Tuition help cuts turnover at Kansas restaurant chain

Up to $1,200 per year keeps students working

Labor relations

April 09, 1999|By KANSAS CITY STAR

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- When Rod Anderson acquired the Hereford House in 1987, he issued five W-2 forms for each position at the restaurant. That's an average of five people filling a single job in a year. That's a lot of staff turnover.

This year, 440 people filled 250 positions at the original Hereford House and the newer one in Leawood, Kan., less than two people for each position.

His turnover turnaround lies partly in the acronym HOOF, short for Helping Others Obtain a Future.

Some background: Restaurants are notorious for high turnover. Some people make restaurant work a career, but many others use it as an interim job while in school or training. Turnover of 200 percent to 300 percent a year is common.

Anderson wanted to reduce turnover by improving incentives for long-term and transient employees. He improved health- and life-insurance benefits and provided 401(k) investment opportunities for employees 21 and older who worked at the company at least a year.

Then he focused on the transient employees -- typically students working their way through school.

Through his plan, Anderson contributed $38,000 last year to help at least 30 employees pay for their education.

Tuition contributions are based on the number of hours worked, and the amount increases with each year the student works for the company. Contributions max out at $600 a semester, or $1,200 a year.

Gretchen Burak, a University of Missouri-Kansas City history major, joined the plan four months after taking a Hereford House job. She said it was the reason she applied there, and the reason she's still there after three years.

Community college students are finding that HOOF contributions can cover their full tuition costs, Anderson said. Students who pursue more expensive education or training still have a valuable contribution.

The company benefits, too. The HOOF expense pays for itself by keeping experienced workers.

"Experienced servers sell more food. Their bills average $1 higher per visit than those of inexperienced servers," Anderson said. "If the experienced server has 150 visits a week, averaging $1 more per check, it doesn't take long to see why keeping experience pays."

Pub Date: 4/09/99

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