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How to Develop a Restaurant Employee Handbook

How to Develop a Restaurant Employee Handbook
How to Develop a Restaurant Employee Handbook

bartender working behind the bar The employee handbook or manual is one of the most important documents your restaurant will produce. It is an effective way of training your employees to do things correctly. The handbook establishes the policies, procedures and other components that should to be present in any business. This article provides guidelines for creating an employee handbook for the first time, or assessing and updating your old one. No matter how it is created, always consult with an employment lawyer or restaurant human resource professional before finalizing and publishing your handbook.

Why Your Restaurant Needs an Employee Handbook

There are several reasons why creating an employee manual is critical to your restaurant's success. This document is home to your specific restaurant policies, local and federal laws, employment standards and procedures for all areas of the restaurant. Check below for specific ways the employee manual will make your life easier.

Enhance professionalism. The employee handbook shows your staff that you are serious about your restaurant, and more importantly, serious about their performance. You have taken time to create it and your staff needs to take serious time to read and understand it.

Answer employee questions before they ask. Many employees want to know what they need to do and how to do it. A good employee handbook will cover this, so you will spend less time answering the same questions over and over.

Improve employee confidence. Restaurant employees perform better when they are confident of their job requirements and the specific procedures. This translates to better customer service as well.

Elevate level of consistency. When you have the policies written out, you can consistently train every employee. Conversely, if you need to take disciplinary action with someone, the employee handbook gives you written documentation of procedures in case of any messy legal action.

Writing the Employee Handbook

Here are a few tips for writing the employee handbook that will make it as useful as possible for your restaurant staff:

Write multilingual handbooks. If necessary, make up employee handbooks in different languages to accommodate any non-native English speakers on your restaurant staff.

Write so employees can understand. No need to write the employee handbook in unfamiliar jargon or legal terms. Write simply and clearly so any of your employees can understand it. After all, they are your main audience.

Produce specialized handbooks. Depending on your restaurant, you may find that handbooks for every type of employee make the most sense. In full service establishments, job descriptions can be very different and may require separate policies and procedures. Limited or quick service restaurants often function just fine with one universal employee handbook.

Add information as needed. New situations come up, and you may need to make additions to your handbook in order to cover procedures that you feel are important enough to be in the handbook. To avoid publishing new handbooks every time this happens, print off the new procedures and hand out copies with the next round of employee paychecks.

Essential Components of an Employee Handbook

All employee handbooks will look slightly different due to many variances including concept, layout, service type, location, hours and specific policies that are enforced by either the owner or manager. Despite differences in content, the following components are important in any restaurant employee handbook.

Disclaimer and Acknowledgement The disclaimer and acknowledgement section of your restaurant employee handbook establishes that employees have read and understand the policies, procedures, expectations and benefits outlined in the handbook. It also asserts that the handbook does not act as an employment contract. This is especially important for states with "at-will" employment laws, which are laws delineating that an employment relationship can be terminated at any time, by the employer or employee, without cause or liability.

Employment Policies A section on hiring policies will help outline any state laws that apply to interviewing, hiring and otherwise bringing people to work in the restaurant. An employee handbook needs to cover any applicable state or federal employment law, including the commitment to Equal Opportunity Employment. Handbooks may also include information on the following:

Work Hours and Payroll

In this section, discuss any labor laws that were not covered in the previous section, and to outline the expectations and procedures for employees while on the job. Include the following concepts, tailored to your restaurant:

Labor laws. Labor laws differ from state to state. Include information about age requirements, work permits, overtime pay procedures or information about what work employees can safely perform while on the job. » More on Restaurant Employment and Labor Laws

Payroll. Employees will want to know when and how they will be paid. Let employees know that when paydays occur, how they will receive their wages and if direct deposit is available. » More on How to Choose a Payroll Provider

Scheduling. Discuss how the schedule will be created and how often. Include procedures for asking for time off, missing a shift or changing the schedule. You may also want to cover what happens when an employee misses a shift without notice. This information will often require extra enforcement and communication in person. » More on How to Make a Restaurant Schedule

Breaks. Most state labor laws also include directives for employee breaks and meal periods. Employees must be aware of their rights according to area labor laws. They should also be aware of how to clock out for a break, where they can spend the break and how many breaks they are allowed in a given shift.

Tip reporting. This applies mainly to servers. Make sure the tip reporting policy in your restaurant is clearly communicated and enforced. Include instructions on how to fill out a tip reporting sheet and potential consequences for inaccurate reporting. » More on Tip Distribution and Tip Reporting

Workers' compensation. This section should have information on employee injuries or illness as a result of working at the restaurant. Make employees aware of their rights and educate them on how to stay safe while on the job.


Employees want to know what benefits they are entitled to while employed at your restaurant. Make sure they are aware of any of the following benefits your restaurant offers:

Employee meals. Employee meals are a common benefit in many restaurants, in which restaurant employees receive one free meal for each shift worked.

Insurance and 401K. Although a less common benefit, some restaurant managers and workers are eligible to receive medical, dental and vision insurance as well as 401K packages. » More on Employee Wages and Benefits

Time off. Businesses are typically required to provide time off to their employees when they are sick and during holidays. Restaurants, however, may employ unique policies regarding time off. Be sure to clarify your restaurant's policies, including the following circumstances if applicable:

  • Holidays
  • Sick Days
  • Vacation Time
  • Overtime
  • Bereavement
  • Maternity Leave
  • Jury Duty

Appearance Standards

Be sure to identify the proper uniform and appearance standards for every job position in your restaurant. Uniform requirements will differ in just about every establishment, so make it clear what your specific standards are, including the following aspects of employee appearance: » More on Employee Uniforms

  • Shoes
  • Uniforms
  • Hair
  • Facial hair
  • Nails
  • Jewelry
  • Tattoos
  • Piercings

Behavior Expectations and Policies

It is essential that a restaurant handbook define acceptable and inappropriate behaviors in the restaurant. When employees know their expectations and their limits, there will be fewer problems in the workplace. » More on Employee Discipline and Reward Systems

Teamwork. Emphasize teamwork in your employee handbook. Make sure that you foster an environment of trust and cooperation as much as possible.

Customer service. Depending on your restaurant layout and service style, you may have several different employees interacting with customers for every order. Make certain that all employees are aware of your restaurant's customer service goals and how to exemplify them.

Evaluations. Let employees know that their performance will be periodically evaluated. These evaluations can even lead to an increase in wages, if your restaurant is in a position to offer it.

Rewards and discipline. Establishing a rewards policy and a discipline system in the restaurant will help employees understand the consequences of their behavior, whether good or bad. Identify unacceptable behaviors, as well as those that result in immediate termination. In addition, clarify those behaviors that will make the employees stand out as leaders.

Conflict resolution. When employees show their superiors or their coworkers disrespect, the whole atmosphere of the workplace can turn sour. Have behavior standards and resolution practices in place for conflicts that do arise. » More on Employee Conflict Resolution

Termination Include policies on dismissing employees from the restaurant. Be sure to cover both voluntary and involuntary termination and what behaviors will lead directly to termination. » More on How to Terminate Restaurant and Bar Employees

Cash Handling Policies and Procedures

Many restaurant employees will be handling cash while at work, either as a server, bartender or cashier. Having cash handling policies in place will help instruct employees on the proper way to handle money to minimize loss and maximize security and accuracy. » More on Cash Handling Practices for Restaurants

Operating Procedures

This section of the employee handbook includes any operational procedures that you feel are necessary to communicate to your employees. This can include opening and closing procedures, proper ways of operating equipment or supplies, special safety procedures and service guidelines. Generally, the more details you provide in this section, the better.

Harassment Policy

Have a stringent policy on workplace harassment. Provide information about sexual harassment and other forms of workplace harassment, as well as instruction for how to avoid it, how to identify it and how to report it. You may even want to include a statement of acknowledgement for every employee to sign, stating that they have read and understand the no-harassment policy. These can be kept in employee files.

Drug and Alcohol Policy

Drug and alcohol abuse can occur in any restaurant. Not only is it harmful to the employee, but it can be dangerous to those around him or her. Be sure your policies are clearly defined. This especially applies to restaurants that serve alcohol and allow employees to drink after their shifts have ended.

Health and Safety

Keeping your restaurant staff safe on the job should your highest priority. Be sure to provide consistent, thorough training to all employees through regular staff safety meetings and on-the-job coaching. Have proper labels and posters in place to remind employees of hazardous chemicals or potentially dangerous procedures. Also check out the Health and Safety Section of the Education Center for more information.

Emergency Procedures

In the event of an extreme weather emergency, power outage or burglary, your restaurant staff needs to be prepared with the proper precautions and procedures. Educate your staff about the importance of awareness and security when it comes to crisis situations. » More on Restaurant Emergency Procedures

Company Property and Equipment

Some restaurant employees have access to computers, vehicles or other equipment belonging to the restaurant. Make sure employees are aware that they need to respect restaurant property of all types.

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