Everyone needs structure. It’s how we know what to do next, whether what we did was successful, and helps us work better with others. For businesses large and small, the basics of that structure is epitomized in the employee handbook. Building out a restaurant employee handbook can seem daunting at first, but getting down to the why, what, and how of it all will make the process smoother and clearer in its importance.
If you run a restaurant that has never had an employee handbook — or has one that is in serious need of updating — these are the big questions you are probably asking yourself:
Why have a restaurant employee handbook?
To set expectations. Your staff cannot follow the rules if they don’t know what they are. It’s as simple as that. Things that may seem rudimentary to you as a veteran restaurateur could easily escape someone just starting out in the business, or who worked in a distinctly different environment at their last job. Having all of your expectations — as an employer and a leader — in writing will give your team an easy go-to when questions are raised.
To put staff at ease. Workplace worry often circles around one very big factor: unpredictability. The consequences for making mistakes or breaking an unspoken rule are quite frequently far larger in your employees’ minds than in actuality. Spelling everything out, from pay dates and expected time off to stages of disciplinary action and social media policy, will help ease minds and produce a happier, less stressful atmosphere.
To avoid litigation. The reality is, there are a lot of laws governing businesses and how they treat their employees on the national and local levels. Establishing an employee handbook is as much for your protection as a business owner as it is for laying out rights and expectations for the employee. When rules and processes are laid out clearly in written form (provided you’ve followed the law in how they are devised and presented), it is much easier to follow them, enforce them, and keep your work environment safe and productive.
It’s also important to identify a senior leader (could be a specific manager or the owner) who will escalate investigation into infractions or incidents anonymously. Short of that, engaging an ethics hotline for your business is a great step.
What should you include in your restaurant employee handbook?
First, consult your state and federal departments of labor. Every state is going to have slightly different rules about what must legally appear in an employee handbook. If you own restaurant locations in more than one state, it may be necessary to produce more than one version of your employee handbook, especially if the laws vary widely.
Get down the basics. There are a few constants that every employee handbook is likely to address:
- Brief restaurant history & mission
- Structure of paid time off
- Holiday schedules
- Procedure for absences and vacation request
- Method of payment and benefits
- Break and meal policy
- Dress code
- Family & Medical Leave (FMLA) policies
- Policies on breast-feeding accommodation
- Equal employment and non-discrimination policies
- Worker’s compensation
- Accommodation of disabilities, as governed by the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)
- Policies on military and crime victim leave
- Social media use regulations
- Substance abuse policy
- Anti-harassment and fraternization policies
- Review and promotion processes
- Disciplinary process
- Emergency and safety procedures
You will also want to include a number of legal disclaimers (all that fine print) in order to establish both the legitimacy and legality of the document.
- Advise that an employee handbook does not constitute a contract.
- Establish that the current employee handbook voids any previous iteration.
- Acknowledge that rules and policies are subject to change.
- Provide a space for printed acknowledgement that an employee has read and understands the employee handbook’s contents.
Use clear language. Despite the need for the above, try to keep the legalese out of the rest of your restaurant employee handbook as much as possible. Opt for friendly, day-to-day, conversational language that will feel familiar to your employees. The employee handbook should be a reflection of your culture, so if you’re not a buttoned-up, high powered law firm, maybe make the effort to not sound like one.
Be creative. Anything you can do to make your restaurant employee handbook more enticing to your staff, do it. Give it a more interesting name than “Employee Handbook.” Hire a graphic design student to lay it out. Include photos of your restaurant when it’s busy, of happy employees, and of your pride and joy — the food! (And then use some of those same photos on your website and social channels!)
Don’t just focus on the negative. A lot of employee handbooks are a long list of Don’ts. Emphasizing positive policies and understandings of your procedures will sit better with new employees and not diminish the exciting experience of starting a brand new job.
Have an attorney review it. You may think you covered your bases, but the only way to know for sure is to have an attorney, preferably one that specializes in employment law in your state, review the contents and language of the book from cover to cover. It may seem like an unnecessary expense at the time, but it could save you multiple times the expense in unnecessary litigation down the road. Some attorneys will have templates for sale that you can customize for your organization.
How should you roll out your restaurant employee handbook?
Include it in on-boarding. This can mean walking through the book on the employee’s first day or sending the book off as soon as your offer has been accepted. Generally, new employees are excited to know all the details about their new place of work, and an employee handbook is the perfect vehicle for satisfying that curiosity — and getting a head start on exposing them to your company culture as well.
Distribute in the format your staff is most comfortable reading. Do everything you can to avoid making your restaurant employee handbook a chore to read. Part of that comes with clean design, easy-to-understand language, and avoiding large spreads of 8-point copy, single-spaced paragraphs.
But the other consideration is format. If you work with a lot of tech-savvy staff, sending the handbook in a format easily perused on a smartphone or tablet could be one way to get it read more readily. If your staff tends to prefer printed material, you may want to provide professionally printed paper copies (no back-room photocopies, please!). Either way, having a printed option could be helpful for those with learning disabilities, or who just prefer to have a book in their hand when reading.
If you need a template, you can start with the one here.
Be sure employees read it. You didn’t go through all this trouble not to have the darn employee handbook read, now did you? To follow up with your employees after passing out the handbook, you can include a page at the end featuring a quick acknowledgement message and a place to have the employee sign. Make it easy to tear out and include instructions for the employee to return the signed page to you.
That doesn’t exactly guarantee they read it, however. Consider a quick quiz, either on paper or electronic — no more than 10 questions — asking for basic answers to questions presented within the book. Make it fun. Hand out prizes for 100% scores! When your entire team is on the same page, you’ll be glad you did.
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This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal, or accounting advice.