You can’t run a business alone—nor would you want to. A great team is crucial to smooth operations and outstanding guest experiences. Plus, working alongside people you like and respect makes the long hours and busy weekends more enjoyable even when there are places you’d rather be.

Finding good employees can feel like searching for a needle in a haystack, especially in an unpredictable labor market, so when you do find someone that’s a good fit and hire them, it’s important that you’re able to keep them around for the long haul. Retaining your employees doesn’t just save you time reviewing applications, interviewing, and training, but also money. Hiring a new employee costs almost $6,000 per month on average. Creating a supportive, professional employee experience is key for any business looking to increase retention and save on hiring costs.

A lot goes into a fantastic employee experience—including many outside of your control (looking at you, unruly guests). Thankfully, there are tools to help you manage and retain employees by communicating clear expectations for employee conduct and restaurant processes. While there’s always a learning curve when you start a new job, having a resource to refer to can help minimize the onboarding period and help new employees hit the ground running.

Picture this: you just hired an awesome new server and it’s her first day on the job. But just as she arrived for her first shift, your supplier delivered the wrong shipment, and you still need to update the menu with today’s specials. You’re juggling onboarding your new employee with the million other things you have to get done before guests walk in. Enter the employee handbook. It’s your second-in-command when it comes to helping new team members start strong. Here’s why.

1. It helps new staff feel comfortable.

The first day at a new job can make you feel like a kid on the first day of school. Excited, wondering if you’ll make friends, scared you’ll mess something up or not know the answer to an important question. Think of the employee handbook as a cheat sheet that answers some of those important questions.

Sharing the employee handbook before your new employee’s first shift can help them dress appropriately, get the necessary certifications, and understand who to go to when they aren’t sure how to void an order or access insurance information. It not only helps your new employee feel more competent navigating their new workplace, it frees you from having to answer simple questions over and over again.

2. It sets clear expectations.

39% of hourly employees report quitting a job due to poor communication with their employer. A thorough employee handbook outlines policies for sick leave, vacation time, compensation and benefits, overtime, scheduling, and so much more. Through the handbook, you can let your employees know your team meeting schedule and ask them to download your employee scheduling app, if you use one. It’s a clear and objective way to communicate what you expect from your employees and what they will receive in return.

3. It establishes company culture.

A positive work environment is essential to employee retention. When people find a workplace challenging, rewarding, and fun, they tend to stick around. Including your business story, mission, and values in the employee handbook sets the tone for new employees and shows your commitment to making your restaurant a great place to work.

4. It provides a framework if and when you need to let an employee go.

Ending a staff member’s employment is an unfortunate reality of restaurant management. It doesn’t necessarily get easier, but there are steps you can take to make sure you are treating your former employee fairly and with respect. In your employee handbook, you can detail a code of conduct and the ramifications for employees should they break these rules. This sets a standard for all employees’ behavior and ensures no one gets special treatment. You can also outline the process for termination so everyone knows what to expect when it comes to timeline and communication.

5. It creates a professional work experience.

Establishing processes and guidelines for onboarding and everyday tasks makes staff turnover less painful and can help increase efficiency. A written document lets your team know the same rules apply to everyone and you’re not just making things up as you go along. Plus, it gives your employees answers to certain questions when you’re out of town or otherwise occupied.

While a thorough employee handbook can take some time and effort, if the outcome is a supportive, empowering workplace, it will be worth it. While many sections require an attorney to ensure compliance with local, state, and federal laws, it’s important to remember the employee handbook is not a legal contract but a living guide for your restaurant’s policies. Keeping your handbook as detailed and up-to-date as possible will help new employees get the hang of things more quickly and take some of the guesswork out of the onboarding period.

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