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Now’s the Time to Update Your Employee Handbook

To say the hospitality industry has changed is an understatement. Razor-thin margins are even thinner, operators are facing new requirements and restrictions, and the labor pool isn’t the same.

The employee handbook needs to change with the times, whether that entails a full rewrite or updating specific segments.

It’s understandable for restaurant, bar, nightclub and entertainment venue operators to be focused elsewhere at the moment. However, it’s incredibly risky business to overlook any element of the business given the challenges facing the industry today.

A significant percentage of businesses in the hospitality industry are still unable to operate at full strength. Depending on how communicative and transparent an operator is, some venue teams are uncertain what returning to work looks like and entails. This is where an employee handbook comes into play.

When health requirements and guest expectations change, operator expectations for their teams change as well. In some markets, Colorado for example, newly passed legislature allows for alcohol to-go and delivery, meaning a new revenue generator can be added to the business. The employee handbook is the perfect place to detail new expectations and requirements for each position.

If an employee handbook already exists, an operator can start updating it one of two ways. They can review the current version and note where changes need to be made. Or, an operator can list all of their new employee expectations and coompare them to their current handbook.

And if there isn’t an employee handbook, well…this is the time to make and implement one. A handbook provides several benefits: it explains an operation’s mission, core values, and expectations. It sets great businesses apart from the mediocre or flat-out bad.

An employee handbook is also a powerful onboarding tool, making it clear a new team member has made the right choice in employers. Today’s operator should outline their commitment to non-discrimination and anti-harassment policies. Operators who go above and beyond protected classes (sex, race, age, disability, color, creed, national origin, religion, veteran statue, and genetic information) should explain their policies in the handbook.

For example, it would be legal for management or a team member to make fun of another employee for their hairstyle. Going above and beyond would be an operator making it clear that all forms of harassment, illegal and legal, are “illegal” at their business. Of course, an employee handbook and documents signed by team members help protect the business when a team member must be terminated for cause.

Either way, the result will be drafting new documents, sharing the updated handbook with the team, and having each member sign a document acknowledging they understand and accept the changes.

While it may sound like this advice is slanting toward legal protections, it’s also a great way to clearly and concisely share the state of the business, health and sanitization procedures, and any changes to the responsibilities of each role within the organization. Make no mistake: an independent bar or restaurant is a business, meaning it’s an organization. Treat it like one and keep it organized.

Being “too busy” to address the employee handbook isn’t a valid excuse—ask any successful bar or restaurant operator or consultant. Operators should set aside time to list each role and break down what’s expected of them moving forward:

  • Outline how scheduling will be handled moving forward (either for the current quarter or through the end of 2020).
  • Detail the opening and closing tasks.
  • Be transparent about who will take ownership of each new health and sanitization requirement.
  • Explain how managers fit into tracking and documenting crucial tasks.
  • Anticipate guest expectations and questions, and explain how they must be addressed.

The list above is just a portion of what operators need to address when updating their employee handbooks. As they tackle this crucial task, additional expectations will present themselves.

Operators and management need to call a staff meeting (or multiple meetings so social distancing can be practiced) to present the new employee handbook and explain the new expectations and responsibilities. Ownership and management should be transparent and explain that the updates are designed to keep the team and guests safe, and to keep the doors open and lights on so people keep their jobs.

This is certainly a scary time for the hospitality industry. Many businesses have closed and more will follow. There are no silver bullets but a smart approach to business can give operators a fighting chance to survive and thrive. An updated, detailed employee handbook is part of that approach.

Image by TYKim from Pixabay

David Klemt View All

I’ve been studying and writing about the hospitality industry since 2006. Like so many people, I started my journey in this business by working as a host, server and bartender. I was introduced to nightlife in Chicago, learning the ins and outs of nightclubs and after-hours hot spots.

After moving to Las Vegas nearly 20 years ago, I both co-owned a valet company and helped promote the club it serviced. That led to me taking on the role of editor for a Las Vegas hospitality industry publication.

A few short years later, I continued along my journey of hospitality industry reporting. I went from contributing to a major industry outlet to taking on the role of editor and content curator.

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