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Considerations for Your Restaurant Employee Handbook

Restaurants are fast-paced and often experience high turnover, so you need a clear framework to quickly get new employees up to speed. Your restaurant employee handbook compiles all the important policies and your company’s values to prepare your employees for the workload. To create an effective employee manual, you need thorough policies presented in an engaging, easy-to-read format that your workers can reference easily. Read on to learn more about restaurant employee handbooks and important considerations when creating them.

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What is a restaurant employee handbook?

A restaurant employee handbook is a written collection of documents that communicate a variety of policies, procedures, rules and expectations to employees. It covers what employees need to do to meet your requirements. This might include employee conduct with one another and customers. Certain employees may have different expectations. For example, hygiene practices are essential for kitchen staff. It also outlines your responsibilities to your employees for things such as safety and benefits.

Benefits of an employee handbook for restaurant staff

Creating an employee handbook from scratch can seem overwhelming and time-consuming, but it pays off once it’s in place. Here are some potential benefits of an employee handbook for your restaurant staff:

  • Communicates employee work standards: The guide ensures that your employees understand your expectations for interactions and responsibilities. This can improve work quality and create task consistency.
  • Provides transparency about policies and procedures: Describe details about dress code, calling out sick and other important policies to ensure employees have the information necessary. This serves as an easy reference for employees and helps managers enforce the rules consistently.
  • Increases efficiency: By creating one central document with all crucial policy information, you give your employees a tool to find answers themselves. This saves you from answering the same questions repeatedly.
  • Protects business owners in legal situations: Ensure that your handbook includes all expectations on your part should a former employee file a lawsuit for something such as wrongful termination. This can support your argument. Having your employees sign an acknowledgment of receiving the handbook can also be helpful in court to discredit an employee’s argument that they didn’t receive a copy.
  • Helps employees identify benefits and other incentives: Include a section that outlines the types of benefits they receive. For example, you might describe how employees receive 10 days of PTO, health insurance and two free meals per every eight-hour shift.
  • Guides training: Your restaurant handbook can be the basis for your new employee training. Using it as a guide ensures you cover key details for a smoother onboarding process.
  • Reduces conflict: When you detail your expectations in a manual, you have a reference if you need to write up an employee for misconduct. It’s difficult for them to argue with the disciplinary action if you can show them the policy they violated and your disciplinary procedures.

6 items to include in a restaurant employee handbook

You should customize everything that goes into your manual for your restaurant since you likely do things differently from other establishments. Despite those differences, many sections in a food service employee handbook will be the same for every restaurant. Here are some sections to include:

1. Food safety and quality

This section is especially important for kitchen staff to learn how to prepare and store food in a hygienic and safe way. It can cover protocols such as knife safety, working around hot grease, avoiding cross-contamination and refrigeration requirements. States have standards and policies, so consult the proper local and county guidelines.

2. Dress code expectations

Whether working behind the scenes in the kitchen or front of house as a host or server, your employees represent your restaurant and brand. You may have a specific uniform that all employees wear, or you might ask that they wear certain attire. Consider the restaurant’s atmosphere when it comes to personal appearance as well as hygiene and food safety when establishing your dress code. Here are some examples of acceptable dress code policies:

  • All shirts must be tucked in
  • Hosts should wear all black
  • Servers or cooks with long hair should wear it up or pulled back
  • Tattoos with profane language should be covered, whether by clothing or jewelry; other tattoos are fine
  • Kitchen staff should not wear jewelry during work; servers and hosts may wear jewelry

3. Payroll expectations and benefits

With a variety of roles and skill levels needed to help you run your restaurant, how you pay your employees may vary as well. Outline the different pay grades available and the reasoning for each pay grade amount. For example:

  • Level 1: Hourly pay for part-time positions at the state minimum wage of $9.25 per hour
  • Level 2: Hourly pay for full-time positions starting at $14.00 per hour
  • Level 3: Salaried positions starting at $35,000+. These positions require college-level education, certifications/training or leadership roles.

You can also include a section on the available perks and benefits. Give a general overview of the benefits and who qualifies for them. Specify differences between benefits for part-time vs. full-time employees.

4. Code of conduct

Explain your code of conduct to make employees aware of your behavior expectations. This can cover how they treat others, act at work and behave while wearing the restaurant uniform outside of work. For example, hosts, servers, restaurant management and even kitchen staff should be able to communicate with customers professionally and positively. Include a list of customer service expectations and example scenarios to help them approach odd situations. This section can also address discrimination and harassment.

5. Restaurant procedures

You have a variety of procedures that happen daily within the restaurant. List those procedures individually, covering important details. For instance, you should have a few different emergency protocols in the handbook so employees can be prepared to respond to events such as kitchen fires, violent customers, robberies or crimes on the premises. Other examples include scheduling, overtime and complaints.

6. Leave and attendance policies

Include a section that goes over available leave options, such as sick leave, vacation time and bereavement leave. Describe their options under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) if you fall under those regulations. Indicate the difference between paid and unpaid leave options and how employees should ask for time off.

You should also describe your attendance expectations. Explain what happens if employees are late or have a no-show, no-call absence.

Tips for deciding what to include in your restaurant employee handbook

An employee handbook could be hundreds of pages long if you included every tiny detail. You want it to be a comprehensive guide, but you don’t want it to be so long that it’s overwhelming. Here are some tips on what to include:

  • Create a survey: This allows you to identify what your employees wish they knew when they started or subjects they feel you should have included in the old handbook.
  • Review competitor handbooks: Some restaurants may put employee handbooks online for prospective employees to review and members of the public to view. Use this to your advantage to learn more about what other restaurants include in their handbooks.
  • Make a list of past errors or complex situations: Use past negative experiences to identify recurring events that affect workflow or customer satisfaction. For instance, if you see a continuous pattern of staff coming in late and others having to cover for them, you may consider implementing a three-strike rule in your handbook that promotes punctuality.

FAQs about an employee restaurant handbook

Who should write the restaurant employee handbook?

You can write the handbook yourself to save money. Online handbook and policy templates can give you a framework for creating it. Look for restaurant-specific handbook examples to have the most relevant model. If you have an HR department, the employee handbook usually falls under its responsibilities. You can also hire a writer with handbook experience to draft the manual for you. No matter who writes the handbook, it’s a good idea to have it legally reviewed to ensure your policies don’t violate any rights.

How often should you revise your handbook?

It’s a good idea to review your employee handbook for restaurant employees at least once per year to ensure all policies are still relevant. If you go through major changes, such as sudden growth or a new direction in your restaurant style, it’s a good idea to recheck the policies. If you modify any employee handbook restaurant policies, announce the changes to your employees to ensure they know.

Is there anything you shouldn’t include in the handbook?

Avoid complex language or lots of legal verbiage, which can cause the message to get lost. Make the book clear, concise and easy to understand. Ensure all policies follow state and federal labor laws. Review them to ensure the policies aren’t discriminatory and don’t take away any rights your employees are entitled to under labor laws.

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