What must you keep in mind when crafting your establishment’s core working tenets?

I’ve worked at a good number of bars and restaurants over the past decade, from a small local joint of ten employees, to a large corporation with hundreds of employees. Each business operated in its own style, but they all had some form of an employee handbook.

Employee handbooks can be great to deliver the company’s vision, inform employees about general work guidelines, classify food and workplace safety regulations, and provide information on worker’s compensation and unemployment. Unfortunately, these handbooks are often not kept up to date or focus on the wrong areas.

If you’re trying to understand why you keep losing employees, your employee handbook might be to blame. From my conversations with a few human resources experts, I collected seven tips for creating a bar employee handbook your team will actually want to use.

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1. Let your people tell your story

If you aren’t already considering it, try opening your handbook with some fun facts about the start of the business. This is an opportunity to get your new employees excited about joining your team. Everyone loves to hear a good story, but even more, they love to know they are a part of it. When introducing your company, encourage multiple employees of various positions to share how they came to be part of the company and how their involvement has evolved. This will help demonstrate that every team member is a valued contributor.

2. Keep up with the laws

Policies and laws are ever-changing. Various local, state, and federal laws affect your bar, be it tip reporting, cash handling, and more. Keep up to date and make sure your handbooks consistently and simply explain the information around those mandates.

3. Brevity is key

You wouldn’t read a twenty-page resume, so how can you expect employees to actually read and retain information from a long handbook spanning over twenty pages? Your handbook should focus on the responsibilities and expectations of your team, not the complete history of your establishment. If you are a large company, you might feel like there is a lot to cover, but review where you can dial back. Keep what you give them simple, engaging, and precise.

4. Stay on brand (and have fun with it)

You’ve got a brand, right? You should make it a part of your handbook. From the colors and pictures, make sure your handbook is dynamic and eye-catching. Feel free to toss in some puns if they fit your establishment’s character. If your company isn’t boring, why would your employee handbook be? Find the balance between legal chatter and personable conversation.

5. Consider your discipline system carefully

People make mistakes. Whether it’s breaking a glass in the ice well, forgetting to fire a dish, or getting into it with a customer or coworker on the floor, your team is human and won’t always get it right. Instead of jumping to a system of progressive discipline (i.e. a verbal warning, a write-up, and then being fired), you should consider adopting a coaching system that involves self-reflection and coaching for the employee who made the mistake and their supervisor/s.

I’ve seen progressive discipline used simply to force out disliked employees on far too many occasions. Instead of looking into possible training issues or problematic infrastructure, it can be easier for a company to blame one employee and cast them out, which can be a huge mistake.

Ask your employees for their input in one-on-one meetings to build trust and generate better loyalty.

6. Set the standards for harassment and discrimination

Besides being illegal, sexual harassment and discrimination are absolutely not okay in any workplace. It’s incredibly important to clearly state what constitutes harassment at your establishment.The more grey area that exists in your handbook, the more opportunity there is for confusion and incidents to occur. If an incident of harassment or discrimination from a team member comes up, it’s equally as important to sit the offending party down privately and clearly explain to them why their behavior was wrong, as uncomfortable as that might be.

7. Lay out the treats

Your employee handbook is also a chance to explain how much your company values its employees. Let employees see how your team bonds outside of work and see how they can fit into that picture. Some companies have internal classes on food and beverage, while others will take the team out to breweries or distilleries. Some companies will also hold product-selling contests (which can also get rid of product collecting dust in inventory). While these perks might seem small to you, giving your employees something to be excited about beyond just clocking in and out gives them incentive to be invested in your establishment.

One more for good measure

While this list isn’t an end-all-be-all, it’s important to keep in mind that your employee handbook should be written with the main goal of ensuring your staff understand everything they need to know to function as an employee at your bar or restaurant. It’s equally as important not to write your handbook as something to hang over your employee’s heads when they mess up.

Having structure is vital to any company, so don’t feel like you’re turning into an evil monster by creating a handbook—just don’t create a monster of a handbook. What tips do you have on handbooks or did you have any thoughts on our advice? Share them in the comments.

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