How an employee handbook can make or break your business

Most independent restaurateurs spend years considering every detail of their dream restaurant, from the concept to the upholstery and everything in between.

Rarely, however, do those same new restaurant owners think about putting together an employee handbook. It’s understandable – restaurant employee handbooks can be more of a chore than a passion project. Despite this, employee handbooks are a vital asset of any restaurant that plans to be successful and avoid legal trouble.

Read on to learn why employee handbooks are necessary, what they should cover and how to translate these written regulations into action.

Do you really need a handbook?

Let’s be clear: yes. Restaurants of all sizes need one. Employee handbooks may seem like a staple of corporate establishments, and there’s a good reason for that – big businesses understand the risks of not having them. At a high level, an employee manual serves two critical functions for your business:

  • It outlines the expectations for all restaurant employees.
  • It requires that all managers and employees sign the document confirming they’ve read, understand and agree to it.

By accomplishing these two goals, as a restaurant owner, the employee handbook will immediately set up the standards employees will be held to and a framework for accountability. Documenting this in a handbook is the first step toward eliminating the inconsistent treatment of employees that lands restaurants in legal trouble.

Handbook basics

Remember that every handbook should be different. TRemember that every handbook should be different. The specific areas that it covers will depend on:

  • The size of your business
  • Where it’s located
  • What kind of culture you want to create
  • What type of restaurant you are opening.

The list below provides some general guidelines for what to include, but you’ll need an employment attorney to customise this framework in order to write a legally sound handbook.

Disclaimer and acknowledgment
There should be a disclaimer at the beginning of your handbook stating that it’s not an employment contract. Dedicate one page at the end that requires restaurant staff to acknowledge that they have read and understood the policies outlined in your handbook.

General employment policies
This section should cover labour laws such as equal employment opportunity, accommodations for individuals with disabilities, religious accommodation, as well as restaurant-specific topics for what it’s like working at your restaurant, such as having an open-door policy, performance evaluations and the company’s stance on outside employment.

Timekeeping and payroll
This section will cover everything to do staff hours and their pay, including how overtime is paid, payroll deductions, and pay corrections, as well your restaurant’s specific time-keeping procedures, paydays and consequences for not abiding by any of these rules. This section should also include a policy regarding attendance and punctuality, tip reporting and laws governing break times.

This section outlines any employee benefits that may be included, such as opt-in pension programs and anything else related to specific employee benefits at your restaurant.

Time off
Here is where you will go over time-off periods at your restaurant, from sick days and bereavement to jury duty and general holiday allowance. You should also explain how employees are expected to request time off.

Health, safety and emergency protocol
This should cover procedures around work-related accidents and injuries, possession of weapons and firearms, Health and Safety Executive (HSE) compliance, plus how to handle different types of emergencies.

Employee conduct and corrective action
Make sure that this section and the code of conduct are crystal clear. Outline your behavioural expectations of every employee and include a detailed progressive action plan so the staff understand consequences and managers are clear on how to handle employee misconduct.

Anti-harassment and non-discriminatory policy
The goal of this section is to define the company’s stance on harassment and discrimination. Here, you define the type of behaviour that qualifies as harassment or discrimination. It should also outline how employees should report harassment or discrimination in the workplace. Your policy also needs to explain how the company will handle reports of this nature in order to foster a safe working environment.

Drug testing and substance use
Describe what qualifies as prohibited conduct with regards to drugs and alcohol and what the consequences are for violating the policy. Explain what disciplinary action will be taken.

Separation policy
This section should define voluntary and involuntary termination and detail what is expected of the employee and the employer in each instance.

Other policies
Other topics you may want to consider for handbook inclusion are uniform and appearance standards. That can be any dress codes the restaurant may have, social media policy confidentiality and nondisclosure, smoking, use of company property, romantic relationships and conflicts of interest.

Make your handbook your own

An employee handbook is not just a risk management tool; it’s an opportunity to show who you are and what you’re about. It’s an expression of the restaurant identity and values and a building block of company culture. The handbook can help connect the dots between the mission statement and actual employment practices.

Whether you decide to hire someone else to do the bulk of the writing, work from a restaurant employee handbook template from a professional human resources site or use customisable software as a guide, make sure that you stay engaged in the process to ensure that your handbook reflects your brand as much as possible.

Regardless of how you decide to complete the actual writing, you might need an employment attorney. It’s hard to think of shelling out precious start-up cash on something like this, but remember that using an outdated or flawed boilerplate template can be just as bad as not having one at all. If the handbook contains any incorrect information, it may not do much to protect you or your staff.

Hiring an employment lawyer with restaurant experience can help get you on the right track. If you’re a smaller restaurant without an HR team, a lawyer should be able to answer any legal questions throughout the process. They will also give the document a comprehensive review to ensure that it’s compliant with rules and regulations.

Put your handbook into action

After finalising a thoughtful, comprehensive employee handbook you’ll want to put it into action. Proper implementation and documentation to prove that your business follows the rules are crucial steps.

Once you’ve done your due diligence and completed your handbook, you’ll need to:

1. Train managers
Restaurant managers need to understand everything in the handbook so they can answer questions and effectively manage based on its standards. Having documented expectations can prove counterproductive if they are applied unevenly, so make sure that every manager is enforcing the rules stated in your handbook.

2. Train employees
It’s also in everyone’s best interest for all employees to have a clear understanding of everything in your handbook, so simply handing it out and asking them to sign it isn’t enough. During pre-opening training, dedicate at least an hour to go over the most important points of the handbook and require everyone to read it before signing. Giving a quiz on its contents is a good way to ensure that employees understand critical topics. Employees that have a clear understanding of what they should expect to give and to receive from their employer are more comfortable and confident, allowing them to do a better job.

3. Revisit it often
Your handbook has to be a living, breathing document in order for it to remain a useful tool. Employment laws change frequently, as will expectations of employees in the months and years following your opening. As the restaurant changes, encourage the management team to make suggestions that can help keep standards high. The more bought-in your team is in helping to maintain quality, the better.

Employe handbook templates

The idea of creating an employee handbook can be daunting, especially if you don’t have the time or resources to put one together. Online templates can help mitigate the work involved with writing an employee handbook, giving you a solid starting point from which to craft important information relating to staff at your restaurant.

Even better, these handbook templates are usually free, and you can edit them to suit your restaurants’ employee handbook needs. Check out the links below for helpful templates:

Setting you and your team up for success

While it can seem mundane on the surface, an employee handbook helps make your vision for your restaurant a reality. It will help immensely as you hire, develop, and retain top talent—the best employees always want to have a solid understanding of what is expected of them, and how to achieve it.