Why Your Restaurant Handbook is a Complete Dud

By: Donald Burns

7 Minute Read

Oct 02, 2018

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restaurant handbook

Remember that time you hired that chef or server you were sure would be a superstar? You got excited to get them started and on the team, and when they came in for their first day, you handed them their training materials and restaurant handbook.

So far, so good. Or is it?

You notice that after a few weeks, the new "superstar" you bought on that you thought would become an asset to your restaurant hasn't delivered on expectations. Instead, they have become like the rest of your staff.

What happened?

Answer: You didn't onboard them to buy into your culture! Instead, you did what most restaurateurs do - you handed out a boring, generic training manual and employee handbook that did little to embed your core values or restaurant's vision to the team.

Now, that supposed superstar is just like the rest - a walking zombie.

Smart restaurant operators can take a lesson from those known for having a culture that flows with hospitality. A successful restaurant staff (and a successful restaurant) starts with how you and your training materials are delivered. If you feel like you are stuck on this treadmill of average, then take note of how to get off and launch yourself into the fast track of restaurant employee engagement and retention.

If you feel like your restaurant employee handbook is beyond repair, start fresh with Toast's Free Restaurant Employee Handbook Template!

Part I: Start With Your Restaurant's "Why?"

Your core values are the building blocks of your restaurant's culture. They tell the world who you are and what you stand for. They become a beacon for the guests and the team you attract. Remember that like does attract like, so if you don't know your core values, then what kind of team are you attracting?

You need to connect and be able to explain your restaurant's core values and vision simply - preferably in a few paragraphs or even less.

Try this exercise: describe your restaurant as a tweet. You have 140 characters and that’s it. This is a great way to see if you can really get to the essence of your restaurant's culture and your brand. If you really want to get the most of this exercise, then dig deep. Don’t go for the standard fluff or what is known as “corporate speak.”

There is power in clarity and authenticity. Knowing your core values is an exercise that most do in a cerebral fashion only. You know your values, you just haven't put them down on paper and shared them. Your staff is not composed of mind readers, so writing your values down is kind of a big deal for them. Once you get your core values written down, you want to make it a priority to declare it and share it.

Oh, and share it often.

Repetition is the mother of skill. You cannot expect your team to really buy into your core values if you only share with them once or twice. As a leader of the organization it is your duty to stand on top of your soapbox every day and preach.

Preach the standards. Preach the core values. Preach your expectations through communication.

Part II: Ditch the Generic Restaurant Employee Handbook

There are all kinds of training templates out on the Internet. Most of them are about as dry as an article out of the New England Journal of Medicine. Boring is never a way to instill motivation.

This is not to say that you cannot start with a template for training. You just need to eliminate the needless language and words used. If you have ever read through some standard employee handbooks, you’ll see a common pattern in the writing that can be summed up in one word: negative.

CTAIn writing, they talk about “tone.” If you have taken any communication class, you will know that communication is broken down into three numbers: 7-38-55

  • 7% of how we communicate is the words we choose.
  • 38% is the tone we use.
  • 55% is nonverbal.

Look at that middle number: 38%.

Remember that old saying, “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” This is especially true when it comes to your handbook. Tone can be joyful, humorous, serious, threatening, formal, informal, positive, or negative. Tone in writing really should reflect your own voice and character.

When writing training manuals, most peopple lean towards tones that are more serious and could be misconstrued as threatening. "Do this, don’t do that. If you do this and not that, there will be consequences." When your training materials come across with a serious and heavy tone, can't you see why your new staff rapidly lose enthusiasm after being hired?

The tone of your training materials should be congruent with your brand. If you are a hip, high-energy, food geek Emporium, then your training materials better reflect that.

If you are a high-end, chef-centric, destination restaurant, then the tone you need must convey the attention to detail and professionalism your brand emulates.

Part III: Drink the Kool-Aid

There’s nothing more demoralizing to a new team member than when they see their leaders not following the same standards that are discussed in the training manuals. Hypocrisy kills teams. A standard becomes such in the mere fact that is non-negotiable. That’s why it’s called the standard and not a flexible guideline.

As the leader of your restaurant you must (without doubt) be the example for everything that is written in your restaurant handbook. If there is something in there that you do not feel that you can abide by, then take it out. It’s much better to have integrity and do the things that are in your training manuals tan to be seen as having double standards.

That’s what being a leader is all about, leading the team through a continuous example of the standards and the culture. If you don’t follow your own rules, then why would you expect your team to?

Not following your own guidelines and drinking the proverbial Kool-Aid yourself just causes drama. Drama is great for movies, bad for restaurants. What is the easiest way to break free from the drama? Simple, don’t contribute to it.

"Drama is great for movies, bad for restaurants." - Donald Burns

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Remember, Restaurant Training is a Commitment

You have to be 100% committed to training your team consistently and constantly. Do you really think that handing out an employee handbook when they first start, going over it for an hour, and never discussing principles in the handbook ever again builds a great restaurant? You’d be fooling yourself.

It would be safe to say that great restaurant leaders spend most of their time training and developing their team. You have to have a mindset of constant and never-ending improvement. The Japanese call this Kaizen. It’s not just a word, it’s a philosophy of their culture. You can always improve. You can always be a little bit better. You only get better with more and more training.

The problem with most restaurants is that we entice people in our door to join our team by selling them an illusion. They come in enthusiastically to join this apparently high-energy place, then they are handed the standard non-emotional handbook, and within 90 days that illusion you sold them gets exposed. Their performance might begin to suffer or perhaps they start call them more often. Soon, you ask yourself the question, “What happened to them? I really thought they were going to be awesome.”

If you want better results, you need to ask yourself better questions. The real question is not, “What happened to them?” You real question you should be asking, “What happened to you?”

So before you hand out your restaurant employee handbook, take time to read through it and ask yourself, “Does this inspire me to stay or push me to go?” If you’re honest, you might find a few things in there that you want to change. Also, ask yourself if you are leading by example and following standards outlined in your handbook? If the answer is no, you might want to change that as well.

In need of an upgraded restaurant handbook?
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