters, they think of Hooters girls and wings.” So, when customers could no longer visit the restaurants, the brand experience became exclusively about the wings.
Wings were a big-seller during the COVID-19 pandemic with brands known for wings, such as Wingstop Inc., seeing sales increases, and others, including casual-dining concepts, creating virtual wing brands to boost business.
Wings became a pandemic advantage for Hooters, which relied on big in-person experiences like the Super Bowl or March Madness for some of its best sales days
But there’s still the matter of the other part of Hooters, “Hooter’s girls.”
Melilli has been on a mission to focus the brand on its people since he was named CEO in 2020. Part of that was addressing the women who work at the chain. In the past few years, the “breastaurant” chain has weathered the #MeToo movement and a rise in sexual harassment of servers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said Hooters maintains a no-tolerance policy for any harassment, sexual or otherwise, coming from guests or employees to one another.
In this episode, Melilli explains how Hoots Wings has expanded during the pandemic, the future of franchising and how he, as CEO, has put people at the center of the company.