Last Updated Feb 18, 2010 2:49 PM EST
As with many national chains, restaurant sales are down and some restaurants aren't paying their bills. Hooters has retained investment bank North Point Advisors to weigh its options, employees were told this week. Restaurants were closing even before the downturn hit.
The company's woes are bigger than the restaurant-industry's general slowdown. Family squabbles over ownership after founder Robert Brooks' death have drained the company of cash. Ill-considered side ventures such as short-lived airline Hooters Air have been money-losers as well. Even licensee Hooters Casino Hotel in Las Vegas is floundering -- sales are way down, it's losing money and in default on nearly $150 million in debt.
The timing for trying to find a buyer may not be great. The company is in the news this week, and not in a good way. Hooters CEO Coby Brooks, the founder's son, was the focus on last Sunday's episode of the CBS reality show Undercover Boss. Clips circulating on YouTube show what he learned: The managers are boobs (pun intended) who mistreat and humiliate the Hooters girls (no!). Featured highlight: the manager randomly decides the women must have a no-hands eating contest if they want to leave early. Well, maybe nobody watched -- oh, wait, the debut episode of the show aired right after the Super Bowl. It promoted the following week's Hooters episode, and more than 10 million people watched it. (For extra irony points, the Hooters episode was shown on Valentine's Day.) New investors, if they can be found, may be able to restructure the debt mess and buy Hooters some breathing room to tough out the downturn. But they're stuck with an outdated concept that had its heyday back when Fox TV's Married With Children was a hit show. There's no easy way to update the cheesecake-and-beer format, which may be on its last, nylon-clad legs.
Hooters girl image via Flickr user SQL_Samson, CC 2.0