June 10, 2021

Back to business: Reopening strategies at Walk-Ons

Taylor says with additional money flowing into the economy, consumers are ready to get back to dining in restaurants, and that he's definitely seeing an uptick in sales at his units.

Scott Taylor, president and COO of Walk-Ons Sports Bistreaux, takes us on the restaurants’ road to reopening. The chain, started in 2003, has more than 100 locations across 15 states.

What are some of your struggles and strategies with hiring as you reopen?
As the country begins to lift restrictions, there have been a lot of challenges for restaurant operators, from supply chain shortages to staffing. We’re concerned that extended unemployment benefits may have had an unintended impact by incentivizing workers to stay home.

While every situation is different, it’s sharpened our focus on our culture and the opportunities we can provide to team members. If you take care of your team, provide opportunities and a great work environment, you can thrive during this ramp-up in the economy.

One strategy that’s working well for us is opening new locations at 50% occupancy, even when the restrictions are lifted. We have learned we can do a lot even with less. We opened 12 restaurants during the pandemic at anywhere from 0% to 50% occupancy and broke two national opening-week sales records all by not stressing our kitchens and new teams. We’re turning tables much faster, too. We also learned that we can and will do great business to-go and it will not be an after-thought again.

How are you framing job ads?
We use everything from ads on Tik Tok to signing bonuses and referrals. Our biggest competitive edge in hiring is being able to provide a visible path to a career in the restaurant industry. Our Blue Chip™ program takes an hourly employee through a progression of training modules, hands-on training sessions and participation in higher-responsibility projects to become a key, cross-trained team member reporting to a general manager.

How are customer attitudes toward dining out now?
Consumers are still cautious, but their enthusiasm is over the top. They really want to get together in our restaurants. We need to navigate a balance between welcoming back guests without masks, while continuing to be focused and respectful to guests who are more cautious.

Have you seen an increase in business, and more positivity?
Absolutely! With additional money flowing into the economy, consumers are ready to get back to dining in restaurants, and we are definitely seeing an uptick in business. It’s been great to see many of our regular customers, who stayed away during the peak of the pandemic, return.

Any thoughts on the latest phase of the pandemic and recent CDC guideline updates?
We continue to follow the guidance of the CDC and our local authorities. As a rule, we’ve acted conservatively on loosening restrictions in our operations.

Looking forward to a post-pandemic climate, what lessons will you carry with you?
We learned that our team is even stronger than we thought. There are no egos or “stay-in-your-lane” moments, just a “let’s get it done” mindset.