At Walk-On’s Bistreaux & Sports Bar, every shift starts with a rumble.
That’s what the 55-unit casual-dining chain calls its traditional pep rally of sorts. Workers pound on the tables and make some noise to rev up to perform, just as a sports team might before giving their all in a game.
“We’ve had people call 911 saying there’s a terrorist attack in the kitchen,” joked Scott Taylor, Walk-On’s president and chief operating officer, in the latest episode of the Ask The Experts series, part of the Nation’s Restaurant News CREATE: The Future of Foodservice.
It’s an example of the “walk-on mentality” — giving your all for the love of the game and the team — that inspired the concept and drives the culture that helped Walk-On’s survive the pandemic, Taylor said.
At Walk-On’s, the goal is to build a culture that’s playful and fun, but also to create a career path for workers who might discover new potential, if given a chance, said Taylor.
“A lot of it is just treating them right, providing a path. The restaurant business has never been considered a permanent job,” he said, but “this can be a great career, you can do things here. And even if you don’t end up staying in the restaurant business, we’re going to teach you life lessons that will help you with anything you get into.”
During the pandemic. While dine-in was shut down, the restaurants pivoted to takeout and the company tried to help the front-of-house employees find work, whether doing third-party delivery or furlough kitchens. Workers were offered food every day, and the company kept in touch every week. For franchisees, the company started a prayer network on Facebook.
Now that dining rooms are open, Taylor said the chain has been able to maintain staffing levels. The company offers cash for referrals to fill open positions, which Taylor said helps build community.
The company has a “director of brand culture,” and regular WOW meetings to encourage the “Walk-On’s Way” of building culture. “They’re not doing compliance visits, they’re doing culture visits,” he said.
And that strong culture helped the Baton Rouge, La.-based concept come roaring back this year.
Even at only 25% capacity, Walk-On’s was able to win back about 90% of sales, Taylor said. At 50% capacity, the chain was setting national sales records, he said. Even during the heat of COVID, franchisees were signing on because they saw opportunity.
The chain expects to finish 2021 with 19 to 20 new units, and another 25 next year.
“COVID didn’t happen to us. It happened for us,” said Taylor. “It taught us a lot of lessons. It made the franchise family a lot tighter.”
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