A former Hooters manager ran a UK branch for 21 years. Some people traveled hundreds of miles for the same authentic experience that US customers enjoyed.

Mark James/Hooters
Mark James (right). Mark James/Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images
  • Mark James ran the only Hooters restaurant in the UK for two decades. 
  • He told Insider that people traveled for hours to visit the branch in the city of Nottingham.
  • “We had to make sure it was run as a Hooters as it would be run in the United States,” he said.

For more than two decades, Mark James ran the only Hooters restaurant in the UK. 

The store, which was based in the city of Nottingham, attracted customers from far and wide, James told Insider. On a regular afternoon, he said people would drive up from London to Nottingham — which is roughly a three-hour drive — to dine at the American-style chain. 

In August, Insider’s Mary’s Meisenzahl reported that Hooters’ loyal customer base was helping to drive post-lockdown sales.

James said that keeping the chain’s core customer base happy led to a certain level of pressure. “We had to make sure it was run as a Hooters as it would be run in the United States,” he said.

People were traveling for what the Hooters brand seeks to represent, according to James, and he needed to ensure the restaurant delivered on that. “You’ve got a strong style of American service. You’ve got the Hooters girl, which is that kind of girl next door cheerleader type, and we’re serving 95% American dishes.” 

“We were big on the likes of chicken wings, boneless chicken, and ribs,” he said.

“It was a real aggressive attack on the UK, which was a challenge because when no one’s ever seen it before. You’ve got to make sure you’re delivering great food and service in a Hooters, which is recognized worldwide,” he added. 

Hooters UK branch
Hooters’ UK branch. Mark James

The image of the Hooters girl was a key component of the brand that James said he needed to execute. This entails girls “with a smile on their face, leaving any kind of problems they’re having at home,” he said. 

Last month, Hooters came under fire from employees over their new revealing uniforms. Employees took to TikTok to push back against shorts so short, they were described as “underwear.” Though the company later said in an email to Insider’s Bethany Biron that waitresses could opt for either traditional uniforms or the new ones.

James said he was approached by a franchise group from Louisville, Kentucky in 2000, who were looking to bring the Hooters concept to the UK. “I looked at the concept and I questioned the concept because I was unaware of it, I had never been to see a Hooters in the US,” he said. 

“I thought this is going to be a massive challenge to make a Hooters restaurant work in the UK,” James added. But after six weeks of debate, he took the job. 

But he added it was a very exciting experience to take on such a massive brand like Hooters, which is recognized in the US since 1983 when it opened its first branch. 

This year, James left the position to set up his own restaurant and took the lessons he learned from running Hooters with him, too. 

Several elements are key to running a successful hospitality business, he said. “From the style of service to the speed of service, to the environment that [customers] are eating and drinking in.”

Elements such as the building’s temperature and the volume of the music are crucial to ensure customer satisfaction. “You’re creating that small world for the customer,” James said.

James wanted more control over his future “without the parameters of being involved in franchise restaurant groups, such as Hooters,” which is ultimately what fueled his move away from the brand.

Even though his new restaurant is smaller than Hooters, he hopes it will be one of many, he added.