English to Go
Chipotle puts language classes on the menu to build employee loyalty.
By Jennifer Alsever

(Business 2.0) – Fast food usually means rapid employee turnover. But the Chipotle Mexican Grill chain is holding on to its workers longer, thanks to a program that provides English-language instruction for Spanish-speaking employees.

The result? Better customer service--and a turnover rate just a third of the industry average. That's a particularly big deal when you consider that, according to the National Restaurant Association, a whopping 96 percent of hourly workers in the fast-food industry leave their jobs within a year.

Spanish speakers constitute 17 percent of all fast-food employees. The ones who don't speak any English are often relegated to the worst jobs, such as manning fryers or mopping floors, where they have little contact with the public. But at Chipotle, which is 90 percent owned by McDonald's, those workers are more likely to be found creating customized burritos by hand, cafeteria-style, in front of customers--an extra incentive for the chain to make sure its workers can communicate in English.

Nearly all of Chipotle's 425 locations offer the language classes, and eight trainers teach restaurant managers how to run the courses. The classes are voluntary, but workers are paid on the clock to participate. Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold says the company's goal is to ensure that important policy details and service procedures don't get "lost in translation." As an added benefit, he says, the language lessons also give Spanish-speaking employees greater self-confidence. That fosters loyalty--which is always a winning recipe. -- JENNIFER ALSEVER