My complaint ist a complaint as such as I may have lost some battles but I won the war. Rather, I want my story to be a warning to others. Unlike most restaurant complaints mine isn't about a specific location. It may have started out that way but it ended up being about an entire corporation and how they conduct business. My concern is that this could happen to someone else at another of their locations hundreds of miles from me. I won the war because I had a bombshell hidden in my closet, that despite my best efforts to make them aware of, they simply chose to ignore. You aren't going to have that bombshell in your closet and will be at their mercy. This is a story, a long one at that, of attitude, inconsistency, a very poor policy and an indisputable case of a corporation looking the other way regarding an employee while holding the customer up to a higher standard.
First, let me state that what I did was wrong and their response was correct. I had photographed several girls who model on the side and who worked at the same Hooters for several different albums. One of those girls complained to her manager that I was showing around an album at the restaurant that was inappropriate. Several girls were in lingerie, though no less exposed than the photos on their walls. But there was one picture that had one breast exposed though you had to look closely to even spot it. That album had been in there many times without incident, still, poor judgment on my part. She had several chances after it was brought to her attention to simply come to me, state her concerns, and it would have been removed. Instead, she skipped that step and formally complained to her manager
So, one evening in Nov. of 2006, I walked into the restaurant to return some Halloween pictures I took of the girls that were in the back of that album. I was in fact, just a few seconds away from giving this girl her pictures back when the manager of the Brandon, Florida Hooters, Neil Krol, approached me. He explained his concerns and told me I wasn't welcome back at that store while this girl was employed there. I naturally asked what girl and what album? He stated Hooters has a confidentiality policy and couldn't tell me anything. Since I was a very regular customer I also asked how to determine when this girl has left and I could return? Neil went back to his office, gave me his card and the number of someone above him I could call. When he came back out I handed him the album I had with me that night, which it turns out, was the offending album, and asked him point blank if this was it. He looked at every picture and his response was, "You know what album I'm talking about". With different girls in different albums I was left to guess.
Now to the bombshell, one of those girls had posed for me several times in her uniform which she signed a release form on and was compensated for. No nudity, but of a very fetish nature with her locked in a set of stocks and in various stages of bondage with the store location on her shirt visible in many of the pictures. This album went to one nearby major fetish convention and one of those models, who was also a Hooters girl and recognized her, stated that this was against company policy. You're even suppose to keep your uniform covered when going into and out of work and when taking a smoke break. If this got out she would be fired on the spot. Knowing that, except for the convention, I kept this album in the closet for two years, carefully controlling those few who saw it. Before the model told me this I had actually posted some of those images on two Yahoo groups but had whited out the store location on her shirt knowing customers could come in looking for her. She was the first girl ever shot for this album and even though many more girls had subsequently shot for it I knew I couldn't do it justice posting it on my online portfolios without at least some of her pictures being included. I did point out to Neil that one of those girls had posed for me in her company uniform. I wasn't going to mention her name though and throw the wrong girl under the bus. He mentioned, that unless it was for an approved shoot, it was against company policy.
The next day I spoke to Dan Babbitt, Hooters Dir. of Admin. by phone. He also wouldn't tell me what girl or what album citing their confidentiality policy, only that I couldn't be there while she was still working there. I asked him how I was suppose to go about finding out when she's left, was I to call them periodically, would they call me or what, and he said he'd get back to me. I also mentioned to him about one of the girls posing for me in her uniform without indicating to me it was against company policy and he also said it was against policy. Again, I wouldn't state her name though he pressed me for it.
Up to this point, Both Neil and Dan were very cordial but things were about to go from bad to worse.
Three weeks went by and I began to focus on my accuser as being the same girl who posed for me in her Hooters uniform. I wasn't 100% sure yet but I decided to call their 800 number and formally complain. Why was she being kept there and me kicked out when she apparently broke company policy? I gave them all my contact info and was told by the receptionist that I'd get a response. I gave them the name of a second girl as well, who I thought might have been my accuser but specifically told them that if it was the first girl the second girl had viewed this stock album and could verify it's existence.
As a courtesy, I decided to call both Dan and Neil and inform them of my complaint. Dan would only repeat what I already knew and had answers to none of my previous questions. He then stated, "And I know you've been going to other Hooters". I was stunned by this comment as it was never mentioned to me that I couldn't go to their other restaurants. I began thinking, am I the criminal or the customer? My call to the store manager went just as bad. Neil stated, "I know about all your albums.I don't care where you go with them as long as it isn't within my four walls.you're just not getting it".
I continued going to the next closest Hooters in Channelside, but noticed each time that this manager would spot me, bring out his assistants to the floor, point me out and then whisper something to them. So one time I brought a witness who also observed this. He suggested a third Hooters, one which I had never been to before, Tampa Northside. This was now six weeks after I had formally complained and not yet received an answer. I was certain that the stock album was the offending album so I was confident bringing in the model album. Unfortunately, everyone here seemed to already know about me. I caught one waitress, who wasn't mine and I had never spoken to, paging through my album which was in my backpack when I went to the bathroom. I knew at this point complaining would be useless as nothing would be done. One assistant manager approached my table near the end of my meal talking briefly with me but mentioning nothing about the model album. Then that store manager, Freddy, came by who I didn't recognize but said he use to work as an assistant manager at the Brandon store at the time my situation started and knew all about it. Obviously, even his employees did as well! It was becoming very apparent that the confidential part of their policy applies to the accused and none of their other employees!
At least three times I offered Freddy the opportunity to view the model album I had with me but he refused. However, here comes the inconsistency part and the point where things would turn in my favor. Unlike Neil, he not only identified this album as being the problem but also mentioned a specific picture, so much for policy! Once out in the parking lot that picture, as well as all the others except for the Halloween pictures taken at the Brandon store, were immediately removed. I then informed him what she had done and that I had formally complained and heard nothing.
Before noon the next morning I received an e-mail from Dan Babbitt. Once again he didn't tell me anything new. In the last paragraph however, he said my complaint was investigated and because she didn't sell those pictures, "No violation occurred". It took me several weeks to realize the importance of his statement. One of my biggest mistakes was taking things too personally. After a couple of weeks I wrote him a blistering response once again emphasizing the nature of those pictures and the image problem it could pose for Hooters. I could have sent him a picture at this point but they had a name of another employee who could verify the contents of the stock album. I told Dan not to contact me anymore unless this girl's situation changes and to only do so in writing. I have yet to hear anything. At this point I stopped going to any Hooters as those not even in the need to know were being told and I wasn't feeling comfortable no matter what store I went to.
A month after receiving his e-mail I ran into the other girl at a bookstore. She had no idea any of this was going on as she was never even questioned. Very bad move for them as a couple of weeks later while laying out on Clearwater Beach, the very city where Hooters was born, I finally saw the light! Here I am holding back on what could be a very popular fetish album fearing they would find out, fire her for posing, then come after me for posting even though I took the pictures and therefore own copyright on them. I'm the one to actually bring it to their attention and I get it both verbally and it writing that Hooters, pardon the pun, could give a hoot! So the floodgates opened for my stock album. I was so ecstatic jumping around on the beach patting myself on the back with one hand while slapping myself with the other for trying to get the girl fired when they just did the best thing they could have done for me by keeping her there! Once I formally complained it was a win-win situation and they went the best way for me. I couldn't wait to get home to my computer and put my stock album online and express my frustrations through the captions. Thanks to three little words in writing it's been a whirlwind year. I've only just now started to get enough time to go out and dine again. The stock album or parts of it are now online at eight different locations so far. One of those sites even includes a thank you letter to Hooters. Some sites contain no images of her, one contains as many as ten. That one sight alone has received 4,000 hits the first year. The stock album itself has now expanded into three albums as well as t-shirts I wear. I'm glad I'm not in the restaurant as I'm in many of those stock pictures, easily identifiable, and now I have no control over who views them and frankly don't care. I get at least one e-mail a week asking if this girl is still there and if Hooters knew about it and if and why the manager didn't have a problem with it. I'm not a customer there until I hear otherwise so I could care less what happens in there as a result of it. It's Neil and Dan's problem.
Here in the year of their 25th anniversary they sure blundered. If this was back up North where I'm from that would be one thing but what's killing them here is location. There's more Hooters stores in my county than in my whole state back home. This is ground zero for them with the Brandon store being their top seller and the first Hooters along with their administration building being right in the next county. Just what were these people thinking?
I still felt there were many questions I needed answers to. While I understand their policy prevents them from answering, I still have the right to answers, just not from them. So at the next fetish convention, in addition to the stock album I also brought the picture that got me removed, plus mine and their responses. With the convention right here all the local models either work at, did work at, or know someone who did work at Hooters. There would also be fetish producers, some of whom do this fulltime. Also, there would be fetish lawyers I could consult. The many answers I got painted a less than flattering picture of Hooters. It's because of the answers I got that I decided to write this.
It turns out what I went through isn't unique to me but typical of Hooters. They were the first on the scene with the sports bar concept and have an attitude and arrogance that shows it. They went after Winghouse when they came on scene and not only lost their lawsuit but lost the countersuit as well. One person who has worked with them said he's never known them to apologize. I saw this attitude in their comments to me. They're also inconsistent in enforcing their own policies. Girls regularly sell parts of their uniforms, swipe cards and promotional items on Ebay despite a disclaimer not to. Three restaurants in this district are under investigation from the Florida Attorney General's Office for falsely selling fish on their menu labeled as grouper. I also saw this inconsistency in my situation and will prove it shortly. So what happened? The best guess of the experts is that this was a three-year employee at their busiest store who was one of their workhorses and in her case they simply chose to look the other way.
Part of the problem is their confidentiality policy. This is a lot of power to give girls 18-21 years of age. They can effectively get rid of any customer they want; ex-boyfriend, bad tipper, whatever, and the accused has no way to defend themselves as they're told nothing. No doubt this has happened to others in the past and if the employee's wrong intentions were discovered and she threatens to sue on the basis of her complaining, their backing down now sets a precedent. I made a poor error in judgment and deserved to be banned but this policy also gave her something to hide her wrongs behind. There's also a problem in just who the confidential part applies to. I've never seen anything quite like this where people who had no need to know were told while the accused is just left to guess. Just the opposite of any other company I know. Because I was thinking a different album than what they were referring to the policy also created a situation where we were talking passed one another.
As for my response, the experts laughed! My very rough letter to Dan Babbitt should have actually been a thank you letter! While the words, "No violation occurred" isn't an endorsement of what she did, it isn't a condemnation either and in the world of fetish photography that's as good as gold! Dan's response opened the floodgates for this album and threw that store manager under the bus. That policy prevented Neil from answering a question that first night, which had he, would have resulted in him seeing an album which, no question, would have resulted in her firing, thereby letting me back in. Him I actually respect as he was consistent, answering the same question asked three weeks apart, word for word. That shows me he's a by the book manager and there's no question what the book says. To complain about a customer over a picture in an album when she herself posed for a far more controversial album in her uniform would have gotten her fired at any other establishment. Yes, whether out of arrogance or ignorance, Neil said some things to me on the phone he shouldn't have like, "I already know about all your albums" but now with the stock album on the internet and seen by thousands he's paying the price for those remarks. Ironically, he was transferred to the Channelside store which is within site of the very hotel where the convention is held! As he told me over the phone, his only concern is what goes on inside his four walls and so long as my album doesn't go in there he could care less what I do with it. So guess where many of those people who now view it elsewhere go to eat!
My concern here is that I was held to a higher standard than the employee and this wasn't by the store manager but by someone higher up in their administration. This tells me it doesn't matter what store you're at, the same thing could happen to you and one needs to be very careful at any Hooters. I lost many battles and have been personally scarred by this but thanks to a bombshell hidden in my closet that I even tried to warn them about, I wound up winning the war. Unless you have such a bombshell you won't!
The best part about going to people at the convention for answers to my questions came from one of their own employees who viewed my album and their response to it and then gave me her employee handbook saying I needed it more than she did!
So finally the proof. My accuser, who got me removed over another album, posed for pictures and was videotaped four times in her uniform getting tickled and in various states of bondage, with the store location clearly visible and was compensated each time. Keeping in mind Neil's verbal response and Dan's written response, here's what it says on p. 8 of the Hooters Restaurant Employee Handbook: "When entering and leaving the store, make sure that your uniform is completely covered. Unless you are working at a Hooters sponsored event, under no circumstances should the Hooters girl uniform be worn, nor should you be photographed or videotaped in the Hooters girl uniform outside of the store". Obviously there are some circumstances! Because I got so many local models saying, "She can't do that", Dan's No violation occurred" letter is now a part of that album.
So for those of you still with me, here's your moment of truth. Go to ModelMayhem.com/Laughingstocks after reading this. Some cautions here, this particular site is more for fetish models and photographers. My portfolio is tame compared to others on this site and contains no nudity but the same can't be said for others so browse carefully. Here are some things to keep in mind. First, this portfolio didn't contain a single stock picture until after Dan Babbitt's written response. Now it's all stock pictures. Second, it's not about her, if it was all 20 pictures on this portfolio would be of her. As it is, this site contains just one. A picture speaks a thousand words and one is all that's needed. Third, it's not about the outfit. Though there is another girl here in a Hooter uniform, she's a fulltime fetish model and bought the uniform herself at one of their stores because they're very popular with fetish photographers. More importantly, there are two other girls in this portfolio who worked at the same Brandon store at the time who are wearing something else. Had my accuser told me it was against company policy she would have been allowed to wear something else.
With these things in mind, once on my page click on "view pics" under my avatar picture on the left. Unless you're a member you won't be able to enlarge the thumbnails but you won't need to. Scroll down to the very last picture. With what I've now proven, unless you're a fetish photographer, do you really want to take a chance on dining at Hooters?