How To Create the Best Restaurant Employee Handbook

How To Create the Best Restaurant Employee Handbook
D. J. Costantino

By D. J. Costantino

The words 'employee handbook' are enough to make any new hire quiver. That's because, traditionally, they're boring textbooks full of lifeless legal language and an endless list of dos and don'ts.

Our research from over 3,700 restaurant professionals shows that the main reasons employees quit are due to poor training, bad relationships with managers, lack of team-building activities, and more.

Doesn't it make sense to create a restaurant employee handbook that encourages a positive workplace culture through teamwork and training? You may already have this down in your existing handbook, but it's not what you're saying that's wrong—it's how you're saying it.

We're going to show you how you can update your restaurant employee handbook to make it an educational and exciting read your new team members won't be able to put down. Okay, that might be a stretch. But it will help get employee-manager relations off on the right foot, and show new staff they have the training and support from their team to learn and grow.

What Is an Employee Handbook?

An employee handbook is a resource for employees to learn about their benefits and responsibilities as well as the policies and procedures of the company.

Employee handbooks can be used as a reference point when questions arise, or they can be used as a training tool for new employees.

Why Do You Need a Restaurant Employee Handbook?

The purpose of a restaurant employee handbook is to provide employees with information about the company, employment policies and procedures, benefits, and more. Many companies choose to include information about how to report misconduct or harassment in their employee handbooks.

An employee handbook should be a comprehensive document that covers all aspects of your business. A good restaurant employee handbook will help reduce confusion around what's expected from employees, while also avoiding costly litigation by setting clear expectations on both sides of the employment relationship.

“An employee handbook is vital to protect restaurants from frivolous litigation. Every detail of how every situation is handled must be included in it, and there cannot be any deviation from that. Consistency in the handling of harassment accusations, time off policies, benefits, scheduling, and dress code is vital. Inconsistencies create unrest. If a manager lets a server who forgot their tie slide for a night, it sets a precedent that no one needs to wear their ties. If they reprimand someone else for forgetting their tie the next week, it creates talk of nepotism, and unrest amongst the employees. Write every single detail of every single procedure in the handbook, and never deviate from that to protect the company, and keep everything running smoothly.” - Kam Talebi, CEO @The Butcher's Tale

The following is a list of some of the most important federal laws that employers need to be aware of when putting together an employee handbook.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

The FLSA, which was established in 1938, is the federal law that governs minimum wage, overtime pay, and child labor. It also requires employers to keep accurate records of employees' hours worked and wages paid. The Department of Labor has issued regulations that set forth the requirements for employee handbooks and other forms of written personnel policies. These requirements are designed to help employers comply with their obligations under the FLSA.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA is a civil rights law protecting individuals from discrimination based on disability. While it does not apply to all employers, it is especially important for employers with 15 or more employees.

An employee who has been discriminated against may file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC will investigate the claim and either find that discrimination did not occur or recommend that the case be settled through mediation or litigation. Restaurant employees may also bring their own lawsuit in court under this act if they feel they have been discriminated against.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is responsible for protecting the safety of workers in the United States by setting standards, providing training and education, and assisting employers in developing effective safety and health programs. OSHA also has a whistleblower protection program that ensures that employees can report workplace hazards without fear of retaliation.

The following are some of the main points that must be included in an employee handbook:

  • Employee rights and responsibilities
  • Workplace safety rules and regulations
  • Workplace discrimination policies
  • Disciplinary procedures

The Introduction to Your Restaurant Employee Handbook

Think of your employee handbook as a welcome to your restaurant. You don't want to dive straight into an employee's roles and responsibilities. Instead, make your intro friendly and exciting, welcome your new team members aboard and tell them about your restaurant's story.

If you're the restaurant owner, write a personal letter thanking them for joining your team, explain your mission statement and vision for the business, your core values, and how you're going to achieve it together. This will make everyone who joins feel part of a team that values their work.

It's important to remember your restaurant employee handbook isn't just their first look into your business—it's a glimpse into their new role. Explain how this new job will benefit them both in the short and long term.

Break down your introduction into these sections:

  • A welcome letter from the manager/owner
  • Your mission statement and vision
  • How they're an essential part of your operations
  • An outline of the employee handbook and what they can expect

Your introduction is a great opportunity to explain potential career growth within your restaurant. Tie it in with your expectations of staff and highlight that top performers may have the chance to progress to management positions. Set goals for every new team member from the beginning and you will encourage them to perform to their best, and incentivize them to work with you for longer.

Include Your Restaurant's Core Values

Your mission statement is the guiding light of your restaurant, the 'why' behind your business, and the 'how' you're going to achieve your vision. It's a lofty task to get your employees to live through your mission statement on the day to day, but that's where your core values come in.

Your core values are the everyday standards set for your employees, whether they're serving customers or working together as a team. McDonald's' core values are as simple as they come, but a powerful tool when it comes to hiring, building a team, and managing performance.

Your core values should be included on job listings and discussed in interviews, as they give every potential employee an idea of what it means to work for you, and you can see how they respond to such values. You'll soon be able to separate the A-list candidates from the rest.

Watch: 7shifts CEO Jordan Boesch at Toast Food for Thought as he discusses hiring and employee engagement.

As Union Square Hospitality Group's CEO Danny Meyer puts it, “90% [of the battle] is hiring, 10% is training.” If you take the extra time to hire people who share your core values you will reduce staff turnover, which saves time and money in the long run.

If everyone knows and respects your core values, your customers will benefit from a consistent service, and your employees will better understand their duties as you all work towards achieving collective and individual goals.

Need a hand creating your restaurant's core values? Start by writing a list of your own personal and professional values, and you'll see that many will overlap with the vision you have for your restaurant. Make this a collaborative effort with your team and it will help you build trust and value to their daily duties.

For your restaurant employee handbook's core value section, it needs to sound genuine over preachy, inclusive over dictatorial. Write them as values you all share personally rather than standards you expect.

What to include:

  • A breakdown of your core values
  • Why you hire people who share these values
  • How your core values create a positive team spirit and work culture
  • How your core values relate to your mission statement

Employee Code of Conduct

It goes without saying that you have professional expectations of your staff, whether you're running a fine dining restaurant or fast casual concept. Your restaurant employee handbook is the place you should outline the employee code of conduct, and set standards on what's deemed acceptable or unacceptable behavior.

What to include:

  • Cell phone usage
  • Dress code
  • Staff conflicts
  • Customer expectations

Having this in writing ensures all staff are held accountable for their behavior and performance—the good and bad.

Where your core values are the 'dos' of the job, code of conduct is more on the side of the 'don'ts'—the professional expectations you set for everyone.

Of course, you don't want to instill fear where using a phone could be a fireable offence—but it's important you clearly explain what is acceptable and unacceptable, with a mention of disciplinary procedures should staff break that trust.

Keep it positive and make your staff feel supported by including a section on what they can expect from leadership. Having clear guidelines and standards staff can expect from leadership will go a long way to help create an environment of mutual respect.

What to include:

  • An overview of your code of conduct
  • Personal expectations (dress code, grooming requirements, phone usage)
  • Team expectations
  • Punctuality (lateness, sick leave, leaves of absence)
  • Acceptable and unacceptable behavior (include disciplinary procedures)
  • Leadership's code of conduct (how you train and support employees)

Systems and Procedures

When it comes to daily tasks, most restaurants will have similar procedures. There's usually the pre-shift setup and post-shift close that have a checklist of tasks which need to be completed.

Most restaurants still rely on a whiteboard or communication to assign tasks, which can lead to errors and a lack of accountability. (If this sounds familiar, 7shifts' Task Management is like a digital whiteboard where everyone's tasks are assigned. It makes every little task trackable, transparent—and most importantly—accounted for.)

Your restaurant employee handbook should be the place where all systems are laid out. Having all your best practices documented in one place will reduce errors, speed up training, and give everyone a source of truth—allowing you to put your trust in your employees' hands and let them do the job they were hired to do.

Don't forget your systems also include your POS and shift scheduling software, so use our free guides to explain the different technology your employees will use. Then you don't have to peer over their shoulders waiting for them to hit a wrong button.

Not to be mistaken for your staff training manual, your systems and procedures section should primarily focus on references and answers rather than training and instructions, so everyone can quickly refer back to this handbook.

What to include:

  • Pre- and post-shift tasks for each department
  • Instructions/best practice for everyday tasks
  • Technology best practice (POS, online ordering apps, shift scheduling)
  • Communicating and scheduling time off: Since shift scheduling and employee availability and time off are such crucial aspects of a restaurant manager's job, using 7shifts' scheduling software keeps all this essential information in one place. It also makes it super simple for new staff to learn how to swap shifts and request time off.

Dress Code and Uniforms

Dress codes and uniforms are a common practice in the hospitality industry. But what if you're running a restaurant that's a bit more modern and doesn't have any dress code or uniform?

Even though it may seem like a newer concept, there are many restaurants that don't require employees to wear specific attire—even if they're part of a chain that does.

Many restaurant owners and managers believe that having a dress code can make their employees feel less comfortable and more confined in their work environment. They also believe that having one might even limit their ability to hire people for certain positions.

What to include:

  • Determine what types of clothing are appropriate for your business environment
  • Create a list of prohibited items that cannot be worn while on the job (such as jewelry, hats, sunglasses)
  • Discuss how often employees must change their clothes during the day (for example, once every four hours)

Compensation and Benefits

Think of this section through the lens of your new employee—you've read through the history and vision of the restaurant, as well as the formalities of code of conduct and systems and processes. Now we're at the exciting part—getting paid.

Making your restaurant employee handbook as fun and human-sounding as possible will increase employee engagement—so there's no reason you can't continue that tone here.

First, you need to include their pay and how they will be paid, as well as your overtime and tips policies. Then you can talk about free or discounted meals, employee benefits, holidays, and other perks you have in place like team-building activities and social events.

What to include:

  • How employees will be paid (direct deposit, frequency, etc.)
  • Overtime policy (include state and federal guidelines)
  • Breaks and meals
  • Employee discounts (at your restaurant or partner restaurants)
  • Employee benefits
  • Holidays, vacation, and time off
  • Insurance (and points of contact for claims)

The 2019 Bank of America Workplace Benefits Report revealed the number of companies offering employee wellness packages has increased, but employee understanding or awareness of available benefits is quite low. You should use your restaurant employee handbook as a place to elevate the job and all its perks, and send out reminders throughout the year to help your staff take full advantage of their benefits.

Statutory Holidays and Time Off Policies

This section should include all days off as well as any special allowances, such as bereavement leave, jury duty, and military leave.

In addition to detailing how much time off employees are allowed to take, this section also needs to include blackout periods time off. If you have the luxury of offering unlimited vacation days, be sure to include those details here.

What to include:

  • How employees can ask for sick days and bereavement leave
  • Clarity into what types of holidays your company celebrates
  • How many days each employee is entitled to take off during the year

Career Development

At its core, a career development policy is a way to help employees grow in their roles and develop new skills. It's about more than just helping people find their dream job, it's about helping them learn to love their job as it is now.

A good career development policy should be written in a way that recognizes the value of both employees and employers. It should help both sides understand what they need to do to get the most out of the relationship. It should be flexible enough to accommodate both sides' needs while still encouraging everyone involved to make the best choices for themselves and the company.

What to include:

  • What training programs you offer
  • If learning bonuses are used as an incentive to reward people who take classes or participate in other forms of education outside of the workplace
  • How and when internal promotions take place

Precautions and Health and Safety Procedures

Restaurants can never afford to let their guard down. So it's crucial all staff members have the training and knowledge to manage situations regarding their own health, their teammates, and their customers. Including health and safety resources in your restaurant employee handbook will help your team be prepared for any future diseased outbreaks or unexpected accidents.

What to include:

  • Government hygiene standards and best practices
  • Information on what to do in certain situations like your staff (or customers) feeling unwell
  • Communication between staff and customers
  • Health and safety best practice (WHMIS instructions, emergency exits, safety protocols)
  • Accidents and emergencies

Anti-Harassment Policies

Following on from your employee code of conduct section, you should clearly outline all unacceptable forms of harassment and show that harassment or bullying of any kind will not be tolerated. This shows that you take harassment seriously, and it will empower any victims to come forward and voice their concerns without fear of retribution.

We hope you'll never have to scour this section to help a victim, but in the worst-case scenario such as that, it's critical this section includes all forms of harassment. You should also state that all reports will be handled confidentially, and management will carry out strict disciplinary action should someone be found guilty of any form of harassment. Using 7shifts team communication tool will allow employees to report incidents to managers discreetly.

Erin Wade of Oakland, CA's restaurant, Homeroom, has created a brilliant example of how employees can make harassment claims in a confidential and supported manner. Her color-coded system helps rate the level of harassment they're receiving, which also helps managers in the disciplinary proceedings.

“What's been so amazing is that we came up with it as a way of dealing with the problem, but what it's actually done is help curb the problem,” Wade said.

What to include:

  • All types of harassment and abuse (physical and digital)
  • Punishable and fireable offenses
  • How to report a claim
  • Confidentiality agreement
  • Management's response to claims

Misc. Policies and Procedures

Employee resignation or termination

Having clear and detailed policies around these topics can help avoid confusion, as well as ensure that all employees are treated fairly.

What to include:

  • How long an employee must work before they're eligible for severance pay.
  • The amount of severance pay that will be provided upon termination.
  • What process must be followed when terminating an employee, including who signs off on the decision to terminate, how notice will be given, and what documentation needs to be completed.
  • Who pays for unused vacation time if they leave before they've used it up
  • What the process is for returning company property if the employee leaves before their contract is up (like keys), if applicable.

Work relationships

The first step is to identify what kind of relationship you want to regulate. Then, you can decide what type of policy works best for your particular situation.

In many cases, employers simply want to create a policy that bans romantic relationships between managers and employees. This makes sense because the potential for favoritism and conflict of interest is high when managers date their subordinates. However, if you have other concerns about unprofessional conduct, it may be worthwhile to draft a more general policy that covers any type of unprofessional behavior.

What to include:

  • What your company's stance is on relationships between coworkers as well as between managers and staff
  • What the purpose of this work relationship policy is
  • If relationship contracts are needed and what these entail
  • What the legal implications are on this policy

Scheduling process and guidelines

To make sure everything runs smoothly, it's important to be clear on these policies and make sure all employees understand them.

What to include:

  • How shifts are swapped
  • When the schedule is sent out and how employees will be notified of this
  • What happens when employees need to work extra hours
  • How internal scheduling tools like 7shifts are used

Other Handbook Considerations

Translate to Spanish or another language

This makes the information accessible to employees who may not be fluent in English. This is especially important for key policies and procedures that all employees need to be aware of. Translating your restaurant employee handbook can also help you avoid legal pitfalls. If you have employees who speak languages other than English, it's essential to make sure that they understand your policies and procedures. Otherwise, you could end up facing costly lawsuits or fines.

Have an online version available

An online version of your restaurant employee handbook allows everyone involved in management or ownership positions to access it from anywhere at any time — even if they don't work at your location! This means that whenever someone has a question about how something works, they'll be able to find the answer at any time.

Get insights from an employment attorney or HR professional

If you need legal advice on your restaurant's policies, we recommend contacting an employment attorney who can help you create a comprehensive handbook that addresses both legal concerns and practical matters like employee relations. This will help protect yourself from any potential lawsuits down the road, but it can also help educate new hires on how they should behave in your restaurant.

Closing statement and final steps

Make sure your restaurant employee handbook has a closing statement that requires staff to acknowledge and sign the document. Should a staff member break the rules with a fireable offense, you will have documentation that protects you from any wrongful dismissal.

Before you distribute your restaurant employee handbook, have a lawyer—preferably one who specializes in employment law or restaurants—go through it and ensure your best interests are protected. They will also plug any gaps in your anti-harassment and code of conduct sections that could save you from a potential lawsuit.

Once the document is legally sound, distribute a draft to your existing staff and get their opinions on it. Their insight into how the handbook reads will help you make it more friendly and welcoming for new staff—keeping it authentic and human is the difference between an engaging and boring handbook.

Your restaurant employee handbook needs to be a balance between a friendly welcome and legal requirements, building excitement for their new role while understanding their obligations to their employer. If you keep this in mind—and work with your existing staff to add inclusivity and team spirit to the handbook—you will start your relationship with new employees with trust, respect, and fun.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is an employee handbook a contract?

An employee handbook is not a contract. However, it can be used as evidence of an employer's expectations and rules. If an employee violates a rule in the handbook, the employer may take action against the employee. The courts have also upheld employers' rights to change the rules in an employee handbook at any time.

How do you write a restaurant employee handbook?

Be as clear and concise as possible. After all, this is a document that will be used as a reference point for your staff, so you'll want to make sure they can easily find the information they need. In terms of content, you'll want to cover all of the basics, such as your restaurant's policies on dress code, punctuality, and customer service. You should also include a section on your expectations for employees in terms of their job duties.

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D. J. Costantino
D. J. Costantino

Hi! I'm D.J., 7shifts' resident Content Writer. I come from a family of chefs and have a background in food journalism. I'm always looking for ways to help make the restaurant industry better!