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ORLANDO, Fla. -- Employees at the Hard Rock Cafe like big tippers. The biggest tipper could be the company itself.

The restaurant chain tips its employees twice. Hard Rock gives them tips on retirement planning and contributes money toward it.

Getting big tips is the theme for the Hard Rock's booklet explaining the company's 401(k) plan, called FutureCare.

Titled "Think of It as a 150% Tip," the package unfolds, like a portfolio, to reveal three sections. The left side lists five "tips" on how to enroll. The right side contains an enrollment form, while the center has a pocket containing an explanatory booklet and prospectuses.

The tip theme is designed to strike a chord with the restaurant company's employees.

"Tips stood out as the thing these people talked about every day," said Trey Wood, a principal and communications consultant with Buck Consultants Inc. in Atlanta who helped design the booklet.

Written in non-technical language and geared toward younger employees, the booklet lays out the meat and potatoes of the plan. For example, describing how employees can borrow from their accounts, it says: "Another really cool thing is, when you pay back the loan, you're really paying yourself back. So you get to keep the interest, not Joe Bank Loan Officer."

Also, in explaining the matching contributions, the booklet calls the employee's money "Your Dough" and the company's two types of contributions: "The Basic" and "The Match."

"We needed to push the envelope to finish the campaign and make this successful," said Dea McKenzie, art director at Buck's Atlanta office. She worked extensively on the booklet.

The design of the portfolio also was carefully considered, Ms. McKenzie said. Employees could read the tips on the left side of the portfolio and enroll, while others could read the booklet in the center to get more information.

The concept of a 150% tip derives from the plan itself. When an employee contributes at least 2% of his or her income to the plan, the company will contribute 2%, The Basic. In addition, the company will pay in 50% of each employee's contribution, The Match.

So, if an employee contributes 2% of his or her pay, the company will contribute 3%, for a 150% matching tip.

"This is how you can get yourself a tip from the company," said Tony Amato, director of compensation and benefits for The Hard Rock Cafe International Inc. in Orlando, Fla.

The unique approach and easy-to-read text earned Best of Show honors in the single-subject booklet category of the 1997 Business Insurance Employee Benefits Communication Awards competition.

Most of the Hard Rock's employees are young and are not planning long-term careers with the company or retirement, so the company had to tailor the text to match the audience.

"We had to make it appealing to a younger reader -- don't target the 35- to 40-year-old reader -- and use words they can relate to," he said.

Hard Rock also offered employees a special pin as an incentive to enroll. Mr. Amato said pins are popular with Hard Rock employees, many of whom collect and trade them.

The booklet also plays on the restaurant business. For example, to introduce the investment options, the booklet says, "Just as your customers have to choose between the ribs or the burger, you have to make decisions on how to invest your FutureCare money."

Despite the informal approach, the booklet covers all the important points, including eligibility, matching contributions, loans, investment strategy and fund options.

One problem Hard Rock faced was getting employee contributions. Many Hard Rock employees' income comes from tips in cash. But, employees can declare their tips as income, allowing for 401(k) withholdings.

Because "cash in the hand" is a concept employees understand, Mr. Amato said, the cover features a hand grasping $100 bills with the Hard Rock tablecloth in the background.

One goal the company had with the booklet was to increase participation of its tipped employees. Although about 85% of corporate employees were enrolled in the 401(k) plan, only around one-third of hourly employees were. The new booklet was designed with these employees in mind.

From September to December of 1996, Mr. Amato presented the portfolio to the company's 6,000 employees. At all 29 U.S. locations he handed the package, along with other benefit materials, to the employees and described the plan. At times he would use real money to demonstrate how the matching contributions enhance the employee's own. Employees left the meeting talking about "free money," he said. "By not doing this, they let go of free money."

The employees' response was "tremendous," Mr. Amato said, with enrollment by the hourly, tipped employees climbing to 45% from 34% as a result of this piece.

"To make our numbers move that much, you had to do something right," he said.

"It's the most effective written piece of communication I've ever seen and the most enjoyable to read," he added. The project cost the company $99,000.

Buck's Mr. Wood said the booklet was successful "because the human resources management allowed us to do what we wanted to do."

The success of the booklet has led Mr. Amato to conclude that off-beat materials work best. Employee communications have to "fit the culture" of the company, he said.

"Don't be afraid to explore different means to communicate," he advised. "Make it fun and fit your audience."