How to Write an Employee Handbook

The right way to do a handbook is to balance out the policies and fine print with a healthy dose of culture, values, and backstory of the venue…
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Looks, this is a long read. If you’re a bar or restaurant manager or owner, the following can be of use to you. Otherwise, your eyes may glaze over. You have been warned…

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The service industry gets a bad rap for having high turnover. Talk to any bar or restaurant manager and they’ll tell you how exhausting it is to constantly be training. A big chunk of wasted time and energy is spent explaining the same policies and information ad nauseam.

But I present to you, dear manager, the Employee Handbook. Now I know what you’re thinking to yourself:

1. “I know what an employee handbook is”

2. “no one is going to read this.”

But I would argue that you’re doing it wrong and yes they will if you do it right.

In short, the right way to do an handbook is to balance out the policies and fine print with a healthy does of culture, values, and backstory of the venue. Think: business meets culture. If you’ve ever seen or read a brand guide, you probably know what I’m talking about. So yeah, this is definitely a creative writing task. If you don’t fancy yourself a writer, I bet there’s a creative person on your staff who’d be willing to help in exchange for some cold hard cash.

Let’s walk a quick-and-dirty explanation of what should go in your employee handbook.

Mission Statement

Not sure what a mission statement is? Google it. Moving on…

Foreward

Start with a compelling introduction of the establishment and a welcome to the team. The idea is to get people pumped to be here. You’ve gotta kill the cynical vibes someone may be bringing with them from a previous job fast.

How to Use This Book

Explain how to translate the information in this book into practical, everyday use on the job (so it doesn’t go in one ear and out the other). Here’s an example:

This book was created to let you into our brains and our hearts. It’s not an instruction manual. But rather, a manifesto of who we are and why we do what we do. We hope that by explaining why [insert business name here] is important to us, it will be important to you. 

Look, we know you can get a job at any restaurant or bar in [your city], but for whatever reason you’ve chosen to be here, you’re here. And we don’t take that for granted. We’ve all worked at some terrible places, so let’s make sure that doesn’t happen again.

Story

Tell the story of how and why you started the business. All too often the people at the bottom of the totem pole don’t have an emotional investment to their jobs. But bringing them into the fold can create a deeper relationship with them and hopefully elongating their tenure with you.

As a manager or owner, you’ve inevitably explained how the whole thing got started a million times–just write that down. It will also empower your staff to retell the story to customers, creating a deeper relationship between them and your staff in the process.

Timeline

This is mainly for businesses that have been around for a long time or are located in a historical building or part of town. If that sounds like your place, you can include a timeline graphic to accompany the “Story” section that outlines what your place has been through over the decades. We all know how often tourists (and sometimes locals) will ask about the history of a place.

Our Offerings

A top-level explanation of your food and beverage program and why it’s great. Not a full menu, but the intention behind your menu and your chef’s or bar manager’s overall strategy.

Here’s an example from a wine bar:

Every ingredient, every varietal, every detail is chosen with the intent of stirring up a vidid feeling of total bliss. The rich flavors and spices that shine through in every dish… The aromas and notes that flow from the wine glass… Copper Vine is a gastronomic experience not designed to brush aside, but to savor, leaving our guests wanting to return until they’ve experience the entire menu.

How We Work

An overarching strategy of how our team operates. This should be a section that inspires and motivates staff to work better and harder. For example, “if you see something that needs to be done, do it–don’t wait to be told.” This section should remind everyone that it’s not management against staff, but rather that we’re all in this together. 

How to Talk to Guests

The voice and tone to be spoken in by staff and how to build relationships so people come back.

When speaking to guests:

  • Be passionate. We take both our work and our leisure seriously and stay evangelical of New Orleans and all it has to offer.
  • Be welcoming with a subversive sense of humor. We’re big on respect and value relationships above all.
  • Be omnivorous. We seek and savor the joys in life, from the simple to the refined, from the gritty to the sophisticated. Stay hungry and curious for the next great cultural discovery
  • Think aspirationally and strive to be the best version of yourself. We focus on possibility and positivity.
  • Stay loyal. We’re steadfast to our principles, our place, and our people.

How to Present Yourself

A continuation of How to Talk to Guests, but in a more physical manner. What tools to have with you on the job, uniform expectations, etc.

Marketing Strategy

Although it may not affect them directly, it’s good for the staff to know things like target demographics, the types of people you’re trying to attract, things the press has said about your venue, etc.

You can also use this section to let staff know that they can help by promoting on their social media channels along with some some examples of how.

Glossary of Terms

A list of cooking or beverage terms that may not be obvious to newbies. This is more important in fine dining or high end mixology places. Think: “The Holy Trinity,” which unless you went to culinary school, you may not know a seasoning mix of onions, bell peppers and celery.

Management

Bios of people on the staff you should know in case you have a work-related question or in case a guest wants to know something (chef, owners, middle management, office/admin staff).

The Fine Print

Insurance, taxes, maternal leave, whatever else you want staff to know.

Conclusion

A team motto or rallying cry that can be placed on a poster behind the scenes and used to remind staff of everything they learned from this document on a daily basis. Your staff might already have one…

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Remember, this is about letting your staff into the heart and soul of your business. Don’t cut corners when it comes to emotion. You’ll build deeper, longer lasting relationships with your people. And if it saves you money and energy on training, then it’s worth the time.

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