PREPARING AN EMPLOYEE HANDBOOK
You can have all the brick and mortar in the right place, the most beautiful interior design, state-of-the-art equipment, even the most experienced staff assembled. Believe it or not, none of it is more important than having the right employee handbook. The employee handbook is your single opportunity to get every important facet of your restaurant down on paper. You want your staff to be experts—on the menu, the wine list, the kitchen, your mission statement, your philosophy, everything. They can only be experts if you are one too. The employee handbook is your opportunity as an operator to articulate your expertise and enthusiasm for the project. It will be with you as long as the brick and mortar, so you had better get it right.
So, does the employee handbook have to be massive, three-ringed binder you thud onto a table before prospective employees? No. In fact, too much information can be intimidating to even the most competent and qualified new hires. However, the employee handbook is your best chance to set your staff up for success. If your new employee is a sailboat and their motivation is the wind, your written words in the handbook are the rudder. This is your chance to point them in the right direction. Let your employees find a way to make their own mistakes. The handbook is your chance to ensure that their mistakes aren’t because of your omissions.
The most important part of the employee handbook is the signature page, usually placed at the end. It is essential to have your employees sign one page of the handbook for the manager to photocopy and place in the employee’s file. The signature page must specify that the employee has read and understood every word of the handbook, and agrees to uphold the policies and performance standards therein. The signature page can be pulled and referred to at any point during the employee’s tenure at your restaurant.
A good employee handbook is equal parts menu knowledge, wine/bar knowledge (if applicable) and restaurant policy/philosophy/general information. It is most important to not skimp on any part of the handbook. Be thorough and concise. The menu knowledge section should cover every item the kitchen produces, spelling out ingredients, recipes, product origins and any relevant sidebar information. It has to provide the answers to any question a guest could ask. Remember, the servers drive the entire dining experience in most restaurants (especially fine-dining restaurants). They have to be able to articulate the details of the menu with expertise and enthusiasm. Therefore, this section of the handbook should be written with the same standards in mind. A solid paragraph on each entrée, side dish, and special should be the minimum, plus any other relevant information. The wine/bar section should be equally thorough, with tasting notes and price points for each wine and drink recipe. Mostly importantly, servers must know how to sell your wine/drinks, and here is your chance to ensure they can, by suggesting pairings and offering thorough descriptions.
Finally, the policy/philosophy/general information section must contain everything about the restaurant—from the hours of operation to what to do in case of a robbery. It should be the reference point for any potential question, including sidework and prepwork duties, uniform and hygiene specs, parking arrangements and anything else you can think of. In the end, the handbook will serve as a compliment to your employees’ training experience. If the employee reads it in the manual, talks about it with managers/trainers, sees it executed during training, and is tested on it once training is complete, you’ve set your new staff up for success.
Experienced personnel managers know that hiring employees is the biggest crapshoot a restaurant manager can run into. We’ve all walked away from an interview shocked at our good fortune at stumbling across the perfect can’t-miss candidate, projecting their progress and future roles in the company, hoping to have found a new right-hand man, only to be disappointed in the end. On the other hand, most of us have also been pleasantly surprised with a questionable hire’s quick grasp of the business and tireless motivation. Taking as much of the guesswork out of hiring as possible has to be a priority, and there’s no better place to start than constructing the ideal employee handbook.