using a tablet to write an employee handbook

16 Tips for Making a Restaurant Employee Handbook

Every restaurant should have an employee handbook. It’s a way to define the working relationship between employer and employee. In essence, a restaurant employee handbook does two things:

  1. Tells employees what you expect of them
  2. Tells employees what they can expect from you

In addition, a restaurant employee handbook can be a source of protection against litigation. Should some problem arise, the employee can’t use, “They never told me that,” as a defense because it’s written down in the employee handbook.

That said, the handbook shouldn’t be primarily viewed as a legal tool. It should be viewed, and written, as a way to help employees understand how to do their job better.

But how exactly do you go about creating this all-important document? This article will discuss some of the best tips for making a restaurant employee handbook.

Table of contents

Why you need a restaurant employee handbook

manager going over employee hand book

A restaurant employee handbook is essential for the smooth operation of your business and your team. It can help you run things better in three distinct ways.

First, most states require that businesses of all types make certain information and policies — such as minimum wage standards, overtime laws, and national holidays — readily accessible to their employees.

Some of that information can be displayed on the wall in the break room, while other information is best included in the employee handbook.

Second, as we mentioned earlier, an employee handbook protects you and your business against legal issues that may arise.

When your restaurant employee handbook clearly states the rules your team operates under on a daily basis, no one individual can come back and cause problems when they fail to abide by those rules.

Third, the handbook allows you to lay out your business’s unique rules, policies, procedures, and expectations so that everyone who works there knows what you expect of them and how to work according to your high standards.

Even if you run the business by yourself or only have one employee right now, it’s a good idea to start building your restaurant employee handbook so that as your company grows, you’ll be ready.

Common sections of a restaurant employee handbook

stack of restaurant employee handbook

While your restaurant employee handbook can contain any information you want, there are a number of common sections that most businesses find beneficial to include.

These common sections are:

Keep in mind that these are just suggestions. You don’t have to include all of them in your handbook. Or, you may have even more than are listed here. It all depends on the unique needs of your business and your team.

That said, you don’t want your handbook to be too thick, so you may have to conserve space by combining similar information in the same section.

For example, it makes sense to combine everything that has to do with work hours — such as annual office closures, attendance, time tracking, and regular operating hours — into a single section.

With that in mind, here are more tips for making an effective restaurant employee handbook.

Tips for making a restaurant employee handbook

1) List all major employee responsibilities and procedures

Man pouring a cup of coffee

Employee responsibilities and procedures is one of the two most important sections in the restaurant employee handbook. The other important section being the major employer responsibilities and procedures (outlined below).

The employee responsibilities and procedures section should describe what the employee should do and how she should do it.

Information and procedures about such things as tip reporting, clocking in and out, the dress code, standards of conduct, and the drug and alcohol policy should be first and foremost in the handbook.

Even such information as how to deal with accidents and emergency situations, absences, tardiness, resignations, and proprietary and confidential information should be addressed in the restaurant employee handbook.

If you’re just beginning to put together your handbook, make a list of topics the employee needs to know about — vacations, evaluations, overtime, age requirements, and safety just to name a few — and then describe the way you want those issues to be handled by the employee.

2) List all major employer responsibilities and procedures

The employer responsibilities and procedures should make up the other “half” of the restaurant employee handbook.

The information here should include things like the non-discrimination policy, training periods, scheduling procedure, harassment policy, and payment procedures.

In addition, you should add employer responsibilities and procedures to any and all sections already created under the employee responsibilities and procedures.

So while the employer and employee sections of the handbook may seem like two separate things, they are actually interspersed.

You may have certain sections that are strictly employer-related (like payment procedures), but for the most part, both sides of the responsibilities and procedures will be listed together.

For example, in regard to vacations, you may write that the employee has a right to one week of vacation every six months. You will also write that management will do its best to honor all vacation requests.

That way, you don’t have to have two separate sections listing responsibilities from the employee’s point of view and the management’s point of view. You just have one section where both parties are mentioned.

3) Make use of a restaurant employee handbook template

person using restaurant employee handbook template

There’s no need to recreate the wheel from scratch. Numerous tools and templates are available on the internet to help you create your own restaurant employee handbook. Templates are particularly helpful because they do a lot of the formatting for you.

Restaurant-specific templates are also useful because they may list issues that you overlooked.

With a template, all you have to do is add your business-specific information and you’re on your way. Very little muss. Very little fuss. And you’ve created a restaurant employee handbook in a fraction of the time it would take to do it from scratch.

For your own protection, be sure to write a legal disclaimer in your restaurant employee handbook. This disclaimer should inform the employee that the handbook, and the policies it contains, is not considered a contract.

In addition, employees should be designated as “at-will employees”. This means that you, as the employer, have the right to dismiss an employee for any reason without having to establish “just cause” for termination.

If you are unsure about these legal issues, consult an attorney who practices employment and labor law.

5) Write a company biography

Your company biography is the place where employees can get excited about working for your business.

The biography should include your mission statement, history, values, interesting trivia about the company, and anything else that helps show employees what you, as a company, are all about.

Your restaurant employee handbook’s biography section can also include quotes from company leadership to help employees get to know these people better.

Getting to know owners and management — people most employees never see — is a great way to foster employee engagement, build a strong team, and make your company feel more like a family than a business.

6) Have employees sign for the handbook

Require that everyone sign a statement acknowledging receipt of the restaurant employee handbook. This statement should also indicate that the employee, upon signing, agrees to the terms set forth therein.

The policy of signing for the restaurant employee handbook should extend to every update that comes out. It shouldn’t be a one-and-done thing.

The employee should be given the new handbook and be required to sign for it. This policy protects both you and the employee from confusion and miscommunication.

7) Review and revise on an annual basis

Review and revise restaurant employee handbook on an annual basis

Once you’ve got the restaurant employee handbook written, don’t be afraid to change it. Watch for issues that aren’t covered in the handbook and then add them in.

It’s also important to note any changes in internal policy — what may have worked when you first opened, may not work a year later — and make additions that address current trends and concerns.

For example, when you first opened your business, social media may not have even existed. Now, though, it does and you need to have policies in place that address how employees can use social media as it applies to your business.

While keeping an eye out for changes in internal policy, you should make sure your handbook complies with external policies as well. Federal, state, and local statutes, rules, and laws change periodically, and your handbook should be up to date in this regard.

Additionally, it’s important to remain flexible when it comes to your restaurant employee handbook. There’s no way you can address every possible situation that can apply to a given policy.

Because of that, you need to make your policies as general and flexible as possible. When policies are flexible, they are more easily able to handle the myriad situations that may pop up during a work day.

8) Make it easy for employees to express concerns

Your employees are on the frontlines of your business. As such, they see how your restaurant employee handbook, and the policies it contains, works on a daily basis. Because they are so close to the “action,” they may have concerns about the current policies and procedures.

Some may even have great ideas about how the policies and procedures can be revised. You want to make it as easy as possible for the employees to express those concerns and ideas.

9) Make the handbook easily accessible

Making a hardcopy of the handbook easily accessible means ensuring that you give one to each employee personally. When you do, make sure that they sign off (see #6) so that you can keep track of who has a copy and who doesn’t.

Another great way to make sure that the handbook is easily accessible is to keep a copy in the breakroom.

You could also consider posting your handbook online in a private business space that only employees can access.

Posting your handbook online ensures that employees can access it wherever they are, at any time of the day. Couple that accessibility with electronic signing software, and you’ve got a streamlined solution to all accessibility concerns.

10) Hire an attorney to critique your handbook

It may cost a bit, but having an attorney review your restaurant employee handbook can ensure that all your legal bases are covered. When looking for an attorney, make sure she is familiar with all federal, state, and local labor laws that apply to your state and city.

11) Use the handbook during orientation

Once you’ve created your restaurant employee handbook, it’s a good idea to walk the new employees through it during their first few days on the job. That way, you can make sure they understand it all and answer any questions they may have.

12) Don’t focus on formatting at first

person reviewing restaurant employee handbook on a computer

So far, we’ve talked quite a bit about what to include in your handbook and what to do with it once it’s in your team’s hands. But let’s talk for a moment about the beginning of the process.

Whether you’re starting from scratch or revising an existing copy, don’t focus on formatting at first. In fact, don’t worry about how long it’s going to be or how you’re going to publish it.

Formatting can be a long and tedious job that, if you try to do it first thing, can distract you from the more important parts of the process and kill your momentum.

Instead, just start writing down what your employees need to know and worry about the formatting later.

Once you have the bulk of the information on paper or on your computer, you can go back through and tweak the margins, the font, the line spacing, and anything else that makes the document look and read better.

13) Start by listing the necessary sections

When you first start making a restaurant employee handbook, the sheer amount of information before you — and the task itself — may feel overwhelming. Don’t let that stop you.

Instead, start by listing all the sections you want to include.

This will give you a framework or an outline on which to build the rest of the document. Plus, breaking all the information into smaller chunks makes it easier to write.

Consider writing the major sections on notecards (or sticky notes or sheets of paper) and taping them to a blank wall so you can see the general structure of the handbook.

If you’re having trouble getting started, reread the Common sections of a restaurant employee handbook section in this article and go from there.

During this process, don’t feel like you have to come up with all the sections right away. You can always go back and add a section, subtract a section, or combine sections once you actually start writing.

14) Write information in the appropriate section

Once you have a good list of the major sections, start filling in the relevant rules, policies, procedures, and guidelines.

At this point, don’t even worry about complete sentences — just get the information where it needs to be in whatever format makes the most sense to you. Use this opportunity to brainstorm and come up with policies and procedures that can help your business run better.

When you feel like you have all the information you need in a particular section, go back through and revise the text so that it is as clear and concise as possible.

In some cases, that may mean explaining things in complete sentences. In other cases, it may mean using bulleted lists, tables, graphs, color coding, or something else entirely.

15) Include emergency procedures

snowing city scene

Unless your restaurant is located in an area where the weather is perfect all the time, it may be a good idea to include emergency procedures in your handbook.

Weather policies, for example, can help your employees figure out what they need to do when things like snow, ice, heavy rain, cyclones/hurricanes, tornadoes, and extreme heat or cold hit your area.

Similarly, you may also want to include information that addresses other unexpected and emergency situations, including:

  • Power outages
  • Health-related outbreaks
  • Threats to public safety
  • Mudslides
  • Wildfires
  • Public transportation shut-downs
  • Impassable roads

Keep in mind that you can’t cover every eventuality, but you can provide a basic framework of what your employees should do when an emergency strikes.

For help setting up your own weather policies, take a few minutes to read this article from the Sling blog: Creating An Inclement Weather Policy: A Step-By-Step Guide.

16) Create an organizational chart

An organizational chart is a diagram that represents the reporting and relationship hierarchy within your restaurant.

If your team has gone without an organizational chart thus far, you may wonder why you need one.

The simple answer is that it’s extremely useful to have a visual representation of the reporting structure within your business. This is especially true as your business grows and team members come and go.

With an organizational chart in place, new employees — and even long-time employees — can see where they fit into the established hierarchy and how their position relates to other positions in the front and back of the house.

The organizational chart is also essential for helping your employees understand whom they report to and whom they should approach with questions or concerns.

The employee handbook is the best place to publish this information because everyone will have access, and they can reference it at any time.

For more information on creating an organizational chart for your restaurant, check out this article from the Sling blog: What Is An Organizational Chart And Why Does Your Business Need One?

Success with your new restaurant employee handbook

Success with your new restaurant employee handbook

Creating a restaurant employee handbook may seem like an impossibly difficult task, but it’s not. Making use of existing templates and the suggestions in this article can streamline the process considerably.

It’s also a good idea to talk to other business owners who have their own handbooks to see if they have any suggestions to offer. Then, finalize the whole thing by getting input from a labor attorney.

Once your handbook is in place, continue to maintain strong communication with your team. Sling can help.

The Sling app includes a host of tools to help you:

With the Sling app in your workflow and the other suggestions on this list, you’ll be able to create an effective restaurant employee handbook and help your employees become valued members of the business family.

For more free resources to help you manage your business better, organize and schedule your team, and track and calculate labor costs, visit today.

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This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal, tax, HR, or any other professional advice. Please contact an attorney or other professional for specific advice.

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