Avoid Restaurant Fails with These Essential HR Policies & Procedures

For years, your friends and family told you what a great cook you are, and that you should open a restaurant. But you just smiled and shrugged knowing you’d never do that. Until, one day, when Venus was finally in full alignment with Saturn, and you made up your mind to quit your day job and go full chef…”Never go full chef” they said but you did it anyway.

At first, the road to success was bumpy and not without challenges but your little hole in the wall restaurant managed to pull in regular clientele and grow. Great news! But along with the delicious taste of success, come new challenges.

With the various hurdles that restaurants face on their way to success, even the next restaurant entrepreneur millionaire could use some help. 


Why Your Restaurant Needs HR Policies

We can’t cover the plethora of challenges that small restaurants face. We would tire our little typing fingers and bore you (or worse) half way there. Instead, we’re going to focus on one of the most common challenges to growth in the restaurant industry: human resources.

According to a survey by Toast, 46% of restaurateurs listed hiring, training, and retaining restaurant staff as their #1 challenge. So if “you just can’t find any good help these days”, you’re not alone.

Sure, you can go ahead and hire a HR consulting firm, and be done with it. There are even some aimed specifically at restaurateurs struggling with human resource management. But these consultants can be pricey, so unless you’ve got a nice pile to cash to throw at them? Better DIY.

Besides, you’re a hands-on kind of manager. And odds are, you’re reading this post because you want to get it right yourself. With some help from the internet experts at Connecteam.

You might notice that as your business grows, so do the number of HR policies and their complexity. The best way to keep everything in order and ensure your employees are aware of their rights and the policies they must comply with is an employee handbook.

Your restaurant employee handbook is a bit like a cookbook but instead of tomato soup recipes, you have recipes for cooking up mutually beneficial relationships with your employees (did you like the analogy, took our team the good part of 20 minutes to come up with it).

Don’t worry, compiling an employee handbook for restaurants is easier than you think, we’ll provide some “cheats” and shortcuts, and you can create your own restaurant employee handbook using one of many templates offered as part of your employee app.


Now, creating policies may seem simple but it can get tricky.  It’s worth noting that the word “policy” in itself is not a pleasant one. To many, it’s perceived as “a set of rules meant to police people”. No one likes to be policed.

But policies play an important role in keeping your business running, so if you prefer you can call them “guidelines” if that makes you, or your employees, feel more comfortable – go ahead. Just make sure they’re aware of the consequences when these guidelines are not followed.

What HR Policies Do I Need?

Creating effective and legally compliant HR policies for a restaurant (or any organization, really) is a unique process. So it’s up to you to recognize the needs of your restaurant. You don’t want your employee handbook turning into a novel-length saga. But you also don’t want to miss important guidelines unique to your business, like a Code of Conduct.

Take the time to consider what policies match your business and its direction. Do you have colleagues who manage restaurants with their HR policies already in place? Then, it’s a good time to ask for some tips or templates. But don’t forget that your restaurant is its own unique dish, and you need to consider what goes in it.

For example, if you’re planning to grow your team and advance employees in the ranks over time, having a detailed policy helps. Not only will it give your employees incentive to excel, but it will also help retain them longer, keeping knowledge and experience in your business.

Law & Order

The basic policies required to operate and grow a restaurant business are those required by law. You can’t skip those, especially since ignoring labor laws can get you in deep legal problems.

avoid restaurant failure by implementing these policies

Photo by Michael Browning on Unsplash

You should probably consult with your lawyer to get an up-to-date list of must-have policies in your state. Note that many federal and state laws only apply to businesses with a certain number of employees. So check which regulations apply to you as your operation expands.

HR policies for restaurant required by federal law:

  • Work hours
  • Worker’s compensation
  • Medical leave
  • Discrimination
  • Pay

Policies that are required in some states, but are probably good to have no matter where you operate:

A quick note about sexual harassment in the restaurant industry, because it demands attention. According to statistics, the American restaurant industry is the number one in sexual harassment claims.

That might be because, again, according to statistics, between two-thirds and 90 percent of all women working in the restaurant industry experience sexual harassment. Which isn’t only awful, but can cost you, as the owner of the place, your reputation and quite a bit of money.

So it’s crucial that you take a hard line against sexual (and other types of) harassment and make the policy known and clear to your employees.

Keeping It Clean (and Safe)

If you’ve been running your restaurant for more than a day or so, you probably know that you can’t do without food safety policies. Sure, you can check the expiration dates regularly, and make sure the forks are clean.

But your employees need to make an effort to comply with regulations. You might be well versed in the local legal requirements for a safe food preparation and serving environment, but not all your employees are. Be sure to outline the policies in the above-mentioned restaurant employee handbook, and place signs to remind employees of the important ones.

Food safety laws are there to protect your clients, which is important. But you also want to keep your employees safe, and having clear policies on that helps. For example, you might want to require employees to wear non-slip shoes, especially in the kitchen. Some policies can save lives. And prevent you from being involved in unwanted lawsuits.

Minimum Wage and Tips

The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, and has not gone up since July 2009. However, there are some states, cities, and counties that impose a higher minimum wage rate. In addition, when the state, city or county minimum wage rate is higher than the federal rate, the employer is obligated to pay their workers the higher amount. However, we need to make clear that the minimum wage for tipped workers is actually lower than the regular minimum wage, but that does not mean under any circumstance that employers can pay tipped workers less than regular staff.

The Fair Labor Standards Act mandates that any employee who earns $30 or more per month in tips must be paid at least $2.13 in wages. Therefore, a waiter, bartender, or another service employee who does receive tips, then your employer is only required to pay you $2.13 per hour in wages. With that in mind, the total amount earned ($2.13/hour plus tips) must equal the federal minimum wage. As far as HR policies for restaurants go, this one is pretty key. 

federal state minimum wage rates


Look Sharp Online and Off

Dress code policies are important even if you don’t have branded uniforms for your employees. Some aspects of the dress code have to do with aforementioned safety and hygiene (like non-slip shoes and hair-nets). Others are mostly about appearances.

For example, you might want all your servers to wear a uniform, while the bartender is required to just look presentable but gets more freedom in her fashion choices.

Another place you want to look sharp is online. Forget about the damage a negative Yelp review can do, and remember the old “taco-licking” incident from a few years back. It’s a hard one to forget. No restaurant owner wants to see their business in the news, in some photo-gone-viral of a disgruntled employee doing something disgusting. And potentially devastating to your business.

Almost every employee now has a smartphone with a camera at their disposal, and social media as a platform, so you may want to make sure your employees are extra happy. Happy employees don’t post mean things about their employers…usually.

However, since you can’t keep everyone happy all the time, the least you can do is have clear policies for dealing with employee actions that hurt your brand’s reputation. You want to deter poor employee behavior by taking consistent, meaningful actions against those who break the employee code.

Actually, you can even provide your social media manager or marketing agency with a checklist to complete whenever social drama happens.

main checklists

create an open/close checklist

Easy-on, Easy-off

The restaurant industry is one with high turnover rates. Only very few of the 15 million restaurant employees bussing tables and flipping burgers will continue to work in the industry. As much as you might want to keep employees with you longer, and take steps to do so, your turnover rates will always be higher than it would in most businesses.

Does that mean you should just say “to heck with it”? Absolutely not. What this means for you is that you need to set hiring, training, and termination policies as soon as possible, if you haven’t yet.


Policies are also an important tool in streamlining the training process. Instead of hoping the other servers inform your new employees about breaks, employee meals, and tipping policies? These should all be detailed in your restaurant employee handbook. As part of the employee training process, you can even quiz them on it.

training feedback capability via Connecteam's employee app

Create an employee quiz

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Feeding Your Employees

If you choose to feed your restaurant employees then that’s actually an easy to boost the value of the job and can even help lower your turnover rate. However, ensure that you create policies around what meals employees can and cannot eat. For example, if a dish calls for expensive ingredients then that’s probably one you don’t want your staff to eat so be clear on the rules.

Additionally, allow your employees to take food home – especially the dishes created that you couldn’t sell. It’s a win-win! You minimize waste while your employee gets free food.

Drug Policy

Drug abuse is an epidemic many countries are facing, therefore you should make sure that your restaurant has a clear substance abuse policy. Ensure that your employees, current and new, know what the expectations are and be sure to frequently remind them of how important following the policy is.

How you want to set up the policy is up to you – some restaurants have a zero tolerance and may require unannounced drug testing. Other restaurants don’t allow for any drug abuse that impairs the individual to the point that it dissatisfies customers, reduce employee effectiveness and can even lead to a dangerous situation for clients and staff.

Employees must know what the consequences are if they violate drug HR policies for restaurant, where it’s a warning or losing their job.

Onboarding Checklist

Employee onboarding is the process your business takes in order to properly welcome a new employee to the team and its culture. When correctly going through onboarding, you have a higher chance of retaining employees and boosting engagement. Follow these simple tips:

  • Take your time. Training takes time, so don’t rush it because studies have shown that 31% of new hires leave within the first six months and 68% of those leave within three months. Why? Because they’re still learning the ropes, how the company operates, where they fit in and more. Processing that much information takes time so make sure the onboarding process is not rushed and goes past the first day.
  • Set clear goals. Create clear goals and frequently check in to assess the progress, this helps the new hire focus on what’s needed and their target. Don’t confuse the new hire so they’re running around aimlessly instead be clear to avoid confusion and to make sure they deliver on the goals you set forth. After all, no one is a mind reader.
  • Have veteran/seasoned mentors. A survey discovered that 56% of employees believe having a work mentor is key when first starting out. A mentor helps break down the day-to-day grind, explains how management works and is available to answer those “stupid questions”. By having a mentor, the new hire feels happier and on track.
  • Get feedback. After the first day, the first week and the first month, be sure to ask the new hire for feedback on their onboarding experience. By gaining feedback, you are able to make changes accordingly so everyone one someone new joins the team, they are exposed to the top training methods.
Onboarding infographic


Cheating (with Legal Aid)

This is important so it’s worth repeating, you need your lawyer in the kitchen, so to speak, when compiling your HR policies. But you’re not about to pay hundreds of dollars making a lawyer write them out, nor are you about to build your employee handbook from scratch. There’s no shortage of examples and templates out there. We tried to provide a few but don’t hesitate to keep searching for what you may need to better manage your workforce and grow your business.

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