Restaurants and Web Sites

Today I saw the most recent episode of Kitchen Nightmares, which takes place in the city of Metairie in my home state of Louisiana. After the episode, I visited the web site of the featured restaurant. My experience there combined with other similar recent experiences inspired me to write this blog post.

The topic of this post is not new. Let’s face it: once there’s an Oatmeal strip about a topic, chances are it’s been around the block once or twice. However, it seems like the point isn’t being driven home to its intended audience: restaurant owners. So, I’m aiming to present the material at a slightly different angle than I generally see it presented in hopes that it has the intended effect. Feel free to pass the link around to anyone you think is a member of that audience.

Let’s look at a hypothetical scenario. There’s a person, who we’ll call Joe, and he’s coming up on his lunch break at his office job. A few of his coworkers come around, say they’re thinking of dining out for lunch, and invite him to join. The group then tries to decide on a venue. To give them a better idea of their options, Joe pulls up a web site like Google, Google Maps, or Urbanspoon to see what’s nearby. A number of questions need to be answered when considering any individual option.

  • What are the restaurant’s hours?
  • Is it open for breakfast, lunch, or dinner?
  • What type of food is served (e.g. burgers, Chinese, etc.) and how is it priced?
  • Where is the restaurant and what are the directions to get there from the office?
  • Does the restaurant offer orders for carry-out or delivery?
  • How long is the wait time before a customer is served?
  • Is a reservation required? If so, how far in advance does it need to be made and can it be done online?
  • For more uncommon questions, how can the restaurant be contacted?

How much of this information does your site provide and how easily can potential customers find it? Are different pages of the site clearly named, linked to in a prominent navigation section, and populated with well-organized and relevant information? Are important basics like location, hours, and phone number prominently featured on every page?

Now, information from internet sources isn’t always accurate. Let’s say that the group chooses a restaurant, drives there, and realizes that the restaurant has closed down. They’re no longer near a computer, but with the increasing availability of mobile devices, each has a mobile phone. They use them to search again and review other options. There are several things that might make the group pass up a particular venue at this point.

  • Desktop-targeted web sites. While these can be viewable on a mobile phone, they can require a lot of zooming and panning to read and may not display as well in mobile browsers. Offer an alternative minimalistic version of the site for mobile devices.
  • Flash animations. Not only can they be large to download over a mobile network, but many mobile phones don’t support them and simply won’t display them. You probably don’t need Flash on your web site to begin with. If you really think you do, only use it on the desktop version; leave it out of the mobile version.
  • Menus in PDF format. Like Flash animations, they’re typically larger than a web page and many mobile phones can’t read them without supplemental software. Even with that software, they can be annoying to navigate. PDF files are great for printing and passing around the office, but the ideal situation for mobile phones is having the menu content on an actual web page, preferably one that’s mobile-specific. This also gives search engines additional content to pick up and associate with your restaurant.

How mobile-friendly is your web site? Can all the information it offers be easily consumed by mobile devices as well as desktop computers?

One last parting thought: the end goal of a web site depends on the business it represents. Too often, I see restaurant owners lose sight of what the purpose of their web site should be: to get customers off the site and into the restaurant as quickly as possible. This contrasts with some sites like Facebook or Amazon, where the goal is to keep customers on the site as long as possible.

A restaurant web site can accomplish its goal by enabling prospective customers to get the information about the restaurant that they need and then leave. While it isn’t always feasible to measure, a web site that doesn’t do this effectively can have a very real, negative impact on the bottom line of the restaurant as a business because it is a reflection of that business.

If you own a restaurant and don’t have a web site yet, please keep these things in mind when having one developed. If you already have a web site and it veers from these guidelines, I urge you to consider having it changed. As usage of the internet and mobile devices increases, these guidelines will only become more important.

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