She's a character, she has opinions.

If you’re selling it, don’t act surprised when people are buying it.

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Hooters. Known for wings, beer, and, well, hooters. On February 14th’s Undercover Boss Hooters CEO Coby Brooks went undercover to find out how his company functioned from the bottom up. He went into this thinking of Hooters as a family restaurant, a place where he’d have no problem letting his daughters waitress. Unfortunately, he ended his journey the same way.

I’m disappointed in this episode and in Coby Brooks. He had an opportunity to break through his preconceived notions and to see through his privilege, and he wasted it. Hooters is a business that is built on sexism and exploitation of women and when Coby saw sexism and exploitation of women in action he expressed shock, horror, and surprise. Really, Coby? I mean, seriously? Short-shorts and shirts in “small or extra small,” as two of the waitresses told him, waitresses you refer to as “Hooter Girls,” and a sign in your corporate board room reading “bumps” with two curiously breast-shaped bumps above it, and you are surprised about what takes place in the atmosphere you foster from a corporate level on down?

While undercover, Coby serves under two managers with very different management styles and attitudes toward their waitresses. Marcy, the female manager, has a strong work ethic (we see her mopping up spills, carrying beer, and doing all sorts of odd jobs in addition to standard management) and a certain empathy for her waitresses because she held their job for years before becoming a manager. As Coby says, Marcy “respects the girls and they respect her.” Jimbo, the male manager, has an extremely different style and attitude. He tells Coby that spinning a tray is the key to being a good manager and aside from that we don’t see him doing any other work. But it’s his treatment of the waitresses that sets him apart from everyone else Coby meets.

Before opening, Jimbo “examines” his waitresses. Is their hair styled, their makeup on, their nails done? When one waitress has short, unpolished nails, Jimbo insults her over it, and dismisses her with a snide comment. Coby’s response? “He’s very clear on what the brand is about,” an upset Coby says about Jimbo. However “doesn’t know how to treat it.” When after the lunch rush waitresses are customarily sent home because of lack of work, Jimbo declares that the waitresses will be playing a game to see who gets to leave. “Even if I have school?” one waitress asks. Yes, even if you have other commitments, she’s told. Today Jimbo’s game is a bean-eating contest. The waitress who eats her plate of beans first, without using her hands, will get to go home. “Do they seem to like these sort of things?” Coby asks Jimbo. Judging from their expressions, I’d say they don’t. By this time Coby has broken out in a sweat and closed his eyes. It isn’t long until he’s outside leaving a voicemail message for his district manager saying that Jimbo’s behavior is inappropriate.

Right there, with the sweating and the obvious discomfort, that was Coby’s moment. He could have taken a look at the t-shirts and the bumps sign and realized that the atmosphere his father created and he’s perpetuating is contributing to this behavior. He could have realized that when you market a product based on women’s (oops, I mean “girls'” as Coby insists upon calling them) breasts and legs that you’re going to find many people who take that seriously. You’re selling it Coby, why are you surprised Jimbo’s buying it?

What happens when he gets back to the corporate boardroom? He tells them about Jimbo and how “somehow he has slipped through the cracks.” He and the board, under that bumps sign that is still hanging proudly, talk about how changes need to be made concerning Jimbo and how he needs to be rehabilitated. Not a one of them says a word about how this might be happening elsewhere and how they’re partially at fault for it. No, not even the female board member who looked so horrified over Jimbo’s “reindeer games.” It’s very telling that in this final boardroom scene Jimbo’s rehabilitation is discussed as being necessary from a legal standpoint. It isn’t done because the waitresses are human beings worthy of respect and dignity, it’s done so no one gets sued.

Later, when Coby reveals his identity to Marcy he comments on how tired she is and how she needs time to relax with her husband and children, and he offers her an all-expenses paid vacation so she can recharge and recover. What he doesn’t do is praise her management style of mutual respect, nor does he hold it up to anyone as exemplary, something he should have done. And as for Jimbo, “the way you act with the girls is, frankly, inappropriate,” Coby tells him. Jimbo is told “there’s lines that you don’t cross” and instructed to apologize to his staff. He counters by saying that his way works and he makes profits, but Coby insists, saying he’d be reluctant to let his girls work in Jimbo’s restaurant. Jimbo, we’re told at the end of the show, apologized, and is still working for Hooters. Marcy, upon returning from her vacation, took a less-stressful job with the corporation.

You blew it, Coby. Marcy, the exemplary manager who respected her workers, wasn’t rewarded for that, she was instead pitied because she’s a mom who doesn’t get to spend enough time with her family. While Jimbo, the sexist pig who treated his staff as if they are his personal playthings, had only to apologize and promise never to do it again to keep his job. As you pointed out, Jimbo was “very clear on what the brand [was] about.” He wasn’t operating under a misconception, he was reflecting the attitude toward the brand fostered by you and the company. And all you did was confirm that gender-biased attitude.

Coby Brooks could have used this time to make real changes in his company, starting from him and traveling all the way down through the organization. Instead he closed his eyes to the things he didn’t want to see and took steps to keep himself thinking of Hooters as the family-friendly restaurant of his dreams. PR won’t change reality Coby. Oh, and stop calling your waitresses girls.

See Jimbo’s reindeer games here.

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Written by tldegray

February 15, 2010 at 10:47 pm

One Response

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  1. […] Read more at It’s Ridiculous Y’all. « Before She loves to be one of the girls. January 18, 2010 […]

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