How to Write an Employee Handbook your Restaurant Staff will Read
New customers excite us. New dishes and menus excite us. The premise of black bottom lines excites us. Writing employee handbooks? Not so much. These seemingly dull tomes often produce a variety of yawns and eye-rolling from new hires and current employees. Despite the pushback, for an operator, knowing how to write an employee handbook is one of the most important aspects of creating a company culture.
Now, no one says you have to write an employee handbook; in fact, no legal statute mandates it. If you want to minimize risk though, starting one now is a wise move.
Reframing your thoughts on how to write an employee handbook will help. Start with the title: Employee Handbook sounds stodgy and dry. It certainly doesn’t entice a reader! Instead, try something like calling it a “Team Guide, “The Way Things Work Around Here Manual,” or even a “Better Dining Experience Doctrine.” Choose what works for you.
Innovative employers cut through the tedious handbook copy of yesteryear to embrace a new approach. They seek to do more than command staff but to build a culture and create value for employees. No, it likely won’t end up on the Best-Seller list, you’ll do well to make your handbook lively. To highlight just how creative employers have become, the Society of Human Resource Management shared a few inventive employee handbooks in 2018, created by restaurant operators, that engage readers on a different level.
Why Create a Restaurant Employee Handbook?
A polished employee handbook serves both employee and employer alike. With policies, procedures, and rights documented, you’ll be less likely to encounter employee misunderstandings that turn into costly litigation. Employee handbooks will also:
- Help new hires feel at home in their position. Clarity eliminates ambiguity and increases trust from them.
- Provide a better defense in a litigation claim. Documentation and consistency are the foundation in these defenses.
- Create more accessible and consistent policies. When you detail the rights of employees, as well as the responsibilities and obligations of the employer, you instill the conviction of equality in all your employees.
- Outline management expectations. When you detail various job duties and insert your expectations of employees, you can increase employee cooperation.
Where to Begin
First, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with federal, state, and local employment laws that apply to your restaurant. Each state has unique employment laws, so you may need to write different handbooks if you operate multiple sites in different states.
Second, if possible get your hands on a few employee handbooks from other restaurants. What do you like about theirs? Where can you expand? While this may not always be possible, it’s well worth the effort as it helps you understand what’s currently out there.
Third, many sites provide online templates to create employment handbooks. You can get an idea of the basic outline here while personalizing policies for your restaurant. If your documents read like every other restaurant’s, you run the risk of collecting document sign-offs that no one reads.
This level of engagement isn’t insignificant either. A 2018 Forbes article cited that 53% of Millennials haven’t read their employee handbooks. It’s difficult to get employees invested in a company brand and culture they haven’t read about!
Legal Restaurant Handbook Requirements
To protect yourself against legal nightmares, you should include the following in your restaurant employee handbook:
- Workers’ Compensation Policy. Most states require you to detail workers’ compensation policies in employee handbooks. By doing so, you signal to employees that you take work-related injuries seriously.
- Equal Opportunity Employment (EEO) policy. The Department of Labor also requires the inclusion of Equal Opportunity and Non-Discrimination policies in your employee handbook.
- Family Medical Leave Policy. Depending upon the size of your restaurant, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires 12 weeks of unpaid medical leave during any given year due to illness, childbirth, or being the primary caregiver of a child or sick family member. Spell it out for your employees.
- Anti-harassment Policy. In today’s culture, a “no tolerance” attitude towards sexual, verbal, bullying or electronic harassments is imperative. Document it clearly and ensure all new staff reads and agrees.
Making the Restaurant Employee Handbook Your Own
Once you have the legally-mandated components, it’s time to decide on the remaining content of your handbook. While you want a handbook that nips every potential problem in the bud, an 800-word novel is hard to digest in one go. Worse, you’ll encourage participants to skim it once and never re-engage. Choose the most critical components to include for your restaurant and remember this is a living document that you should update regularly.
Start with a “Welcome Letter” from you, the CEO, or founder, and include a history of your business. Including your mission and vision statements, along with why employees choose to work at your restaurant versus another workplace generates pride and ownership.
What Else do you Need?
After you obtain the legally-required information outlined in the previous section, you’ll want to cover some or all of the following:
- Time off, weather-related closures, and leave policies for military service, voting, vacation, sickness, disability, grief and anything else which may arise
- Schedule swapping, and break policies
- No-call, no show policy
- Hours, overtime policies, and recognized holidays
- Payment schedule like bonuses, your system on pay increases and the expectations to achieve those benchmarks
- Benefits, including any health, dental and vision insurance documents that detail the benefits you provide
- Employee code of conduct like your standards for dress code and behavior (Note: It’s here where you’ll likely need to document the more unsavory elements of employment like disciplinary procedures)
- Safety policies, as well as how employees can report unsafe incidents
- A basic breakdown of any restaurant technology you use, like your kitchen display system or point-of-sale, and potential training.
- Referral program
- Phone use, like your policies for employee use of mobile devices
- Termination, resignation and exit interview expectations and procedures
- A clear disclaimer which identifies your handbook as an outline of general guidelines and information and not intended to be comprehensive (more on this below)
- Sign-off form for all employees to sign and date, indicating that they have received, read and understood the employee handbook
A Disclaimer on Disclaimers
Disclaimers protect you and your employees by dictating the limits of your handbook. First and foremost, a disclaimer should state that the restaurant employee handbook is not a legally-binding document. A good disclaimer should state that the employee handbook does not include all the possible applications of, or exceptions to, the policies and procedures outlined. This is to say it’s not an all-encompassing document for every possible scenario: only those most common and expected. A disclaimer gives you the right to change or update your restaurant handbook at any time, should you need to.
Finalizing Your Restaurant Handbook – 3 Last Steps
You’ve given every part of your business and processes careful thought and clearly outlined your expectations. With these in place, you feel ready to distribute your restaurant’s employee handbook. You’re almost there! Before doing so, though, these last three steps will ensure that you’ve dotted every “I” and crossed every “T.”
- Get a legal review – find an employment law attorney to review and ensure the document’s language is appropriate and within legal parameters.
- Retain past versions of your handbook – If you’re creating a new handbook, don’t throw out the old one. Not only will it be handy to reference in the event of litigation, but you can also use them to track changes in your restaurant’s policies.
- Introduce the new restaurant employee handbook to your current staff – Sure, it’s new, but not everyone on staff is! It helps get the entire team on board and will go far in clarifying expectations, policies, and procedures. Everyone needs a refresher course.
While you may find your restaurant’s employment handbook most valuable to new hires, you must distribute to all current employees, as well. Some may wrongly feel that perhaps they aren’t doing their work within management expectations, so introduce the handbook as a way to clarify expectations, policies, and procedures.
Training new restaurant employees can be so multifaceted. Learn more about industry best practices on how to onboard restaurant employees in our article below!
About the Author
Amber Mullaney led all things marketing for QSR. A proud Texan native, she graduated from the University of Houston with a degree in Public Relations and spent her career in the healthcare industry before making the switch to QSR and beyond, saying she loves a good challenge. Amber has a long list of things she loves, including tacos (especially tacos), sweet tea, Texas, the outdoors, and traveling with her husband and two daughters.