As a restaurant owner; management and organization are key to long-term, sustainable success. This is where a strong and comprehensive employee handbook comes into play. In brief, your employee handbook should be the letter of the law of your restaurant, it needs to be shared with all of your employees upon hiring them. 

Keep in mind that this handbook isn’t a contract yet it can protect you in the case of HR-related legal actions, and it doesn’t take the place of any formal training yet it’s a point of reference for employees to fall back on. 

As an overview, your handbook should aim to tick the following boxes:

  • Informing employees of restaurant policies, procedures, mission and goals
  • Setting clear standards
  • Reducing misconduct
  • Promoting the consistent enforcement of policies and procedures 
  • Demonstrating equality 
  • Protecting your restaurant legally

How to Approach this Process

  1. Determine what’s most important for your restaurant 
  2. Avoid jargon and fine print
  3. Create a positive culture by using casual language and a friendly tone
  4. Ready yourself to enforce the rules
  5. Use examples
  6. Know the law and consult a lawyer as well

What to Include in the Handbook

Before we delve in, please take note that we aim to guide you with this information but considering how complex this document is, it’s better to consult a lawyer before formalizing and finalizing the handbook. 

As an introduction, you can include a welcome letter to make your employees feel welcomed and excited to start work before getting into the core of it. With this out of your way, you can get started with what’s important:

1. Mission Statement and Values

Outline your mission, vision, values and story. This includes your mission statement, vision statement, core values and your restaurant’s inception story.

2. Employment

This where you define the types of employment, including the framework around full-time or part-time employment, and outline your expectations regarding staff attendance. You should also clearly define the “at will” relationship which binds your staff to your establishment and clearly state that you or the employee may terminate your relationship at any time, with or without a reason. However, you must make it crystal clear that the handbook isn’t a contract and you must save all talks about probation periods and employee permanency for the contract. 

3.Workplace Professionalism and Code of Conduct

Regardless of the type of establishment you operate, you must ensure your staff maintains a certain standard of professionalism. So, this is where you lay out all your expectations about the manner in which they dress and behave while on the clock, as well as the age requirements to work at your restaurant. It’s important to include all fireable offenses to protect yourself from unjust termination lawsuits, and it’s also important to include the steps employees should take if they witness an infringement, whether between staff members or between staff and guests. You must also include your equal-employment and non-discrimination policy, your harassment policy and your technology policies; who do they apply to, what do they entail and what are the consequences of any violation. 

4. Payroll, Work Hours and Scheduling

This should cover all general payroll, work hours and scheduling policies that cover every staff member with any specificities reserved to individual employee contracts. You must define the payment method and frequency, the structure around overtime (what constitutes overtime, how should staff log their hours once they reach a certain threshold, etc.), the record of hours worked, the technicalities of switching shifts and booking days off, the received holidays, and the baseline minimum hours and shift breaks.

5. Role Specific Policies

This section must include the comprehensive rules and responsibilities for front of house and back of house positions, and it must include an opening and closing checklists and the protocols for health, safety, sanitation and allergy as well as the appropriate response. 

6. Back of House Policy 

The most critical part is laying out your safe food handling and cleanliness standards because improper handling of food is the major cause of food-borne illnesses. So, you must ensure your staff handles food correctly by clearing laying out the procedure on how to:

  • Hand washing, including when they shouldn’t be handling food (e.g. in the case of illnesses or open wounds).
  • Handle, wash and store potentially hazardous food, such as foods that need to be kept in certain temperatures (e.g. meats, dairy, vegetables and oils).
  • Prevent cross-contamination through proper washing, storing food separately, and preparing raw meats separately from other foods.
  • Keep storage areas clean to avoid pests.
  • Notify management in case of a potential health threat that could discontinue operations. 

Also, to fully ensure the required cleanliness standards are continuously being met, you should include the opening and closing procedures entrusted to each kitchen staff; this may include:

  • Prep a daily list for food services
  • Turn on all needed equipment 
  • Turn off and clean the equipment at closing.
  • Store and cover the food and place it where it belongs
  • Label food with the right dates and attributes
  • Sweep and mop the floors
  • Sanitize and clean food prep areas and ledges
  • Restock and clean the chef’s station 
  • Remove garbage bins. 

7. Front of House Policy 

In line with the back of house policy, the front of house policy should be comprehensive and tailored to your restaurant’s needs. The information mentioned should include the procedures to follow when the staff opens the restaurant, begins their shift, ends their shift and closes the restaurant, and the duties included can range from the following:

  • Setting tables
  • Preparing cutlery 
  • Washing floors and tables
  • Cleaning and clearing tables between seatings
  • Organizing the pantry
  • Replenishing condiments 
  • Stocking alcohol 
  • Checking the restrooms
  • Cleaning and sanitizing duties 
  • Counting inventory 
  • Stacking chairs 
  • Emptying trash
  • Turning off the lights and music
  • Checking for security 
  • Checking locks and setting alarms

Given how often front of house staff collect payments and tips from diners, it’s vital to establish the proper ethical framework of handling cash and tips, as well as the process used to pay staff these tips. It’s beneficial to use this section to formalize your tip-out and tip-distribution procedures. 

General HR Policies

This section should consolidate all general HR policies which are consistent from employee to employee. 

  • Lateness Policy: establish the actions needed to be taken if employees know they will be late or if employees are continuously late.
  • Accidents and Emergencies: outline the process to be followed by your employees to notify should an emergency or accident take place outside of the workplace, and outline the action plan to be implemented should an emergency or accident occur in the workplace. 
  • Sick Leave: lay out the amount of sick days entitled to each employee, and the steps to follow when they want to call in sick. 
  • Performance Evaluation: describe how often you’ll evaluate employee performance with details on how the process will look like.
  • Voluntary Termination Policy: describe how employees should proceed to notify you of their impending resignation and what will follow. 
  • Worker’s compensation: inform employees of your worker’s compensation policies in the case of a work-related accident or injury.
  • Leaves of Absence: inform your employees of the leaves of absence they can benefit from depending on the type of leaves.

1. Employee Benefits

This is where you list all the perks and benefits that your employees will enjoy while working at your restaurant, such as meal entitlements and vacation time.

2. Insurance Coverage and Eligibility 

In this section, you should outline the medical insurance coverage your staff benefits from, including how they can make claims and what determines their eligibility. 

3. Vacation and Time-Off

There are two main pieces of information to include here, the amount of notice you need and the approval process employees need to go through when asking for vacation time, including the amount of time they can take on a yearly basis and how they will be compensated for that time.

Once all of this information is clearly and comprehensively laid out, you can conclude your handbook on a high note by welcoming new staff members and thanking the existing ones. Let them know they can reach out to their manager should they have any questions. The final piece of the handbook is the Acknowledgment Form which states that the employee has read the handbook in full. It should emphasize that this isn’t a legally-binding contract and that this doesn’t cover the extent of the information, as well as that they acknowledge their understanding of the rules and what is considered a violation with a signature.