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.

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.

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, tackle issues like unpaid medical leave during any 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.


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