What to Include in Your Restaurant Employee Handbook

What to Include in Your Restaurant Employee Handbook
Liam Hallam

By Liam Hallam

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 do’s and don’ts.

Having to spend a shift—or even worse, your after-hours—reading through an employee handbook will sap the fun out of any new restaurant job. And let’s be honest, when was the last time you read your own restaurant employee handbook?  

While you need a restaurant employee handbook for legal reasons—such as code of conduct, anti-harassment policies, and health and safety—that’s not to say you can’t inject the personality of your restaurant into it, and make it an enjoyable read that makes new staff feel supported and valued.    

Our research from over 1,900 restaurant professionals shows that the main reasons employees quit are due to poor training, bad relationships with managers, and lack of team-building activities. 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.

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.

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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.

Get started by checking out out 7shifts’ core values, and how we ensure every new hire shares the same values.

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 in your core values section:

  • 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 an fine dining restaurant or fast casual concept. Your restaurant employee handbook is the place you should outline employee code of conduct, and set standards on what’s deemed acceptable or unacceptable behavior.

This includes:

  • 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 ‘do’s’ of the job, code of conduct is more on the side of the ‘don’ts’—the professional expectations you set for everyone. This should include both behavior towards customers and colleagues.

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 of what they can expect from leadership. Having clear guidelines and standards staff can expect from leadership will go a long way to help create that 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.

You may want to include more, but here are the most common systems and procedures:

  • 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 is such a crucial aspect 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.

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 vacation, and any 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.  

COVID-19 and health and safety procedures

COVID-19 has changed the way we all work, and in turn the way new hires are trained. Restaurants cannot 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 a COVID-19 section along with health and safety resources in your restaurant employee handbook will help your team be prepared for any future outbreaks.

What to include:

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 in your anti-harassment section:

  • 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

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.

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Liam Hallam
Liam Hallam

Liam is a freelance writer with 5+ yrs experience writing for life & entertainment brands. He loves fine dining but can never say no to gluttonous street food—call him the AA Gill of the street.