It's gotta be the food
English pub + skimpy outfits = Tilted Kilt
With the tagline, “A Cold Beer Never Looked So Good,” Tilted Kilt Pub & Eatery busts onto the pub scene
It would be easy to compare the Tilted Kilt Pub & Eatery to Hooters. Both have a bevy of busty beauties as servers, are sports bars with pub-style food and have a calendar featuring their scantily clad servers. But that’s where the similarities end, according to Ron Lynch, a former area developer with Schlotzsky’s who bought the rights to franchise the Tilted Kilt from the founder, Mark DiMartino. DiMartino opened the original inside The Rio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas in 2003.
The servers at the Tilted Kilt are called cast members and their job is to ensure the regulars are happy and that newcomers return.
“People have a hard time wrapping their arms around what we do, so they equate us to Hooters,” Lynch says. The Tilted Kilt is a contemporary version of the old Scottish, English and Irish pubs, with pool tables, dart boards and large-screen TVs tuned to various sporting events. Walls are wainscoted and decorated with amusing limericks and theme posters, depicting musical group U2; English sensation Monty Python; and Mel Gibson’s movie, Braveheart, to name a few.
Rather than donning the athletic-inspired orange shorts and tank tops of Hooters Girls, Tilted Kilt servers wear short plaid kilts and bras, with a white shirt tied just below the bust line, so as not to interfere with the exposed abs.
These are no run-of-the-mill servers uniforms. They are custom-made of a tartan cloth with a registered design, similar to the Scottish tradition where clans or even counties had their own identifying plaid. The cloth, which is woven in England, has to be hardy, “because it needs to be washed and withstand stains, etc.,” says Debra Lynch, who has joined her husband in the business as director of franchise communications. The kilts come in small, medium and large, and can adjust up to two sizes.
Taking a page from Disney, Tilted Kilt has the “cast members” return their uniforms at the end of their shift, and the company takes care of cleaning and mending them.
The male bartenders wear kilts also, and Lynch says “We get more comments from females to males about what they’re wearing (or not wearing) under the kilt,” he says. So much for assuming this was a concept that catered just to male fantasies.
Original concept: Inside The Rio in Las Vegas
Franchise fee: $50,000
Royalty: 6 percent
Investment: $300,000 to $2.3 million (depending on real estate)
The women are playing a role: sassy, fun vamps who clown around with regulars, but never cross the line into being offensive, the Lynches say.
“Negativity is not in our makeup,” says Debra Lynch. “We’re here to uplift people’s spirits.” And while the servers can be friends with coworkers off the clock, she adds, when they’re on the floor, their job is to be attentive to customers, to remember the names and faces of regulars and make newcomers want to come back.
In most systems, concerns about expanding the brand deal with whether the original concept can be successfully replicated in a new neighborhood. For the Tilted Kilt, that was the furthest thing from Lynch’s mind.
“Waitresses in costumes can be seen in any casino in town,” Lynch says of the original restaurant in the Rio. “But in other areas we’re more unique.” That’s why they can often take “B” locations. “We’re a destination (site),” he adds.
And no, there’s no shortage of attractive women willing to wear the midriff exposing “costumes” outside of Vegas. “Many wear less to work than what they put on to serve,” Lynch says. “(But) it is hard to find a girl that looks good in the kilt and has the personality to make the connection with the customer.”
In addition to readying the franchise documents and myriad responsibilities of translating a concept into a franchise, Lynch and staff had to adapt a dinner-only menu to include lunch. The menu includes Braveheart’s Chopped Salad, Maggie Mae’s Fish & Chips, Fat Bastard’s Meatloaf, and a Hawaiian-style pizza, sporting the double-entendre moniker, Kamana-wana-lei-u.
Seven pubs should be open by the end of this month. To date there are 11 area developers on board, and the Lynches own the restaurant in Tempe, Arizona.
Ron Lynch, a former Schlotzsky’s area developer, has the rights to develop Tilted Kilt.
Scottsdale franchisee Kerry Phelps was looking for a new concept after he sold the chain he developed, Samurai Sam’s Teriyaki Grill, to Kahala. He had opened an independent restaurant called Coyote Grill when he heard the buzz about Tilted Kilt. “I went down there for lunch and it was packed,” he says. “Cute girls in cute outfits and you’re serving cold beer and good food—it’s hard not to be successful.”
After meeting Lynch, he decided to convert his restaurant to the Irish/Scottish/English pub theme, which he says is another seemingly no-fail concept. In the 12 months he’s been open as the Tilted Kilt, Phelps says he’s almost tripled the sales of the previous restaurant, to an average of $240,000 a month. He’s looking for other locations, and may partner with another development team out of state.
Eliot Lawrence is also sold on the concept. He first became aware of it when he visited Las Vegas for the National Rodeo Finals and stayed at the Rio in 2004. “Here’s two 40-something guys, we turned to each other and said, ‘we need something like this back home,”’ Lawrence says. He and his wife Kim opened their first Tilted Kilt the next year.
Lawrence says they expected a honeymoon period of high sales, but he’s been pleasantly surprised to see the sales grow stronger each quarter. It doesn’t hurt, he adds, that their restaurant in a suburb of Austin, Texas, is across from Dell Computers’ headquarters.
About 51 percent of Lawrence’s restaurants’ sales are in food, so the emphasis has been on quality food, “and it shows in repeat business,” he says.
“It’s a neat concept. It continually amazes us, and we try not to over-think it.”
Lawrence plans to open 10 more, and has no qualms about staffing them. “We’re blessed in Texas with good-looking, intelligent servers,” he says.