Racy restaurants tempt diners by de-emphasizing eye candy

The Orange County RegisterFebruary 7, 2013 

The Orange County Register

ORLANDO, Fla. Sandwiches with a side dish of sex appeal were on the menu when Peter Buell and Rick Paulk stopped for lunch recently at a Tilted Kilt restaurant here.

“I like the waitresses and the uniforms, obviously,” said Buell, 50, as a young woman served him wearing a short plaid skirt and matching push-up bra under a midriff-baring white shirt.

The Tilted Kilt is part of a dining sector known in the industry as “breastaurants.”

The edgy eateries with scantily clad servers are rapidly expanding throughout the United States.

The allure is simple: “Being able to freely gawk and leer at young women in scanty clothing,” said Chris Muller, a hospitality professor at Boston University. “That's no longer socially acceptable, so we institutionalize it and give it a venue.”

While the outfits are skimpier, these days “breastaurants” – such as Twin Peaks, Brick House Tavern and Tap, and Hooters – say they are offering more than titillation, with unique themes and better food.

Rapid expansion has fueled growth at these small chains, which fall into a category that market-research firm Technomic euphemistically calls “attentive service.”

In 2012, sales doubled to $97 million. From 2010 to 2011, according to a Technomic estimate, Tilted Kilt's sales grew 33 percent to $124 million.

The notable exception is Hooters, which first made the concept mainstream in the 1980s after opening its first restaurant in Clearwater, Fla.

It had 365 restaurants in 2011, down from 400 in 2008, according to Technomic's estimates. Last year, the chain said it wanted to lure in more women with new decor and more salads. Hooters executives wouldn't comment about how that effort is going.

Twin Peaks, on the other hand, unabashedly oozes testosterone. The mountain lodge-themed chain's logo features two slightly curvy snow-capped mountains.

Other companies are more subtle. Brick House's website focuses on food, its servers in shirts with plunging necklines almost an afterthought.

At the Tilted Kilt in Orlando, manager Edward Schoenleber said women make up about 15 percent of customers now. He said he even has a children's menu.

Sandy Luicana of Boyertown, Pa., recently ate lunch at Tilted Kilt with her husband, Don, and 23-year-old son, Nathaniel. Luicana liked her lunch – “probably one of the best hamburgers I've ever had” – and the Scottish-pub theme.

And the staff?

“I'm OK with their boobs hanging out,” she said. “They're not flaunting them in your faces and all that. They're being very respectful.”

And while sex clearly sells, an eatery that relies on little else runs the risk of going bust. Take Java Girls, an Orlando coffeehouse featuring bikini-clad baristas. A little more than a year after opening, it is now history.

“Gimmicks don't tend to sustain a business,” said Dennis Lombardi, a restaurant consultant with Ohio-based WD Partners.

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