Creating A Restaurant Employee Handbook: The Definitive Guide

By Tessa Bahoosh|May 29, 2024|9:50 am CDT

If you manage a restaurant, you probably already know that your success depends on your ability to put together an effective team. Your employees deserve the training and documentation that can help them do their jobs correctly, safely, and well—and you deserve the security that comes with knowing your team is adequately supported. That’s where a well-crafted restaurant employee handbook comes in.

Your employee handbook is a vital tool that can streamline your operations, clarify expectations, and even protect your business from legal issues. Most employers know that employee handbooks are important, but that doesn’t mean putting them together is easy. What should these handbooks include? How much creative license do you have when creating one? And how can you make your handbook is clear and engaging enough that your team will actually reference it?

Let’s dive into the world of restaurant employee handbooks. With a few best practices in mind, you’ll be able to create documentation that’s clear, comprehensive, and relevant to a wide range of restaurant employees.

Key Takeaways

  • A restaurant employee handbook is a crucial communication tool outlining foundational aspects of the restaurant. This may cover the restaurant’s core values, mission statement, employment policies, and daily procedures. Having these principles laid out in one place is a vital element to managing a successful restaurant.
  • The handbook serves to streamline operations, set clear expectations, and provide legal protection for your business. It should be detailed enough to serve as a reliable reference for both full-time employees and new hires.
  • Your handbook should be clear and engaging enough that your workers will actually look to it when they need assistance. There’s no point in creating documentation that is too dense to understand.
  • When putting together a restaurant employee handbook, it may be wise to include information on topics such as the company mission, core values, restaurant structure, employee benefits, code of conduct, workplace behavior, dress code, safety protocols, front and back of house operations, paid and unpaid leave procedures, and more.
  • Your restaurant employee handbook is unique to you. You can use a template to get started, but feel free to revise this template with details specific to your business.
  • Employee handbooks are there for two reasons: to help your team and to ensure you are satisfying your legal obligations as an employer. Always consult an HR professional or an attorney to verify your handbook’s compliance with both federal and state laws, ensuring you meet all legal requirements.
  • Employee handbooks are not only necessary for establishing policies and procedures. They also positively contribute to the work environment. They can even improve employee retention by offering clear guidance on benefits such as health insurance, vacation time, and sick leave.
  • Regular updates to the handbook are vital. Be sure to keep your employee handbook up-to-date and relevant, especially when there are changes in local laws or restaurant policies.

What is a restaurant employee handbook?

A restaurant employee handbook is a vital document that records all the information your new hires (and existing workers) need in order to do their jobs confidently and successfully. This can cover a lot of information, from job descriptions and duties to employee benefits and anti-harassment policies. The employee handbook should be made available to new workers during onboarding and remain accessible throughout an employee’s time at your business.

A comprehensive employee handbook can set a clear course for a smoothly running restaurant. It should outline critical day-to-day procedures, clarify job duties and work hours, and emphasize the exceptional standards of service and teamwork that keep diners coming back for more.

Employee handbooks may look different from restaurant to restaurant, but in general they should outline your business’s core values, mission statement, employment policies, employee benefits, and code of conduct. While these policies are foundational, it’s also okay to get more specific. You might use the handbook to record policies related to dress code, for instance, or cell phone usage and social media postings.

A well-crafted restaurant employee handbook isn’t just a dull list of do’s and don’ts—it’s a dynamic tool for onboarding new employees. As one of the first pieces of documentation your new hires encounter, it’s also your opportunity to roll out the red carpet, offering a warm welcome and describing the unique perks that come from working for you. Staff members, from kitchen to front of house, will find their roles defined, their rights protected, and their expectations managed.

A thorough handbook can also prove invaluable to preventing legal issues. In the restaurant business, the scope and complexity of relevant labor laws can pile up quickly, making business management confusing and potentially dangerous. But your handbook gives you the chance to answer many common labor questions before they arise. In this way, it’s not just a reference guide for your employees, but for you and your leadership team as well. A strong handbook can help your leadership team tackle common HR issues and boost compliance across your business.

Your employee manual can cover, for instance, information about important federal and local laws, equal employment opportunity regulations, leave of absence and sick leave policies, and worker’s compensation. It should also reinforce a no-nonsense approach to anti-harassment policies and go over provisions surrounding confidential information and company property. With these explicitly topics covered (both in writing and, ideally, verbally during onboarding), there’s less of a chance that you will uncover difficult gray areas or contradictory policies down the road.

Remember, your employee manual should be tailored to the issues facing your restaurant. While it’s important to include guidelines on widely applicable issues such as medical leave, tardiness, and disciplinary action, it’s just as important to develop specific sections that deal with the unique aspects of restaurant work. In these sections, you might go over issues such as how to handle POS systems and credit card transactions, what employees should know about healthcare regulations for food handlers, and regulations surrounding employee meals. If you outsource HR work by partnering with a PEO, your handbooks should also explain the co-employment model.

So, where do you start with your restaurant employee handbook? With so much information to include, putting a draft together may feel overwhelming. Fortunately, however, there’s no reason to start from scratch. There are plenty of employee handbook templates out there to get you started.

No two restaurants are the same—and no two restaurant employee handbooks should be identical, either. That being said, most employee handbooks do cover much of the same crucial information. Explore our guide below, or take a look at existing handbook templates designed for the restaurant industry. From there, it will be up to you to fill in more specific details.

With the right mix of information, your handbook won’t just be a reference tool, but an embodiment of your restaurant’s spirit and ethos—and an essential part of your restaurant’s success.

Remember: Always consult with an attorney or HR professional when drafting your restaurant’s employee handbook. These professionals can help ensure your handbook meets all legal requirements.

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Why is an employee handbook important?

We’ve gone over what an employee handbook is. But why is it so important?

The truth is that most employers stand to gain quite a bit by putting together a strong handbook. As a restaurant owner or operator, putting a handbook in place can ensure that you are running a business with clear goals and expectations, supported by a healthy working environment that benefits all members of your staff.

Your employee handbook offers one of the first impressions new hires get of their workplace when they join your establishment. A well-structured handbook serves as an excellent onboarding tool, painting a picture of the core values and restaurant policies they are expected to uphold. The handbook should underline the importance of employee health and wellness, reviewing key safety rules and any relevant healthcare perks. It should also cover information on other benefits that can improve retention, such as vacation time, sick time, and medical leave. As a result, the handbook can be a key part of making sure new workers start off on the right foot.

Your handbook also comes in handy when it comes to clarifying job duties and work hours. This is vital for both part-time and full-time staff members, specifying their responsibilities clearly and helping maintain efficiency in restaurant operations.

A strong restaurant employee handbook helps your employees, but it also protects you, the employer, by ensuring that you stay on the right side of all relevant labor laws. Your handbook should touch on federal law stipulations such as equal employment opportunity, non-discrimination, and anti-harassment policies. This combination of data ensures your establishment is compliant with the important legal requirements, and keeps you from facing potential lawsuits or fines.

In addition, a handbook aids in handling disciplinary matters. It should lay out all your relevant policies concerning tardiness and absences, along with the protocol you follow when these policies are breached. By making sure every member of your restaurant staff understands what actions may result in disciplinary action, you are creating a fair, open work environment with fewer conflicts and an improved sense of teamwork.

While creating an employee handbook is essential, it’s just as important to update it regularly. Changes in local laws or restaurant policies all warrant an update to the handbook. This way, you’ll be able to keep your handbook useful and relevant over the years, without needing to redevelop it entirely.

What to include in your restaurant employee handbook

Ready to get started creating your restaurant employee handbook? Take a look at our basic template to get a sense of what you should include.


Welcome the new employees into the fold with a warm introduction. This is your chance to reiterate the importance of reading the handbook carefully and to explain how it will support your employee’s journey in the restaurant industry.

Company Mission

In this section, you have the opportunity to articulate the essence of your restaurant. What drives your restaurant? Why are you in business? It’s okay to be personal here—your mission should be inspiring. This is where you set the broader context that informs everything else in your handbook and motivates your employees to follow along closely.

Core Values

This section outlines the values that support your restaurant’s mission. Describe the specific attributes or attitudes that define your restaurant. If it’s important to serve your community or keep a certain culinary tradition alive, this is a good place to mention those priorities. Do you encourage experimentation, robust teamwork, or relentless customer service? Spell it all out here.

Restaurant Structure

In this section, offer your employees a comprehensive organizational chart. This helps staff members understand their place in the larger scheme of things. Show direct reporting lines, so workers know exactly who they should take their questions to. Go over each role’s primary job duties and responsibilities, painting a picture of how these roles work together to help the restaurant succeed. Every member of your team is important to your success—and by going over the business’s structure, you can make that clear.

Employee Benefits

Here, include all the benefits your employees can expect as a member of the team. Depending on their employment type, this might include health insurance, paid time off, worker’s compensation, and free or reduced-price employee meals. Provide details about all the perks that come with the job, and include information about federal laws governing certain benefits.

Code of Conduct and Workplace Behavior

Every thriving workplace runs on mutual respect. This segment of the restaurant employee handbook outlines the behavioral framework that promotes a healthy, respectful environment. You may choose to cover topics such as anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies, any rules about cell phone usage, and the expectations that should govern your employees’ interactions with customers.

Dress Code

If your restaurant staff is expected to wear a specific uniform, explain that uniform here, going over how workers should acquire their uniform and what to do if they need a replacement. Even if you don’t have a specific uniform, take this space to talk about dress code. These requirements can be focused on both aesthetics and safety. You might require employees to wear closed-toe shoes, for instance, or to come to work in khakis. Whatever your expectations are, make them clear and easy to follow.

You can also use this space to explain whether you reimburse employees for work clothes, or if you will permit them to break the dress code under certain conditions (in the first days of employment, for example).

Safety Protocols

The restaurant business is high-action and involves a number of safety concerns—food handling, high-power appliances, and open flames can all present dangers. Workplace safety should always be a top priority. Be sure to understand and reflect all restaurant safety laws that affect your state. In your handbook, share the safety rules and make it clear that they are applicable to everyone—part time or full-time staff, front of the house or back.

Front of House Operations and Back of House Operations

Start this section by clearly defining front of house and back of house roles. You want to make this information easy to understand, irrespective of employees’ experience. From there, describe how front and back of house employees are expected to work together, including any important communication processes, and distribute the job duties between them.

Paid and Unpaid Leave Procedures

Tick off details about vacation time, sick leave, and medical leave. Explain the process for requesting time off, remembering that this process may be different for different employees, depending on their roles and employment types. Account for unusual circumstances, such as jury duty. While businesses are not required to pay workers for time off to serve on a jury, some employers choose to compensate this time. Where do you stand? Make it clear here.

Scheduling Procedures

Scheduling is a major concern in the restaurant industry, where many employees work irregular hours, and different employees may have different overtime rates. In this section, explain how work hours are distributed, how the schedules are made, and how staff members can bid on shifts or make scheduling requests.

Absence and Tardiness Procedures

“Tardiness” is defined differently at different organizations. Clearly explain what constitutes tardiness and unaccounted absences at your restaurant. How important is it for employees to be punctual? Are these guidelines universally true, or is there more wiggle room for opening shifts? Can employees make up the time by staying late? What makes an absence excused versus unexcused, and how many unexcused absences can an employee have before being subject to disciplinary measures? Explain how these behaviors may affect other employees and what forms of discipline might occur as a result.

Complaints Procedure

While the goal is to promote a workplace that is completely warm and professional, the reality is that at some point or another, one of your workers may need to file a complaint. When this happens, it’s vital that they know exactly where they can turn.

Providing a clear pathway for employees to make complaints is a key measure to build trust. It also has the potential to dramatically improve your retention rates. Your complaints procedure should be straightforward, confidential, and ensure swift action.

Keep in mind that workers may need to file a complaint against their direct supervisor or someone else in a leadership position. It is essential that they have alternative pathways to make their complaint, and that their comments will be received in a spirit of openness, concern, and confidentiality.

Anti-Harassment Procedure

Discriminatory harassment is a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1967, and employers can be held liable for allowing it to continue unchecked. Build a safe working environment by incorporating a stringent anti-harassment policy. Provide guidance on how to recognize and report any issues, ensuring protection for all staff members. Be sure there are multiple pathways for employees to report harassment—you never want a situation where a worker is expected to report harassment to the perpetrator.

In addition to legally mandated anti-harassment procedures, you may choose to establish anti-bullying policies. Only certain states expressly forbid workplace bullying, but that doesn’t mean you can’t fight to prevent it. Workplace bullying includes any threatening, demeaning, or humiliating acts against an employee by a coworker or supervisor. Because workplace bullying isn’t federally prohibited, the upsetting reality is that many workers get away with it—and if the perpetrator is a supervisor, they may be able to avoid scrutiny by claiming the bullied worker is misrepresenting the situation. If you prohibit bullying, define it clearly, and set up a reliable, confidential channel for complaints. In the event that you do hear about workplace bullying, take it seriously. You’ll have a healthier restaurant and a stronger reputation for it.

Restaurant Technology and Systems Used

New hires at your restaurant may be greeted with a whole collection of technology they’ve never used before—especially if they don’t have a background in the restaurant industry. Use this section of your employee handbook to provide a quick overview of your POS system or any other technology that helps in day-to-day restaurant management and operations. If employees encounter internal information or digital assets while using these platforms, also note any guidelines around maintaining confidentiality.

Conclusion and Signature

End your restaurant employee handbook with a disclaimer, where you politely but firmly remind your staff about the importance of adhering to the guidelines they have just reviewed. After that, there should be a section where they can sign the handbook, acknowledging receipt and agreeing to abide by its rules.

And that’s it—you have put together a truly fantastic restaurant employee handbook! Don’t forget to update it regularly to stay on top of legal requirements and to keep it fresh and engaging for your staff.

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Tips for writing a restaurant employee handbook

Still got questions about putting together a strong employee handbook? Here are some tips to make sure it’s a success.

Be Thorough

The first step towards creating a useful restaurant employee handbook is to be thorough. It is essential that this handbook covers all basic aspects of employment.

There will always be role-specific guidelines that don’t quite fit in a universally distributed handbook, but you want your employees to feel confident that this is a resource they can return to when they need answers to common questions. To accomplish this, give comprehensive explanations of all company-wide policies, including dress code, work conduct, payroll deductions, and more. It’s also important to recognize that things change over time. If you realize there are important details missing from your handbook, don’t be afraid to revise.

Be Clear and Concise

While it’s important to be thorough, it’s equally important to be clear and concise. Present the information in a manner that makes it quickly digestible for your team. Bullet points, short sentences, bold keywords, and easy language can go a long way in making your message clear.

When you go over staff policies, be direct. Avoid confusing language that could make it difficult to interpret your policies. State your policies clearly, with as little ambiguity as possible. This will help your employees adhere to your rules—and it will also give you a straightforward way of identifying problems and discussing them with the team.

Focus on Positives

The employee handbook outlines your policies, but it also serves as a way to welcome your new hires. You can use this handbook as a tool to create a warm atmosphere and encourage retention.

The handbook doesn’t need to feel intimidating. Make sure you spend time focusing on the positives. This is your chance to explicitly talk about all the wonderful aspects of your restaurant that make it such a great place to work. Celebrate your restaurant’s points of pride, whether those are team unity, respect among co-workers, or opportunities for growth.

Be Prepared to Enforce Policies and Procedures

It should be clear to anyone reading the employee handbook that the rules laid out represent real expectations and that there are concrete procedures in place to enforce them. For every policy you include in the handbook, be sure you have a plan in place to enforce it. This will help prevent misunderstandings and HR issues, and will ensure smooth onboarding of new employees.

This doesn’t mean it should feel threatening. On the contrary, it should be reassuring to employees to know there are standard processes in place to handle concerns. With a straightforward and enforceable set of employee policies, your workers will know exactly what to do if they are having issues on the job.


Crafting a comprehensive restaurant employee handbook isn’t only about setting rules. It’s about creating a culture of transparency and respect. By addressing issues like equal employment opportunity and anti-harassment, you’re fostering a safe and inclusive workspace where your team members feel empowered to succeed.

Remember, your restaurant employee handbook doubles as a reference guide, helping to resolve disputes and clarify responsibilities. Take the time to create a handbook that reflects your restaurant’s values and adheres to labor laws. It’s a small step that can make a big difference in your day-to-day operations.


What is the purpose of a restaurant employee handbook?

The restaurant employee handbook serves primarily as a reference guide, ensuring that all employees are aware of, and adhere to, specific workplace policies. These policies promote a safe, harmonious, and legally compliant work environment.

What should be in a restaurant employee handbook?

Start your handbook by setting a friendly tone, going over your mission statement and core values. This can flow into descriptions of day-to-day job duties and descriptions for each role.

Include information on employee benefits such as vacation time, sick leave, and if applicable, health insurance. The employee handbook should also include policies that cover dress codes, cell phone usage, disciplinary actions, absences, equal employment opportunity and anti-harassment policies, employee benefits, company property responsibilities, and confidentiality obligations. Explain your code of conduct and any disciplinary actions that could result from failure to follow restaurant policies.

Your employee handbook should be personalized to your restaurant. Add any additional notes on job duties, employee conduct, or disciplinary measures that you think are important for your organization. Don’t be afraid to add or revise sections over time.

How do you write an employee handbook for a small business?

Crafting a restaurant employee handbook doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking, but it does demand thoroughness and attention to detail. Writing a handbook for a small business is similar to writing a handbook for any other company. You might choose to follow a template like the one outlined in this article. All the same sections will likely be relevant to your restaurant.

As a small business owner, you may have more room to inject humor, warmth, and your restaurant’s spirit into your employee handbook. Include your mission statement and core values, and acknowledge that every member of staff contributes to this shared vision.

In a small business, it’s extremely important to set out a clear protocol for employees to follow if they need to file a complaint. Because your team is smaller, there may be fewer places for them to turn when they need support. Make sure they know that they still have clear avenues to turn to and that confidentiality will be respected, regardless of the size of the business.

Why do company policies need to align with local and federal labor laws?

The restaurant industry is subject to a wide variety of local and federal labor laws which can be confusing if not properly communicated. Your employee handbook is your first line of defense against labor law violations. The easiest way to make sure you are operating in accordance with these laws is by integrating them into your company policies.

Aligning company policies with local and federal labor laws is a crucial step towards avoiding legal issues and ensuring fair treatment of employees. It also reinforces the company’s commitment to a compliant, respectful, and equitable workplace.

How can the handbook contribute to a harmonious work environment?

By clearly outlining company policies, the employee handbook helps prevent misunderstandings and conflicts. It provides a common understanding of expectations, thus encouraging a professional, respectful, and harmonious work environment.

Your handbook will also help resolve conflicts if they do arise. With clear documentation outlining disciplinary and complaint procedures, you won’t wind up making decisions based on emotion. Instead, you will have policies in place that outline exactly how to proceed—and which guarantee every worker is treated fairly.

How can a restaurant employee handbook promote an anti-harassment workplace?

You can use your employee handbook to outline a clear anti-harassment policy. This should include details about what counts as harassment, information about how to file a complaint if harassment does occur, and an explanation of the disciplinary procedures that might follow.

Although discriminatory harassment is federally illegal, most states don’t explicitly outlaw workplace bullying. You may decide to include a zero-tolerance policy for bullying. In this case, define what types of words and actions constitute bullying and lay out how accusations of bullying will be investigated and handled.

With these sections in place, your employee handbook can promote a respectful, positive and harassment-free workplace.