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Labor

How to Write a Restaurant Employee Handbook

by

Katherine Pendrill

What does the onboarding process look like without a solid restaurant employee handbook to lay out your expectations?

A hot mess, with a side of high turnover.

Picture this: You just hired a promising new server with a charming personality and a killer resume. Like any new hire, you put them through the standard training.

But a few weeks in, you start to notice your superstar isn’t shining quite so bright. Instead, they’ve picked up some less-than-desirable habits from your other front-of-house staff.

So what went wrong?

The likely culprit is your employee onboarding process. At some restaurants, new employees get a little more than a rundown of the code of conduct and a few training sessions. This leaves employees with little understanding of the company culture or what’s expected of them.

This is where that restaurant employee handbook comes in. An employee handbook serves as a valuable reference point for your restaurant’s mission, values, policies, and more. And when you start with this information on day one, you set a positive tone for your work culture that can help reduce employee turnover in the long-run.

In this article, we’ll deep dive into the restaurant employee handbook, including:

  • What is an employee handbook
  • Why your restaurant needs one
  • Who should be involved in the creation of your handbook
  • Tips for writing an engaging employee handbook
  • Key sections to include
  • A free, ready-to-use template to build your own

Ready to get started?

Download our free restaurant employee handbook template and start reading!

Get Your Employee Handbook Template

Your employee handbook is a valuable tool to successful onboarding. Download your template now to start your own handbook for your restaurant!

Download Now

What Is An Employee Handbook?

When you hear the words “employee handbook,” you probably think of a dusty old binder filled with cookie-cutter descriptions of the dress code or scheduling policies. While this may be the case at some restaurants, an employee handbook should contain a whole lot more than just information about what color shoes your servers should wear.

A good employee handbook should contain all your restaurant’s policies, guidelines, and processes. Beyond the legal requirements, your employee handbook should also outline your mission statement and team culture to give employees a sense of what makes your restaurant unique.

The purpose of the handbook is to help everyone from servers to chefs understand what’s expected of them and what they can expect from you as their employer. This is especially important during employee onboarding because it helps you promote a great culture from day one.

Employee handbook in an office

Why Do You Need a Restaurant Employee Handbook?

Sure, an employee handbook is a great way to build a great culture, but that isn’t the only reason you need one.

Some of the biggest benefits of a restaurant employee handbook include:

  • Legal Protection: Think of an employee handbook like insurance – it clearly spells out your policies and procedures. If problems pop up down the line, an employee handbook provides restaurant owners with a legal foundation to back up their claims. This kind of legal protection also applies to your employees, making everyone feel a little more secure.
  • Workplace Equality: An employee handbook clearly lays out the code of conduct for employees and employers. With everyone on the same page, it’s more likely that managers and staff will treat one another fairly.
  • Greater Efficiency: A good employee handbook should provide answers to major FAQs. With all this information in one place, you can save your team from having the ask (and answer) the same questions over and over again.
  • Smoother Onboarding: It’s easy for new hires to feel overwhelmed in their first few days on the job. An employee handbook can help them better understand their role and what’s expected of them. 

All of these benefits can ultimately help to combat churn. As you probably know, the restaurant industry has a notoriously high turnover rate and, as 7Shifts found out through its Study on Restaurant Happiness, employees are more likely to stick around when a restaurant promotes better communication and training. And with the industry facing a massive labor shortage, retention is more important than ever.

Who Should Contribute to Your Employee Handbook?

When it comes to creating your restaurant employee handbook, keep in mind that it’s not about you – it’s about your team. Therefore, your team should have a say in the information that goes into the document.

When creating your handbook, consult with your senior staff to get their input and advice. As the people closest to your employees, they’ll have the best insight into appropriate workplace behavior and procedures.

Another person who should definitely have input in your restaurant employee handbook is an attorney – preferably one that specializes in restaurants. Even though your handbook is not an employment contract, an attorney can ensure that the policies and guidelines in your handbook are in line with local, state, and federal laws.

This is important because labor laws can vary wildly across the country. For example, some states require paid sick leave, but others do not. If your policies are not in compliance with the law, this could spell big trouble later on.

Top Tips for Writing Your Restaurant Employee Handbook

While writing an employee handbook is one thing, writing one that employees actually want to read is quite another.

When creating your handbook, be mindful of focusing on all the negatives. If your employee handbook is nothing but a long list of don’ts, employees’ eyes will start to glaze over real quick – a situation that Chili’s Bar & Grill found itself in just a few years ago.

Instead, focus on the positives and try to match the tone of your handbook with your brand. For instance, if you run a hip snack bar with a young, high-energy team, your training materials should reflect that.

Another tip to make your handbook a page-turner? Make it easy to read.

As studies have found, nearly 50% of millennials haven’t read their employee handbooks. That means if you want people to actually read your restaurant employee handbook, stick to plain English and leave out the complicated legalese.

Restaurant staff using a tablet and laptop

Sections to Include in Your Employee Handbook

Just like restaurants, each employee handbook is unique. Though most handbooks follow the same general structure, the information included in each category will depend on factors such as your restaurant size, location, or company culture, to name a few. For instance, a fine dining establishment may have an entire paragraph dedicated to table settings, while a pizza place may have a section on telephone etiquette for delivery orders.

To help you write an employee handbook that fits your restaurant, we’ve broken down eight essential categories to include. Keep in mind that important sections such as employee compensation and anti-harassment policies will need to be reviewed by an attorney to make sure your restaurant is in compliance.

To start filling in these sections right away, download our restaurant employee template here and follow along.

1. Introduction, Disclaimer, and Confidentiality

In this introductory section, start things off on a positive note by providing a brief history of your company and some key takeaways about the brand. You can even write this section in the form of a welcome letter from the restaurant owner or manager to give it a personal touch.

The introduction to your restaurant employee handbook should also come with a disclaimer that the handbook is not a legally binding contract but a document that demonstrates mutual understanding. If you don’t include a disclaimer, an employee could sue you for breach of contract. Therefore, it’s best highly recommended that you consult with an attorney when writing this section along with a review of the whole document. 

At the end of your introduction, it’s also a good idea to address confidentiality. Explain that the information contained in your employee handbook, as well as other insider information, must be kept confidential.

2. Company Mission Statement and Core Values

Mission statements aren’t just for Fortune 500 brands. If you run a restaurant, a mission statement can be a powerful way to convey why your restaurant exists and what you believe in (beyond serving great food). Remember, people want to work for companies that share their values, so this is your chance to get your employees on board with your vision.

Related to your mission statement, you should also outline your company’s core values. List the values that matter most to you and explain how they apply to your employees. The idea behind these values is to give employees a sense of purpose and help them identify with your overarching objectives. For example, if one of your values is sustainability, employees should be mindful of minimizing their impact on the environment.

3. Code of Conduct and Workplace Behavior

While it may not be the most exciting section, the code of conduct is one of the most important sections of your employee handbook. This is where you explain how you expect your employees to behave and the standards they should adhere too. This section can include:

  • Dress Code
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol and Drugs
  • Weapons Policy
  • Cell Phones
  • Social Media
  • Employee Meals
  • Customer Service
  • Disciplinary Procedures

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list. Every restaurant is different and you may want to include additional sections to fit your establishment.

Older chef training younger kitchen staff

4. Procedures and Emergencies

This section should cover every aspect of day-to-day operations, including scheduling, safety, and sanitation. It should also cover what to do when daily operations are interrupted, such as in the event of emergencies.

This section can include:

  • Scheduling process
  • Attendance expectations
  • Timekeeping procedures
  • Meetings
  • Opening and closing
  • Requesting time off
  • Missed shifts 
  • Serving alcohol
  • Comps and voids
  • Side work
  • Safety and sanitation 
  • Reporting of workplace injuries
  • Emergencies
  • Theft and robbery
  • Health procedures and allergy protocol

Again, you’ll want to consult an attorney when drafting this section to ensure that your scheduling procedures adhere to local, state, and/or federal laws.

5. Employee Compensation and Benefits Overview

This is the part that employees will probably pay the most attention to so so take your time with this section. Here, you should cover all aspects of payroll and benefits, including:

  • Pay
  • Tips
  • Payroll deductions
  • Overtime
  • Leaves of absence
  • Holidays and vacation
  • Breaks 
  • Employee meals and discounts
  • Benefits and insurance
  • Workers’ compensation

This section can be tricky because employee compensation, benefits, and payroll can vary wildly depending on federal, state, and local laws. For example, some states require employers to pay tipped employees full state minimum wage before tips, while others don’t. As a result, it’s best to consult an attorney to make sure any compensation policies in your restaurant employee handbook are in compliance with local law.

6. Employment Policies

While there’s room for creativity with some parts of your employee handbook, this isn’t one of them. This section outlines important employment policies, including:

  • Equal employment opportunity statement
  • At-will employment
  • Accommodations for persons with disabilities
  • Leaves of absences
  • Family and medical leave
  • Personnel files

Keep in mind that many of these employment policies will vary depending on where your restaurant is located. Therefore it’s absolutely essential to have an attorney review this section to make sure you are in compliance.

7. Anti-Harassment and Complaint Procedure

Though a sensitive topic, it is absolutely essential to have a section dedicated to harassment and discrimination so that employees feel safe and comfortable in the workplace.

This section should clearly state that your restaurant has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to harassment and discrimination of any kind. Take the time to explicitly define what constitutes harassment or discrimination and then outline your official procedure for reporting complaints. You want your employees to know that you take this topic very seriously so make sure they know that their complaints will be received and acted upon.

Keep in mind that this topic can have serious legal ramifications and you should consult an attorney to review this section to ensure compliance.

8. Restaurant Systems FAQs

Think of this section as a how-to guide to all the tech used in your restaurant – especially your POS system. You should provide staff with information about all the major platforms they’ll encounter, which may include:

  • POS systems
  • Kitchen Display Systems (KDS)
  • Online ordering apps
  • Reservations management platforms
  • Payment processing
  • Scheduling software

In addition to answering FAQs, you should also point staff to resources that can help to provide additional support. This can include everything from video tutorials to support lines. While this is no substitute for on-the-job training, this section can serve as a valuable reference point during employee onboarding. 

8. Conclusion and Signature

Though your restaurant employee handbook is not a legal document, having an employee sign it demonstrates that they have read and understood all your rules, policies, and procedures.

However, your conclusion shouldn’t be all business! You can also use this section as a space to remind your employees that you value their work and appreciate all that they do for your restaurant.

While the above may seem like a lot, you likely already have a lot of this information documented – it’s just a matter of bringing it together in one place. To help you get organized, download our free employee handbook template and get cracking.

Get Your Employee Handbook Template

Your employee handbook is a valuable tool to successful onboarding. Download your template now to start your own handbook for your restaurant!

Download Now


Katherine is a Content Marketing Specialist at TouchBistro, where she writes about trending topics in food and restaurants. The opposite of a picky eater, she’ll try (almost) anything at least once. Whether it’s chowing down on camel burgers in Morocco or snacking on octopus dumplings in Japan, she’s always up for new food experiences.

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