Tasty Restaurant Websites Are Hard To Find


20 August 2011 | Comments Off

We’ve seen a number of references lately to the abysmal state of restaurant website design:

McSweeney’s Channels a Single Restaurant Site

Slate Lambasts The Entire Industry

It seems clear that the restaurant industry is not embracing the digital revolution. It’s as though the industry has surrendered to the mercies of Yelp. It’s true, many sole proprietor restaurants do not have the resources to deploy a state of the art online destination. But with as much attention as is paid to their entrees, a better result is within grasp of most.

With experience designing and building sites for high end and large scale restaurants and hospitality, we’ve learned a few simple things that help whether you’re a world-class destination or a mom and pop shop. So if you’re considering building a website for your restaurant (good idea – the web is probably THE single best place for a diner to find you), we share them here in an effort to clean up the whole Internet neighborhood.

You’re a busy guy/gal. You can’t be bothered to learn all this stuff.   Even if you’re going to use your wife’s cousin’s high school senior, here’s a few general suggestions to make sure your site doesn’t become a object of ridicule.  Or worse yet, cause a customer to throw up their hands and walk away.

1. Yes, you need a digital presence.
Location, location, location is still a good rule. But increasingly people are going online destinations to make choices, not just physical ones. That means you need to spend a little time building digital locations that tell your story, and monitoring what’s said about you in channels you don’t fully control. And for little or no money, through tools like Google Analytics, through interactions with customers, you should start to get a sense for how much these tools are contributing to your business.

2. Think about your users.
It’s this simple. Try and equate the digital experience you provide to the presentation of your food. That ought to help align and guide it toward how you want to be perceived, one way or the other.

3. Cover the basics.
What do visitors want know?  Your hours, your location, your menu.  Make links to that content omnipresent. If you’ve done nothing else right, you’ve at least eliminated these barriers, answered key questions, and helped potential customers find you instead of the next option.

4. Make it mobile friendly.
People find food on the go. What does this mean?  Your site should not offend phone technology. No Flash, so it works on iPhones. No huge images, so that it loads quickly. No PDFs of your menu.

5. Don’t overpower the story, complement it.
Just like nobody wants their food drowning in special sauce, nobody wants to have smooth jazz blast our of their speakers when they’re trying to make a reservation. People want to visualize your environment/experience, get the kind of basic info in #1. They don’t need you to try and impress them with web tricks. Take it easy with the auto-play music, hidden links, games, webcams, and gizmos. Err on the side of simplicity and quality, not cleverness and quantity.

6. Claim your place on Google Maps, Yelp, and Urban Spoon.
Help people find you, and listen to what’s being said about you. These resources are increasingly important to people. Use opportunities for satisfied customers to rate you on Yelp, go to Google and make sure your map listing is setup. Make sure these destinations are updated and include links to your own site, where you can tell your own story. Put yourself in your customer’s social shoes.

7. Look at your web designer and developer’s past work.
The money you spend is an investment in your marketing.  Do you find the sites they’ve built easy to use or confusing/enraging?  Don’t confuse a straightforward user experience with a “simple” site. Don’t be wowed by techspeak or gadgetry, be wooed by the overall user experience they create.

8. Plate the images up right.
Pay as much attention to the imagery on this site as you do to how you present your food at the table. You’ll probably want to focus on setting with imagery unless you really can do food photos right. If your budget is limited, you may be able to get good shots of your dining room or entry, but taking close-up pictures of food is an art and science that may work against you if not done right. 1-2 good images will do far more for you then 30 mediocre or bad ones.

9. What happens after launch?
As soon as you start deciding what’s on the site, start thinking about how/when it will change after the site is done. That’s because the site may not ever be done.
You may need a simple means of ontent management of the areas you’ll need to update regularly on the site. Seasonal menus, promotions, catering. You just need a plan, whether it’s a fancy content management system or just a reliable/affordable resource, to keep your site from eroding and dating.

10. Then talk about the fancy stuff.
Galleries of more images that show you in your best light or demonstrate catering services or special events. A reservation engine. GPS location finders  etc. There’s much more you can do, once you have the basics right.

A restaurant has a brand just as much as any business, and digital assets are a key contributor to that brand. With a little effort, today’s menu of restaurant websites can at least be on par with the experience in the restaurants themselves.

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