People are the secret ingredient that makes restaurants shine. Yet managing a team of people within a restaurant is also one of the industry’s biggest challenges. With labor turnover rates at a record, an ongoing labor crunch with 460,000 open positions, and many longtime restaurant workers leaving the industry, how operators run their restaurants from a staffing perspective is more important than ever.
Here’s where a restaurant employee handbook comes in. While often seen as dusty, boring tomes, employee handbooks should be the heart of your business, the document that defines who you are, what you aspire to do, and how to accomplish it regardless of challenges. It should smooth onboarding and day-to-day operations. It’s also an important document to protect the business, your guests, and your employees. A well-written handbook that’s shared, taught, and championed can be the difference between engaged team members, delighted customers, growth, and stagnation.
When you create, implement, train, and update your handbook, you mustn’t do it in a vacuum. Restaurants succeed with teamwork, and the same holds for this effort. Consult with senior staff and other trusted management. They are the ones closest to your front-line employees and will be able to fill in many of the details. While a handbook isn’t a binding legal document for the business or employees, it’s crucial to ensure attorneys also have eyes on the final product. Ideally, you’ll want an attorney who’s knowledgeable about the restaurant industry and employment law across the country.
Below, we outline the major sections that should be in your handbook and the critical themes and topics in each. While this guide is tailored to restaurants, it might also be helpful to double check your finished product against this guide from the Society for Human Resource Management — a recognized HR expert for all industries- and this workflow for creating and implementing new company policies.
While a handbook is serious business, it should also be an exciting, engaging document that turns new hires and those with some time behind the line or on the floor with the information and excitement they need to become key team members and true ambassadors of your brand.
Your introduction should do it all quickly and succinctly. It should include:
- A welcome letter from the founder or owner
- A history of the business. Engage your team with a story and encourage them to make their mark.
- A high-level introduction to your restaurant’s brand, positioning, and operations. You may also offer a brief introduction to your standards of service and quality.
- A table of contents
- A clear legal disclaimer stating that the handbook is not a legal document or contract.
- A confidentiality statement.
Mission Statement & Core Values
No business should run without this underlying foundation. At Restaurant365, our core values are Solve Problems Together, Share Positive Vibes, Relentlessly Seek Greatness, and (of course) Love Good Food. To develop your core values, think about your personal and professional values, how they apply to your business, and how they translate. Think about what is important not only as a founder, owner, operator, or director but what matters most to your guests and staff.
Your mission statement consists of those core values in action. When crafting your mission statement, it’s important that it have many of the following qualities:
Also consider using this section to outline your standards of service and quality. Here you can provide a high-level outline of the ideal guest experiences and best-possible outcomes when things don’t go as planned. One way to approach it all is to explain the desired emotional response each guest should have during their experience and as it ends. This includes on-site dining, but today should also account for takeout or delivery customers.
Code of Conduct
While this code will differ between concepts and service styles, some ground-level expectations apply to all restaurants. One chef recommended, “don’t do or say anything that you wouldn’t in front of your grandmother.” Of course, this might be a little too broad, so when writing your code of conduct, keep the following things in mind:
Dress code. This should include specific details for your front-of-house, back-of-house, and management. Don’t forget to include guidelines for hair, jewelry, and footwear, which is critical for restaurant professionals.
- Customer service standards and how to behave in difficult situations.
- Tobacco policy.
- Cell phone policy.
- Dating policy.
- Safety and emergency procedures.
- Situations that can result in disciplinary measures.
Pay & Benefits
No one works for free, and there’s a good chance your new team members will flip straight to this section when they receive your handbook. If you’re creating an employee handbook for the first time or updating yours following the pandemic and the subsequent years of change, this section must be as accurate and thorough as possible.
This is also a place to set your restaurant company ahead of your competitors. Feel free to brag about the modern HR solutions your company uses, as well as convenient, flexible pay offered in various ways. You’ll also want to include:
- Policy on declaring tips.
- Whether your company and its locations use tip pooling.
- How much employees are paid. This should be individualized for each employee.
- How employees can be paid. Restaurant companies that offer many options see greater retention.
- Overtime policy.
- Break and meal policies.
- Sick leave
- Insurance, worker’s compensation, and health plans, if applicable
Standard employment language is vital to protect both the business and the employees. Be sure to double-check this language with a legal expert. Here, you’ll want to be sure you have the equal employment opportunity statement, an explanation of at-will employment, if applicable, accommodations for individuals with disabilities, leave-of-absence details, and information on family or medical leave.
Procedures & Emergencies
This section could best be described by the iconic hook from Montell Jordan, who once said, “This is how we do it.” While there’s no replacement for on-the-job training or mentorship, a well-organized, well-written procedures section should be a reliable FAQ for anyone with questions about how things are done in your company. This is an important section that team members should be encouraged to visit periodically to ensure that what happens day-to-day inside your restaurants is in line with practices designed to promote efficiency and profitability. Within this section should be subsections on:
- Scheduling processes.
- Attendance expectations.
- Policies for lateness and absences.
- How to submit schedule preferences.
- How to request time off.
- How to swap shifts.
- Opening and closing procedures and task lists.
- Safety and sanitation policies.
- Guest allergy protocols.
- Comps and voids.
- Side work lists and breakdowns.
- Inventory and waste expectations and processes.
Know Your Systems
As the restaurant industry becomes increasingly technology-driven, it’s more important than ever to smooth the learning curve for new team members. Like the preceding section, this should be an organized, concise explanation of the systems your restaurants use to drive success. Of course, the details in your employee handbook shouldn’t replace on-site training, hands-on learning, and mentoring. It’s also critical that this section be up-to-date and that your staff refer to it regularly. While your company may use a highly customized tech stack, your handbook should include details for at least a minimum of:
- How FOH and BOH use your chosen point-of-sale (POS) system.
- Scheduling software.
- Kitchen display systems, if applicable.
- All online ordering applications.
- All reservation platforms.
- Payment processing.
Anti-Harassment & Complaint Procedures
While your restaurant’s primary purpose is to create unforgettable guest experiences, generate profits, and grow to offer it all to wider audiences of guests and employees, providing a safe environment for guests to visit and people to work is of the utmost importance. The framework around any potentially dangerous situation is imperative and should include:
- A crystal-clear list of punishable and prohibited actions that could also result in ending employment.
- How to properly report abuse or harassment.
- An explanation of how management handles violations.
- The best point of contact for reporting violations.
Although the handbook isn’t legally binding, it should wrap up with a conclusion summarizing each section’s major points and providing a place for the employee to acknowledge the entire document’s contents.
The big question is what to do with a handbook after it’s created, read, studied, and acknowledged. The answer is to encourage, incentivize, and possibly require team members to re-review the most critical sections. It’s also essential that your management team or whoever is responsible for the handbook update whenever needed. Restaurant companies are constantly switching up their menus, processes, and technology, and employment and compensation laws around the country are continually changing. Letting a handbook fall too far out of date is a risk to your guests and employees and the overall health of the business.
Finally, consider implementing a cloud-based, restaurant-specific HR and scheduling system as part of a larger, all-in-one Restaurant Enterprise Management (REM) to oversee your entire company and help you draw more value from every aspect. Integrating modern workforce management with other key functions like accounting and store operations will improve productivity and modernize the employee lifecycle by leveraging sophisticated hiring, onboarding, scheduling, payroll, and benefits tools.