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Chain LeaderEditorial Archives2005April 15 — Best Places To Work

Exchange of Ideas
Newsletters and surveys help White Castle renew its commitment to founding values.

By David Farkas

Almost all restaurant companies talk to hourly workers continually. Communication is so vital that more than half of the companies People Report surveyed say they have dispatched news to the troops at least quarterly. Only 8 percent admit to never communicating, while a mere 3 percent admit to yearly communication.

“Making a connection in a company like ours is important. We want to make employees feel connected to the corporation instead of feeling like they serve hamburgers at one little store,” says John Kelley, assistant vice president of training and human relations for 400-unit White Castle.

Reach All About It
The latest message to the work force: excellence and standard-setting leadership in each of its industries, including its bakeries and frozen meat and metal fabrication plants. White Castle disseminates that message, a take on the founder’s original mission statement, through district managers, a bimonthly newsletter from headquarters and regional newsletters.

The company-run chain has shared news with employees since 1925, first via the White Castle House Organ and later Home Front, a publication for headquarters employees. The publications included improvement tips and ideas from employees as well as company achievements.

Eventually, the company wants to install an intranet that employees can access in break rooms. To date, only restaurants in New Jersey have computers in break rooms, used primarily for training.

“We like to let people know what’s going on,” declares Kelley, whose great-grandfather, Edgar Waldo “Billy” Ingram, co-founded the legendary chain in Wichita, Kan., in 1921.

Satisfaction Report
To that end, Kelley says, the company has surveyed its work force in recent years to figure out what is important to them. “We measure loyalty and satisfaction,” he explains. “We ask, for example, ‘Would you recommend employment here to a friend?’” Kelley will not share findings.

White Castle
Columbus, Ohio
2004 Systemwide Sales
$500 million*
Average Check
Expansion Plans

15 to 20 in 2005 and 2006

*Chain Leader estimate

But he does admit the company skipped surveying employees in 2004, assuming it had enough data after four years. It was a mistake, Kelley says. The company will survey workers again this summer.

One word that kept popping up on surveys was “caring.” Hourlies wanted general managers to treat them as human beings, or, as Kelley describes it, “as a valued partner

of a team, not just a cog.” Learning of those needs helps management devise ways to manage retention. “We share with them what’s going in the company,” he says. Employee turnover stood at 95 percent at the end of 2004, well below the industry average. Management turnover is just 2 percent.

In its early days White Castle could count on workers, who met Ingram, to put his values to work. Those values included speedy service and understanding what the customer wants. Kelley says his generation wants to renew the company’s commitment to its founding principles, which led to rapid growth. In all, 11 family members work for the chain.

“We’re re-sharing with them that these [values] are still important to the company,’” says Kelley.

Training sessions for supervisors began in Columbus, Ohio, in January. “We want to see an increase in sales and better focus on what customers want,” he adds.

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