Hot Tips & Takes: Walk-On’s Senior Director of New Restaurant Openings

Introducing: A new interview series from Kickfin!

“Hot Tips & Takes” features restaurant pros we’ve cajoled into sharing their secrets, solutions and lessons learned with the rest of the world.

Because, sure: industry articles and reports are great…but really, we all just want to know how the other guys are doing it.

So we’re spotlighting people like you, who are in the trenches day in, day out. 

First up is Gordon Sizemore, the Senior Director of New Restaurant Openings for Walk-On’s Enterprises. Read on for great insights from this industry vet on new opening processes, hiring, retention, and more.

How long have you been with Walk-On’s?

I’ve been in my current role for about two years, but I’ve been with the company for nine years total. I started as a service manager, then was a GM…I’ve worn a lot of hats here!

What are Walk-On’s expansion goals for 2021?

We’re shooting to open 25 restaurants this year. It’s pretty ambitious, especially given construction and staffing challenges right now. But we’re seeing really exciting growth in spite of everything that happened in 2020.

Give us a high-level overview of a Walk-On’s opening. What does the process leading up to launch look like?

We provide a detailed timeline to our franchisees that starts 25 weeks out from the opening, and we’re in constant communication before, during and after. We always know exactly where they are in the process.

Some of our franchisees are opening three, four, five restaurants at a time; others are just doing one-offs. Regardless, we try to be as present as possible, helping with everything from contracts to construction to best practices in hiring.

There are always a thousand things going on — and they may get tired of hearing from me! — but it’s important that we’re with them every step of the way. Is your internet set up? Are your new hires in place? Have you gotten your permits in line? I tell people that we’re like the bumper rails when you go bowling. We’re keeping them on track.

How do you work with franchisees who operate other brands and may have their own way of running the show?

Experienced franchisees sometimes push back on certain things. We’re humble enough to understand that people may have done it before, and if they can bring new ideas to the table, then great — we’re all ears.

But our culture is non-negotiable. Our founder wanted to create a place that brings people together. He incorporated a team-first mentality that came from his time playing at LSU. So we instill that in our franchisees, and we demonstrate that in the way that we support them.

An important part of the process is the Discovery Day, which is about building that initial relationship with our prospective new franchisees. We get to know them, they get to know us, and we figure out if this is a partnership that will be best for everyone involved.

Everyone is dealing with staff shortages. How is Walk-On’s advising franchisees who are opening new restaurants and trying to hire from scratch?

We all know staffing is a nightmare right now. We’ve been telling our franchisees that they need more time than they think to hire. We’ll also make suggestions around tactics to help them promote job openings and get candidates in the door.

The hiring trailer is a big deal. It’s typically right beside the restaurant construction site. Job candidates will come in for their interviews, and a lot of times, it’s their first impression of the Walk-On’s brand. We want it to be comfortable and inviting — we tell our franchisees to consider having music on, setting out games, providing snacks, etc.

It’s a way to really let the brand shine so people can see it’s a great place to work. And it also gives franchisees an opportunity to get to know the candidates.

How do you know you’re making the right hires for the restaurant?

We want our franchisees to hire people who share our brand values. It’s about asking the right questions, but more importantly it’s about seeing how they interact with others. You can come in with all the knowledge and experience in the world. But are you willing to work with the person to the left or right of you? That’s a huge part of what we look for.

A red flag for us is when candidates can’t laugh at themselves. Like I mentioned earlier, we’ll set out games in our trailer, and it seems like a small thing — but it’s really telling when someone sits down and starts messing with Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots or starts peddling around on a tricycle.

Basically, we want them to take their work seriously, but they shouldn’t take themselves too seriously. If they can engage and have fun with the people around them when they’re applying for a job, it’s a good sign that they’ll build successful relationships with future co-workers and guests.

What does the training and orientation process look like?

Every franchisee gets a regional franchise coach who provides guidance before, during and after the opening.

As we get closer to the opening, there’s a coordinator for front-of-house and heart-of-house, plus captains for each type of role (hostess, server, chef, etc.). Those people come in two days before orientation. They’ll stay for a 10-day closed-door training period.

Most of the captains come from other Walk-On’s restaurants, which is a testament to how invested our franchisees and employees are in our brand. Other locations will supply these people, even if it makes things a little harder while they’re gone. Of course, there’s some benefit to it. These “captains” see all of the newest training, new menu items, new technology. They can bring all of that back to their home restaurant.

Do you have any tips for keeping employees motivated and engaged, particularly during those long orientations?

Always, there’s a level of fun to what we do. We put a lot of thought into making it interactive and entertaining.

But it goes back to the hiring process, making sure we’re finding people who live up to our core values and principles. Because yeah, you’ll get tired at an opening. It’s long hours, it’s time away from your home and family. It really makes a difference when everyone cares about the work they’re doing.

The way Walk-On’s does training is actually a great retention play. We make a point to invest in our employees, to coach and develop them so they can grow in their career. We even have a “blue chip” program designed to take employees to the next level. And ultimately, many captains do step into management roles, or they’ll meet different franchisees and uncover new opportunities.

What’s the biggest mistake that you see new franchisees make?

So many people think they’ve got more time than they really do. If you’re not organized with your timeline, things will pile up and it will start to push back your opening. And that’s also when mistakes happen.

On our end, we have regular checkpoints across all departments, we send out reminders, and we’re always there to answer questions or fill in gaps to make sure the goal for the opening date is met.

What are the top questions you get from your franchisees?

Whether they’re seasoned or new franchisees, we get a ton of questions about ordering. How much do I order, and what do I order, so that we’re functioning but not losing money?

When it comes to FOH, we’re often fielding questions about the cash-out process. For a first timer, that you’re handling the most team members you’ve ever had. They want to make it more efficient handling all this money — if you mess it up, your employees aren’t going to stick with you. That’s a big reason Walk-On’s locations started using Kickfin to instantly tip-out their employees, especially when they were running cash negative so frequently.

More broadly, we’ll often talk to franchise owners about how to continue a strong flow of sales, or how to increase sales. We’ll think through operational and marketing solutions together.

We generally try to provide all of the information and pointers that we can from the start, but we’re always here to provide support when they need it.

Know someone we should add to our interview list? Email our Director of Marketing at keely@kickfin.com!

You might also be interested in

We know how important same-day payments are for veterans of the service industry who are accustomed to quick cash — and we’re now seeing that same demand expand into other industries as well. 

Kickfin co-founder Justin Roberts joined MasterCard’s InConversation Webinar series to discuss why immediate payment disbursal is key for the restaurant industry and the gig economy as a whole.

Watch the webinar here or read our recap for the highlights: 

People live paycheck-to-paycheck

Not just some people are living paycheck to paycheck. Most people are. 

That’s right: around 64% of U.S. consumers are just getting by. Even more shocking, 51% of consumers who earn over six figures are still living paycheck to paycheck, despite their higher tax bracket. 

It’s a major reason why employees need access to their earnings sooner rather than later. The pressure of watching your bank account slowly drain in the two weeks between payday is putting a lot of pressure on people, leading to a much greater demand for instant payments than ever before. 

Instant payouts are now table stakes

A PYMNTS study found that people of all ages prefer to be paid out immediately, as well as some other interesting statistics:

  • When given the choice, 68% of respondents said they would opt for an instant pay out
  • 40% of gig workers surveyed were willing to pay a fee for an instant disbursement
  • 81% of respondents were willing to switch jobs to an employer that offers instant access to earned wages and tips

It’s safe to say instant payouts are becoming the expectation for today’s modern workforce. But not all instant payouts are created equal.

Consumers are much more likely to engage with an instant payout system if they aren’t required to share their bank account and routing numbers and can access funds with just their debit card credentials. Why? It’s faster, more convenient, and feels more secure. 

Instant payouts and tip management: a perfect use case.

Instant payout innovation has come at the perfect time for the restaurant industry, which is struggling more than ever with the hassles and cost of cash.

If you’re in the restaurant biz, then you know: Most consumers pay with credit cards these days, not cash. That means there’s rarely enough cash on hand to pay out tips at the end of a shift. But employees still want and need instant access to their tip earnings.

Enter: instant payouts. Offering employees the option to receive their tip earnings directly to their bank of choice, the second their shift ends, can go a long way in improving employee satisfaction and ensuring their financial security.

But instant payouts are more than a work perk for employees. The operational benefits for employers range from reduced administrative burden and significant time savings to stronger compliance and streamlined reporting.

Modernizing your tip management strategy: 5 best practices 

There are three key components to your tip management strategy: 

  • Tip pool policy: How are you divvying up tips among your staff? 
  • The payout method: How are you distributing those payments?
  • The systems and tech: What are you using to facilitate those payments?

Under the current circumstances, restaurant operators are under immense pressure to bring their tip management into the future. 

5 best practices for tip management 

Based on our experience working with restaurant operators across the country, we’ve found that these five practices are the perfect recipe for building a successful tip management system.  

  1. Determine the right model and method for your restaurant, based on your location and tech stack
  2. Get a written tip policy (and get it legally approved
  3. Solicit employee feedback in a structured way
  4. Leverage technology for efficiency, accuracy, and compliance
  5. Don’t over-complicate (but do over-communicate!)

Tip management solution must-haves

When seeking a new tip management solution, make sure you carefully vet each system to see if it really meets your needs, or if it’ll be just as frustrating as cash. Here are a few suggestions for what should be on your checklist: 

  • Instant payouts
  • Direct to bank of choice
  • Availability of employee funds
  • Payroll option 
  • Integrations 
  • Simple implementation + onboarding process 
  • Around-the-clock customer service 

Big emphasis on strong customer support teams. Restaurants and bars don’t have “typical” business hours, so neither should your tech support.

Bar Louie automates payouts with Kickfin 

In a recent case study, we took a deep dive into our partnership with Bar Louie, a chain with over 60 locations that took advantage of our new integration with Toast. They made the switch from cash payouts to Kickfin’s instant, direct-to-bank payouts and haven’t looked back.  

Two-minute tip-outs

Before Kickfin, managers spent an average of 45 minutes per shift working through Bar Louie’s complex tip out policy and counting cash. The tip pooling rules were important to them — it’s what makes the entire staff feel like they’re getting their fair share. 

Using the Kickfin0Toast integration, Bar Louie was able to automate the tip pool calculation process and send tips straight to employees in under two minutes – a potential annual savings of 15,000 labor hours across all locations.

>> See more customer success stories 

Do you want to see these kinds of cost-saving results at your business? Let’s talk. Get a demo of Kickfin and see why restaurant owners and employees alike trust us to manage their tips.

Kickfin’s best-in-class tip calculation tool has some exciting new bells and whistles.

If you’re already using Kickfin’s tip pool calculator, then you know how much time and hassle you’re saving by automating everything. (And if you’re not? Head over to our tip pooling software page to see how it works!)

As we partner with more restaurants to bring their tip management into the future, we’re continuing to innovate our product so we can address their biggest pain points.

In this case, that means enhancing our tip pooling features so you can auto-calculate tip amounts even for the most complex or unique tip pool or share policies.

Check out a few of our latest features that will make tip calculations easier than ever.

New Release: Splitting Large Party Tips 

If your restaurant often hosts large parties, you know that the tip share can get confusing. Say one server is taking care of a party of 40 with a bartender assigned to only make drinks for that party. Meanwhile, the server has a few other two-top tables that are getting drinks from the main service bar. At the end of the night, how do you ensure that the large-party bartender gets their fair share of the tip out (without spending an hour on your phone calculator)? 

Kickfin can now automate that process for you, alleviating questions from your event bartender and saving time and effort on the part of your managers. 

Seamless Integrations 

Kickfin is partnering with your POS system to integrate seamlessly with your existing restaurant tech. Already, we’re serving Toast customers through our integration — and your POS just might be up next. 

Kickfin integration users get access to new product features first, like our new tip-out transparency tool. Your employees can log into their Kickfin accounts and see exactly how their tips have been split between team members, offering them full transparency into your tip policy in action.

Manager Tips 

We’re always listening to feedback to improve the Kickfin experience, and this one goes out to all of our restaurant partners who asked us to streamline the manager tip reallocation process.

>>Learn more about managers & tipping laws

In most cases, managers are not allowed to earn tips since they are salaried employees. But we all know that managers often step in and take care of tables to help servers get out of the weeds. Well-meaning guests will most likely leave a tip, not knowing that the manager technically can’t accept them — so where does that money go?

Kickfin now features a default pool, where tips “paid” to a manager are automatically redistributed to tipped staff based on your restaurant’s tip policy. 

Improved Labor Data Accuracy

We all know how easy it is for an employee to forget to clock out after a long shift. And sure, they aren’t going to get paid for a 16-hour overnight shift, but when payday comes around, those extra hours create a nightmare for your payroll team. 

With Kickfin, all employees are required to be clocked out in order to finalize payments — so you’ll catch the labor data mistake long before your payroll team has to sort it out. 

Even Better Security 

We’re committed to protecting you and your employees’ hard-earned money, so we’re adding an extra layer of security for certain transactions. You can now enable double approval of payments that meet certain conditions:

  • First payment for new employees
  • Employees getting their first payout in X number of days
  • Employees receiving more than X payouts in a 24-hour period. 

With these extra guardrails in place, you can always be sure that the right money is going to the right person. Reach out to our support team to configure your custom security measures.

Using Kickfin is a win-win for operators, managers, and employees alike. Restaurateurs save on cash delivery and labor costs, managers shave hours off their workload, and servers have the same instant payment that they’re used to — without the hassle and uncertainty of cash. 

Want to learn more about Kickfin? Let us show you the ropes with a demo

You heard it here first: 2024 is the year of integrations. 

In an effort to make Kickfin even more user-friendly and adaptable for our partners, we’re working with restaurant tech leaders to integrate our tip management solution with their existing systems. 

First up — Toast! A trailblazer for cloud-based restaurant management technology, Toast is a favorite POS system for restaurants, food trucks, and bars. You probably know them best for being the first to create handheld POS devices, drastically changing the entire restaurant ecosystem. To make life easier for their customers, Toast partnered with Kickfin to create an integration that makes tip pooling, tip distribution, and calculation smoother. 

As restaurant tech innovators ourselves, this partnership is the perfect fit for Kickfin. 

Our goal at Kickfin is always to save time for managers, prevent loss for operators, and create more financial freedom for hospitality employees through pioneering technology that digitizes many of the analog processes that the restaurant industry is built on. 

As a member of the Toast Partner Ecosystem, we’ll be able to deliver our product to Toast customers and modernize their tip management systems with ease. Using technology that they’re already familiar with, Toast customers can reap the benefits of Kickfin with minimal ramp-up upon implementation.

“No two restaurants split tips the same way, but invariably, it takes too long and involves too much risk,”  said Justin Roberts, the co-CEO of Kickfin. “This integration allows for the utmost customization with a near-zero learning curve — truly the best of both worlds for restaurants that want to save time, reduce labor costs and make life easier for their team.”

And one of their partners is already enjoying the ROI with Kickfin. Bar Louie takes great pride in making tip distribution equitable for all of their employees, so they rely on a complex tip pooling system to ensure fair pay. Prior to using Kickfin, managers at each of their 60 locations spent 45 minutes at the end of every shift to make calculations and divvy out funds to all of their servers. Now, they’ve streamlined their tip-out process with Kickfin — and managers are doing the same work in less than a minute! That’s an annual average of 15,000 hours saved across their entire chain. 

>> Hear more Kickfin success stories

After implementing Kickfin, managers can spend their time on what matters most: delivering excellent customer service. That means more table touches, more support for your staff, and more time to focus on server training. 

With managers spending more time on the floor (instead of counting cash in the back), you’ll see better customer reviews, better service, and increased sales — all from digitizing your tip-outs with Kickfin.

We’re excited about our new partnership with Toast and the opportunity to make digital tipping a reality for their customers. For restaurants who aren’t using Toast, don’t worry! We look forward to providing similar integrations across the restaurant tech industry.  

Want to see these results for yourself? Find out how to become a Kickfin integration partner or check out a demo of our platform.

No growing pains here! 

We’re thrilled to announce that Inc. listed Kickfin in their list of the top 10 fastest growing companies in the Southwest. (In fact, we earned the #1 spot in the software category and were listed as #9 overall!) We’re honored to be included alongside innovative companies that are making a big difference in our region. 

Inc. measured Kickfin’s growth from 2020 to 2022 — which wasn’t an easy time for the restaurant industry, to say the least. In spite of the challenges posed by the pandemic, restaurant concepts across the country embraced Kickfin’s technology. 

As a group, the 2024 Inc. honorees averaged 136% growth and created 17,606 new jobs over a two-year period. Individually, Kickfin grew by a whopping 1,304% (yes, really!).

We want to recognize and thank both our amazing customers and the Kickfin team for being part of our success story and allowing us to be a part of theirs. 

Our Customers

For years, restaurants manually calculated and paid out cash tips — despite the increasing hassle and liability those old-school methods entail. It’s not because operators are tech-averse; there simply wasn’t a good way to automate the process that didn’t create new friction or require new workarounds. 

That’s precisely why we developed Kickfin. Of course, we’re proud of what we built and the team behind it (more on that below). But we owe a great deal of our success to the customers who trusted us enough to give Kickfin a shot — especially those early adopters who are now some of our longest-standing customers.

There’s a leap of faith involved when you partner with a vendor and layer in new technology, particularly when it impacts something as important and sensitive as how you pay your people.  We don’t take that lightly, and we are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to serve each and every customer who’s been on this journey with us.

>> Hear from our customers about their experiences with Kickfin

Our Team 

Every person on our team wholeheartedly believes in our mission and vision for the future. In short: we’re here to make the tip management process insanely easy for everyone so that paying out your people is (almost!) as great as getting paid. 

As backstory: Our co-founders, Brian and Justin, came up with the idea for Kickfin while dining out together and noticing that an armored car was dropping off cash. They asked why a restaurant would need a cash delivery when most patrons pay by card; the manager explained the cash was needed to pay out tips at the end of the shift. The inefficiency (and expense, and risk…) of that process was a lightbulb moment for Brian and Justin.

They set out to build a team who not only understood the problem, but could think critically and creatively about a solution — and bring it to life. 

From sales and marketing to product and support, every Kickfin employee has had a hand in the growth and success of our company, thanks to their passion for our purpose and their commitment to being best in class.

We’re proud of what we’ve achieved thus far, and we’re excited to continue collaborating with our customers, innovating on their behalf, and taking Kickfin to the next level together. Onward and upward!

See Kickfin in action!