Review: Is Jakarta really ready to handle Hooters?

One of the servers at the newly opened Hooters in Kemang. Photo: Hooters Jakarta / Facebook
One of the servers at the newly opened Hooters in Kemang. Photo: Hooters Jakarta / Facebook

There have been few restaurants openings in Jakarta that have ever been as widely discussed and speculated on than that of the recently opened Hooters in Kemang. A story from Coconuts Jakarta about the planned opening from last September got liked, commented upon and shared around 16,000 times – the fact that it had the word “breastaurant” in the headline probably had something to do with that.

HOOTERS JAKARTA IS NOW OPEN!Come on down and join in the fun!

Hooters Jakarta 发布于 2017年3月24日

I’m guessing that the very nice PR folks who invited me to Hooters the other week are not thrilled about me mentioning that term again (although it is an actual F&B industry term used by some publications in America to describe Hooters and similarly themed restaurants, like Twin Peaks and The Tilted Kilt). They told me that the way they wanted to present the first Hooters in Indonesia was as a family-friendly restaurant.

Some other local media were happy to oblige by using that term – and not sarcastically.

Compared to its other outlets, Hooters Jakarta appears to be more family-friendly as it applies a no smoking rule and has no age restriction.

Posted by The Jakarta Post on Monday, April 17, 2017

Now you might laugh to hear the term family-friendly being used to describe Hooters, but then you also might be shocked to hear that, when I came on a weekday afternoon at 2pm for the media tasting event, the recently opened venue (still in its soft opening phase) was quite full – of women. I’d say there were more women in the restaurant than men, and quite a few of them were wearing hijabs. There was also indeed a family with a young toddler (not the same one as the photo below, which is just one of many similar examples I found on Instagram).

This surprised me, but not too much. I spent quite a bit of my childhood in the US and it was not unusual for me to hear of middle school baseball teams going to Hooters to celebrate a victory.

Those imagining a sleazy, strip club-like atmosphere at Hooters Kemang will likely be disappointed. It’s basically just a regular American sports bar style restaurant (I think I counted about 12 TVs of varying sizes on the walls, everywhere the eyes can see), more brightly lit than most and completely nonsmoking – quite the rarity for any bar in Jakarta.

But look, the name of the place is still Hooters (if you’re not familiar with American slang, I can tell you that the term does not only refer to owls) and its main claim to fame is inarguably the attractive servers in their iconic outfits.

Ah yes, the famous “Hooters Girls”. It’s apparently a position that many an applicant was fighting for even here. According to a Vice Indonesia article about one of their writers who tried to get a job as a server there, some 2,000 people applied to work at the restaurant – a fact one of the PR reps confirmed to me.

When news of Hooters’ opening first caused a stir in Jakarta, the managers assured the public that the famous Hooters uniform would be adjusted to meet Indonesia’ “social norms”. I was hard-pressed to tell the difference, but it seems the necklines of the tank tops they wear have a higher cut. The rest of the outfit, including the orange shorts and sneakers, remain the same.

My girl squad tonight

A post shared by Ali (@ali_juga) on

Beyond their appearance and well-trained friendliness, two things stood out about their servers to me (and no, that’s not meant to be a pun): they moved just about as quickly as any servers I have ever seen in Jakarta (those sneakers they wear are functional) and two, that’s probably because they have to drop their duties every 45 minutes to form a line with the other servers and do a little choreographed dance to some pop songs (whether you think that’s sexy or awkward I’ll leave you to decide – I’m a food critic, not a dance critic).

Oh, some of you actually are interested in what the food is like too? Alright. Well, judging from my experiences going to Hooters in America (what can I say, I was young!) and later in Singapore and Bangkok (my friends insisted we go!) I’d say the food is on par with those other outlets. Which is to say, pretty good by American chain restaurant standards.

Besides the servers, Hooters is legitimately famous for its hot wings (the AV Club did an amusing article asking “Are the wings delicious enough to outweigh whatever moral objections one might have?”). I really am a fan of their original wings, which are breaded and deep-fried. They’re huge, meaty, and, despite being soaked in hot sauce, manage to keep their crispness until you’ve gnawed the last wing clean (you can also get them “naked”, which in this case just means grilled without breading). I’d put them ahead of most other spicy wing specialists in Jakarta such as Wingstop or the late BonChon (though I would be hard pressed to pick between them and the wings from Korean fried chicken outlet Kyochan).

Hooters Jakarta 发布于 2016年9月17日

Those high-quality wings, like the rest of the items menu, come at a price. All the food here is mighty mahal by local standards – an order of six of their original wings will set you back Rp 85k while 18 pieces go for Rp 220k. In fact, most of the items on the menu, from appetizers to mains, are in the range of Rp 100k – Rp 250k. To be fair, like many American chain restaurants, portion sizes are quite large. The beef chili nachos, for example, cost an eye-poppping Rp 180k, but they do come in a huge pile that could easily be shared by 3-4 people.

Besides adjusting the server’s outfits for Indonesia, they’ve also added some local flavors to the menu, including several sambals (ijo, bajak and bawang) and a few sauces such as salty egg and Lombok style taliwang. On my second visit, I got an order of “naked” taliwang wings and they were pretty tasty – salty, sweet and savory from a touch of shrimp paste, just like the original recipe.

Yes, I came back a second time, anonymously and on a weekend night (because I’m a professional, dammit), to get a better sense if Hooters Kemang turned sleazier after the sun went down. And while there were more men this time, the crowd was still quite mixed, including many tables made up solely of female patrons curious to see what the fuss was about.

A few men were clearly enjoying flirting with the waitresses, but the two rather burly security guards at the front of the restaurant seemed to send a clear signal that no funny business would be tolerated (the servers are also strictly forbidden from dating customers apparently).

The thing that surprises me the most about Hooters Kemang is not that it’s relatively tame (in my experience, the atmosphere at a certain Kemang expat watering hole across the street is generally much rowdier, and word is plenty of their customers have dated and even married the servers there).

What really surprises me is that there hasn’t been more of an uproar over its mere existence, and that neither the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) nor any of the capital’s other self-appointed moral police have loudly mounted protests against it.

After all, it wasn’t really that long ago that Playboy Indonesia (which didn’t feature nude models, essentially making it as risque as the local versions of FHM and Maxim) was forced to shut down in 2006 after the FPI and other groups violently protested it (even after FPI leaders took bribes from Playboy’s publisher – according to US diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks).

Many other observers (i.e. people in Coconuts’ comment section) joked that Hooters Kemang would also be targeted by conservatives as a symbol of the west’s immoral influences and fiercely protested. But, besides temporary Jakarta Governor Sumarso vaguely noting that the restaurant should follow “the ethical code and social ethics of Indonesia”, local media coverage has almost exclusively been about the wings and the “pelayan seksi”.

Maybe it’s because the FPI and other hardliners have been busy with other issues recently. Maybe it’s because it’s located in Kemang, already known for its nightlife and expat-friendly hotspots (I swear, the taxi driver who took me to Hooters the first time asked me if Kemang was like Las Vegas in America – I replied, “Uhm, yeah, kind of.”)

But I think the real reason that not much fuss has been made about Hooters is that Jakartans just aren’t that shocked by this sort of thing anymore. Despite signs of rising conservatism and ridiculous censorship (the completely tame American Hooters’ website is blocked by Indonesia’s Internet Positif, although does not share the same problem) Jakartans are also increasingly exposed to all sorts of crazy concepts from around the world thanks to the media and internet – not to mention the fact that South Jakarta’s Hooters has absolutely nothing on some of the unbelievably risque nightlife in North Jakarta.

I think it just takes a lot more to scandalize and offend Jakartans these days. Is that a good thing? And what about the feminist argument (which in this case, would line up with the religious conservative argument) that we should be offended by Hooters?

Well, that’s a topic for a completely different article and I’ve already gone on waaaay too long for a review of what is basically an outlet of an international sports bar/restaurant chain that has really good but pricey wings and attractive, dancing servers. So I’ll just finish by saying, yes, I do think Jakarta is ready for Hooters.

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