The new Walk-On’s Bistreaux & Bar corporate office is causing some confusion. Customers regularly walk into the building and ask to be seated for a meal.
“I’m surprised how many people walk in thinking this is a restaurant,” said Jeanne Hunt, who handles franchise compliance for Walk-On’s and is the corporate human resources manager, along with serving as office manager. “People come in all the time and ask for a table.”
The confusion is understandable. The 27,000-square-foot office is at the other end of the Southgate Village Shopping Center from the still-operating original Walk-On’s in Baton Rouge. And visible from the headquarter's entrance is a full-sized bar, complete with dozens of beer taps, bottles of top-shelf liquor and tables with self-service taps.
Hunt said Walk-On’s officials wanted the corporate office to have the same feel as one of the chain’s restaurants. That’s why a shelf of restaurant-branded shirts, cups and basketballs is in the entrance, just like you would find at the hostess stand. And the sunken cypress wood that is part of the Walk-On’s décor is found all over the office.
“We built this as a showroom for the franchisees and the franchise prospects to show the different types of equipment that go into a Walk-On’s,” she said.
Along with serving as a model for what Walk-On’s can look like, the offices are used to train corporate managers. That’s why it makes sense to have a version of a restaurant bar inside the office.
But some of the other features of the office are more about making Walk-On’s an enjoyable place to work. There’s a half-sized basketball court and bleachers. There’s a pool table. A couple of Pop-A-Shot arcade games sit in one part of the office, and there’s a claw machine.
Hunt said those touches were a way of filling up all the space in the old Co-op Bookstore building that Walk-On’s purchased in October 2017. The company had been taking up a 7,800-square-foot office on Third Street.
The move made sense. The Co-Op Bookstore space was just across a parking lot from the first Walk-On's and sits in the shadow of Tiger Stadium.
The owners of Walk-On’s Bistreaux & Bar have purchased the Co-op Bookstore building and plan to move their headquarters there.
"We want to make it cool and fun. We sell burgers and beer for a living," Walk-On’s co-founder Brandon Landry told The Advocate at the time of the purchase. "We wanted to give the team an opportunity for a fun place to work."
Other amenities have benefits for workers beyond productivity. The office features a workout room, complete with weights, cardiovascular machines and a punching bag. Twice a week, a trainer comes in and does free workout sessions for the workers.
“We don’t always eat the healthiest of food,” Hunt said. After all, the Walk-On’s menu features dishes such as fried boudin balls, spinach and artichoke dip and burgers stuffed with bacon and cheese.
Since the Walk-On’s employees moved into the new office in March, Hunt said productivity has remained constant, even with all of the distractions for workers. She said the productivity may even be better because employees can take a little break and shoot baskets or play pool, then get back to work.
Keeping productivity up is crucial for Walk-On’s. The chain has doubled in size since summer 2017 and now has 24 locations in Louisiana, Texas, Alabama and Mississippi. Plans are to open 30 restaurants in 2019.
A monitor on display at the office lists tentative restaurant openings well into 2020, with plans in some cases to open several restaurants in a month. This will bring Walk-On’s into new markets such as Orlando and Tampa, Florida; Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee; and Oklahoma City.
Since the start of the year, Walk-On’s has hired 10 additional employees to work in the offices, bringing the total staff up to 39. Hunt said plans are to hire four to six more workers before the end of the year.
All of the additional workers and the short time frame the office has been open make it difficult to compare how much productivity has gone up and employee absences have gone down.
“There are no hard statistics, but everybody really enjoys the space,” Hunt said. “People are here more. I see that they are here more.”
Meagan Johnson, who advises companies on how to motivate different generations in the workforce, said offering amenities such as office fitness centers, pool tables and basketball courts are a trend for businesses.
“Competing on pay is draining,” she said. Businesses also see these things as a way of showing that their corporate culture is loose and fun.
When potential employees come in and see that a business has a fun corporate culture with nice benefits, it helps the hiring process, Johnson said.
But Johnson said these perks are merely a side dish to the entree that is corporate culture. “If the culture in an organization stinks, and there’s nothing there for that younger person to latch onto, it’s not going to work,” she said.
Johnson’s father, Larry, a corporate culture expert, said the best businesses offer tangible benefits, like fun perks and work and good pay, along with nontangible things, like feeling like you’re part of a team and recognition.
“Tangible things keep people working at a business, but nontangible things are powerful motivators,” he said.