The Employee Handbook (it’s more than a coaster)

Up until now, I’ve shied away from an important topic that each restaurant owner (I don’t care how big or small) needs to take seriously – the Employee Handbook .  The info I’m giving you may mean the difference between keeping your restaurant open and successful or closing the doors forever because of one small oversight.

You’ve made it this far – your restaurant is open and you’re working like a dog to make it successful.   You like your staff and your staff likes you.  Then your 16 year old prep chef (not a real sous chef, of course, but you give him sous chef responsibilities) takes off the tip of his finger while slicing a three pound turkey breast.  After several appointments with the doc, the hospital and his lawyer, they (the wannabe sous chef and his parents) decide they have the makings of a fantastic lawsuit and they’re going to take you to the cleaners.  It may sound ridiculous, but the bottom line is they’re right – because you didn’t take the time to guard against something like this happening.  The other bottom line is you may have just lost your restaurant.  Your dream.

So where did you go wrong?  You promote safety, you comply with all health regulations and you keep a clean restaurant.  What else do you need?  The answer is simple – you need an Employee Handbook.

Make ’em read it, make ’em sign it.

An Employee Handbook spells out all of the Human Resources info that every employee needs to know:  a brief welcome statement, goals of your restaurant, policies and procedures of your restaurant, compliance with applicable State and Federal laws, guidelines for performance reviews, procedures for handling on-the-job accidents (that 16 year old sous chef wanna be), plus other topics that will make your restaurant life easier.

OK.  You get that. It sounds like a whole lot of work, though, and you have better things to do with your time.  Really?  You have better things to do?  Besides, you don’t know squat about how to even begin writing an Employee Handbook.  Take my word for it – you can outsource writing the Employee Handbook for very little money.  What would you rather do – pay a few bucks to protect yourself or lose your restaurant?  This is a no brainer.

That said, and even if you do decide to be proactive and guard against losing your restaurant and your dream, how does it protect you against a lawsuit from an accident in your restaurant?  You are protected in many ways simply by having your employees read and acknowledge they have read the Employee Handbook by having them initial each page and sign the last page of the document.  You need to take it one step further, however – you should have a brief written test that they take prior to completing the final paperwork, such as tax forms, etc.  By having your employees take this test, you are certain that they actually read the Employee Handbook – after all, anyone can scrawl their initials and sign their names without reading the contents.

Back to the 16 year old prep chef.  If he had read and signed your Employee Handbook (which, of course, informed him that only someone over eighteen can operate the meat slicer) you would be in a much better position to defend yourself against a lawsuit.  Look at it this way – you’re also defending your dream.

If you’d like to have more info on how to bring your restaurant up to speed by implementing an Employee Handbook, shoot me an email or give me a call.  I will point you in the right direction and it will be one of the smartest things you do.

I’m into defending dreams.

Ray Camillo – Founder & CEO, Blue Orbit Restaurant Consulting

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