A previous version of this story gave the wrong name for Mansion Square, and the wrong year for Hooter's move to Crossgates Mall, which was 1995.
NISKAYUNA — The kilts aren’t the only thing that’s tilted about the new “breastaurant” that opened in Mansion Square on Balltown Road in April, according to some critics of the establishment.
In the eyes of some community members and a former gender studies professor at Skidmore College, the Tilted Kilt serves up a slanted view of women. In recent years, ‘breastaurant’ has been frequently used as a derogatory term to refer to eateries that built their market value not so much on the food they serve but on the attractiveness of the employees.
“Their website alone points precisely to the problem, which is the commodification of men as well as women,” said Mary Zeiss Stange, a now-retired professor of gender and religious studies at the Saratoga Springs college.
Many compare the culture of the franchise to Hooters, another “breastaurant” franchise that began in the late 1980s and is most known for the employee uniforms of thin tank tops and very short shorts. But the Tilted Kilt is infused with a Celtic theme, rather than the all-American atmosphere that Hooters features.
The restaurant has been operating for a little over two months, but the grand opening is today. The event features two live bands from 7 to 11 p.m. and a host of happy-hour deals, including half off Irish Nachos and specials on their Leggy Lass IPA.
But food and beer are not usually the first things on most customers’ minds when they think of the restaurant. Thoughts of the staff usually come first.
For female employees, or “Tilt Girls,” the uniform includes a short kilt, bra, cropped top, and tall socks. For male employees, or “Tilt Guys,” the uniform is allows for a bit more coverage: a kilt paired with a T-shirt.
On the Tilted Kilt’s website and on lawn signs around Niskayuna, the restaurant advertises a “Help Wanted” message in their own unique style: “The Tilted Kilt Girls are an elite group of women who wear a cute and sexy mini kilt costume while serving up fun and making a connection with our guests. Do you have what it takes? If so we want you on our team!!”
Kaley Vance, one of the managers at the restaurant, has been working with the franchise for three years. The Niskayuna location will be the third that she has helped to open around the country.
“Normally we start with 60 girls and worry if we’re at 40. For this one, we only had 20,” Vance said. Despite this drawback, Vance said, business has been smooth.
“These girls are just so strong-willed and motivated here,” Vance said. At many of the other locations that Vance has managed, the staff has suffered from issues with cattiness among employees, Vance said.
“It’s very relaxed here and all of the guys who come in are very respectful,” Vance said.
Brock Gingell of Schenectady said that he supports the Tilted Kilt coming into Mansion Square. “It’s just a great place because all the girls are really friendly. Plus, I’m a really big Orioles fan and they always turn the game on if I’m in. Honestly, it’s just a great place to hang out and watch the big game and their beers aren’t even expensive,” said Gingell.
But Stange, the former Skidmore professor, said that Tilted Kilt is just the latest example of the objectification of the female body.
“Their commodification of men as well as women . . . that’s part of their rationale so that they can say that they aren’t being sexist,” Stange said.
Some other community members agree that the establishment is sexist and believe that it has no place in the town.
One Niskayuna resident, when she heard about the Tilted Kilt’s move to Niskayuna, was furious.
“With all the work that has been done over the years and is still in progress to provide women with respect and equal opportunity, this seems to be more than one step backwards in progress,” said Marlene Rene, a high school student at Niskayuna. “Restaurants should be about going for a meal and good food — a time for friends and family to enjoy company, relax, and have a night out. The Tilted Kilt is inconsistent with the experience that this community wants when we go out to eat at a restaurant.”
In a letter to The Daily Gazette, Niskayuna resident Chris Canavan wrote, “When there are so many great independent restaurants with quality menus and quality atmosphere in Schenectady County, why would anyone with any standards open this type of place or frequent one? . . .”
But others within the community don’t seem to mind having the Tilted Kilt in Mansion Square.
“Nisky has an older, married demographic,” said resident Adam King. “But the area is changing, younger families, younger singles who work at GE and KAPL. The Tilted Kilt isn’t any worse than Hooters. . . . The only difference is that it will be close to home. Maybe some parents are concerned their daughters will work there.”
Town Supervisor Joe Landry said, “This is a retail establishment. . . . It is properly allowed in the town. The developer has met all of our requirements.”
Community backlash against breastaurants such as Tilted Kilt is anything but surprising, said Abegail Cal, a public relations agent for the franchise. Whenever the franchise announces a new location, there is often backlash against it at first, Cal said.
When Hooters first moved to Crossgates Mall in 1995, there were many who opposed the addition, according to several past Gazette articles.
Although the Crossgates location closed in 2007, another Hooters opened in Colonie in late 2007.
In Cal’s experience in working with Tilted Kilt, the opposition dies down after a while.
“It just becomes another place to sit down and have a beer,” Cal said.
With the recent presumptive nomination of Democrat Hillary Clinton, the first female presidential nominee of a major party, and with the military only recently allowing women into combat roles, the opening of Tilted Kilt seems like a step in the wrong direction to some community members.
When Eleanor Aronstein of Niskayuna heard that Tilted Kilt was moving into Mansion Square, she was disappointed. “Women are still struggling for equal treatment, for access to jobs based on ability, not bra size. This ‘enterprise’ is an affront to an otherwise lovely community,” she wrote in a letter to the Gazette.
Mansion Square is also an area where many families frequent; Stange said she was concerned about the effect that Tilted Kilt would have on children. “We know how early in life children are affected by images like these. This is the last thing that young girls need to see right now.”
Reach Gazette reporter Indiana Nash at 417-9362, [email protected] or @indijnash on Twitter.