The rise of social media has created an unexpected challenge for restaurant companies and their employees. Restaurant companies have used this technology to reinforce the image of their brand. Their employees also have the ability to connect with large numbers of followers in a way that some companies see as a threat. In the past, restaurant companies with advertising budgets have been the only ones powerful enough to reach the mass audience. Now a single employee can reach hundreds (and perhaps thousands) of friends, family members, and fans in an instant. This has left restaurant companies searching for a way to both harness and control their employees’ use of this power.
Nowhere is this search for balance more painfully demonstrated than in blogs. There are hundreds of blogs on the internet written by servers about their restaurant. I read a great number of them. Most of these blogs are frankly written as a series of gripes about the restaurant they work at and the guests they wait on. These bloggers will generally keep the name of their restaurant, their name, or both a closely held secret. Even bloggers who reflect well on their restaurants and write very positive blogs are reluctant to disclose their names or the company for whom they work.
The one exception to this rule was Hooters. Hooters, to their credit, had a number of employees that maintained incredibly well written blogs. Regardless of what preconceived notions you have of the waitresses in the orange shorts, there is no denying that those who write blogs about being a Hooters Girl reflected very well upon their employer. Hooters in turn did not try to restrict the blogs of their employees. This lead to a number of blogs being written about Hooters by their employees that were almost entirely favorable and the type of free publicity that a restaurant company would love to have.
Hooters had always responded to allegations of objectifying women by pointing to those working for them. They promoted from within, offered incredibly flexible scheduling, and treated their servers in a manner that would make other restaurant companies look horrible by comparison. Having worked for the company as a manager myself, I can say that every word of this is true. No company I have ever worked for took better care of their servers than Hooters did. Part of this was helping to support the goals of their long term employees. When you visit the office in Atlanta you notice that the marketing, training, human resources, and nearly every other department were staffed by former Hooters Girls. With “Sauce” they saw the opportunity to support one of their bloggers as well.
“Sauce” was the name one of their servers used to write a blog titled “Girl and Guitar” that was incredibly popular amongst even casual readers of blogs. She wrote about life as a server, but also made no secret of the fact that she worked at Hooters. Her blog was funny, informational, and at times poignant. Nearly every post was followed by at least one comment that confessed that it had changed their mind about Hooters. Taking note of this effect, Hooters proved to be a company of their word. They did not try to shut down her blog, but instead offered her a column in their corporate magazine. The title of the blog was changed to match the column, “Hooters According To Sauce.” Not only did they allow her to write about her job, but they flew her out to their corporate events to provide her unique perspective. Many of us who started as server bloggers who were afraid to use our names or the names of our company saw it as a victory. A restaurant company had finally embraced one of us.
This is why I got nervous for Sauce when Hooters was sold. I wondered if the new ownership would be able to understand that what made so many Hooter’s bloggers loyal was that the company was loyal to them. I doubted they would be able to understand the impact that supporting these blogs had on the morale of their servers and the perception of their potential guests. I worried that they would take a typical corporate response to control the image of the brand. My concerns were warranted and as of today Sauce writes a blog called “According To Sauce.” She is no longer a blogging Hooters Girl, but a blogger who works at Hooters. Sauce gets to keep her blog, but Hooters lost one of its most vocal supported and powerful marketing tools. The reason given to her was that they did not want any readers to mistakenly think that she was representing the company.
I hope Sauce finds great success in this new blogging venture. I won’t be visiting Hooters to see if they replaced her in the magazine. There are many places with great wings. What made Hooters special to me was their support of bloggers, not the orange shorts. I am not a fan of Hooters, but I am a fan of Sauce.
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