As part of a project I’ve been working on recently I’ve searched for literally hundreds of restaurant websites – often to no avail – in order to compile a database of basic information. My futile efforts are not due to a lack of successful searching, but rather to a serious failure among food establishment owners to adapt to a digital world. One person’s opinion on restaurant websites can be seen through humor in this comic that I saw a few months ago on The Oatmeal, which keeps coming to mind as I progress through this frustrating task. So instead of complain or draw a satirical web-comic, I thought I would help you restaurant owners out and offer some tips to help get up to speed.
1. THINK LIKE THE CONSUMER
It’s 3 am. I’m a drunk frat boy and I want pizza and wings and don’t want to call places. Boom. Laptop open, browser up, Google: “Pizza and Wings [insert city name here]”.
Ok. Simple question: what does Mr. Fratboy want to know first about “Jim’s Pizza and Wings” – what a great chef Jim is, his theories on cooking, and Suzie Q’s review of Jim OR if Jim’s Pizza is still open at 3am, delivering, taking orders online and accepts credit cards?
I said simple question, but unfortunately it seems as if restaurant owners are falling into is trap and missing the point. Why do most people go to a restaurant’s web page in the first place?
2. EASILY ACCESSIBLE, RELEVANT INFO MAKES PEOPLE HAPPY:
- Hours of Operation (why have a website or business if no one knows when you are open for business?)
- Payment Options (Accept credit cards or cash only?)
- Location (including a map so they can find you!) and Contact Info
- Menu (not in a PDF or DOC – but PLAIN TEXT on web page, not solely downloads)
- Prices (yes it could deter people – but honestly it will provide more happy customers who knew what to expect in the first place)
- Vegetarian, Vegan, Gluten Free? (Alternate diets are very common these days and lots of people need to know this information)
- Wifi? (yes/no/free? – especially useful for tourists and business people that like to work out of the office)
Now, I’m not saying you should not include your restaurant’s history, your chef’s background, blah, blah, blah…. I’m sure it’s all very interesting and will be good for SEO (that’s another day), but be aware that the majority of the people going to your site probably care more about logistics and what you’re offering than story time and will become easily irritated with you if they cannot find the info above quickly and efficiently.
3. A PICTURE IS WORTH A THOUSAND
Apparently few restaurant owners understand the value and necessity of GOOD photography. Photos are how people form opinions about your restaurant – for example: does the food look appetizing? is the place clean? would this place be fun?
Pictures allow people to literally SEE what you’ve got to offer. Don’t be afraid – just use this as a TOOL for garnering interest and inviting more customers.
Bad food and restaurant photography will prevent people from coming to your place. When I say bad, I don’t only mean content – if you show a picture of the dining room before you clean up or if you show an indiscernible/unappetizing food – but the technical aspects of the photos – grain, resolution, exposure, composition.
Think about it: which would you rather see – a well-lit closeup of a delicious looking salad of leafy greens and colorful fruits or a grainy, dark, small picture of the dining room with the furniture in a disorganized mess and no plates/silverware? These pictures set the tone for people and should be taken seriously.
4. IS THAT AN AD, A LINK, OR CONTENT?
So Mr. Fratboy from before arrives at Jim’s Pizza and Wings and what does he see? Lots of random. Some plain text here, tiny clipart graphics of pizza all over, ADS interspersed with links and text. Confusion and frustration sets in. “But where are the hours? Why is there a link to seafood restaurants in Taiwan?” (Oh it’s an ad… why?) “Is that ‘50% off orders after 3 a.m.’ a promo at Jim’s?” (Nope, just an ad for some pizza place 2,000 mi away.)
How can you expect people to understand your message if it is blocked by disorganization and a lack of any sort of comprehensible design? If you need ad revenue or are forced to show ads for some reason, PLEASE try to control where they are on the page.
I know, you’re too busy to learn the latest CSS tricks for layout and design… Wait, what’s that? Right – you haven’t heard of CSS because you’re busy cooking all day.
NO PROBLEM. Use a template. Lots of free ones exist. You can even use some type of content management program like WordPress and have access to lots of free templates and no need to understand code or show ads. YAY!
5. GET SOCIAL – ALL THE COOL KIDS ARE DOING IT (PS IT’S FREE)
Everyone always says that “word of mouth” is the most effective marketing tool. Well, social media and networking sites are this era’s version of “word of mouth.”
You don’t have a website or time for Facebook? Facebook is a MUST – it’s FREE and will come up in search engines. It’s simple, consistent and easy to understand and to update.
Some people fail with Facebook by making your restaurant a “person” – thus people must become “friends” with you. Also avoid groups. ALWAYS use “Facebook Page” because it allows standardized information like hours, description, credit cards, address/website/phone, and even a map from Bing. Oh, and people can press “like” – eliminating the need to approve them as ‘friends’ – and “share” to show their friends.
Facebook is EASY and VIRAL: if you have a website, FACEBOOK WILL DRIVE TRAFFIC THERE!
Also please take advantage of sites like Yelp and Google Maps to provide accurate business information (again, especially if you do not have your own website).
I hope that reading this has helped you realize the importance of the web and what you put out there. Feel free to comment, question, etc.