Over the last two years, I’ve taken a rather keen interest in restaurant management and operations. Restaurants have incredibly thin margins, restaurant owners are generally overworked and, while they may get praised, they also take way more than their share of abuse from customers.
By and large, restaurant web sites are atrocious and restaurateurs have nary a clue how to make their web sites better. Often they punt and hire hacks who have “done restaurant web sites” and buy their way into quick contracts using the cache of previous clients.
But the sites are crap. They are either completely ugly or they have tons of unnecessary music and animation. A large number are information poor. A large number are outdated.
How many times have you clicked on a menu and found it to be from the previous summer or older?
So here are 10 quick recommendations to build a better restaurant web site based on mistakes I’ve seen restaurateurs make over and over again:
1. OWN YOUR OWN DOMAIN
If you are just starting, go to godaddy.com and buy your domain name. If you have hired someone to build your site, CHECK NOW. If they own your domain name, ask them to transfer ownership to you. Why is this #1? Because I’ve seen it happen that often. Your domain is your business – you never want anyone else to control it.
2. DON’T GIVE UP CONTROL
No one should ever control your web site but you. You can outsource the work, but make sure you know where it is hosted. Make sure you are paying directly for the hosting and giving access to your contractor. Do not let the contractor control the hosting contract. If the contract bails on you and you don’t have access to your site – you lose all that work.
Flash animations are pretty, and pictures of yummy food blending into other yummy food is hot. But Google doesn’t give a rip about your hot blending images. Google wants content. No content, no good indexing on Google. Further, your customers want to eat food, not to watch animated food on their laptops. They don’t want to click ‘skip intro’ and they don’t want to wait. Customers want to eat your food.
4. NO PDFs
PDFs are used by many restaurant web sites because they can make the PDF directly from the menu. The layout is consistent, the logos are the same. It’s beautiful. Except that PDFs also make sites less visible by Google. PDFs also need to be uploaded – which is a pain. This means that PDF menus are less likely to get updates. In turn, this means that information is more likely to go stale. And nothing stale is attractive in a restaurant.
5. NO MUSIC!!!
Look, just no music, okay?
6. USE WORDPRESS.COM
$10 a year buys you a web site hosted by wordpress.com. You provide your domain name (e.g. BakersEscargotHaus.com) and Wordpress gives you easy steps to make a site. The site will be built on a blog platform. Don’t be scared by the word blog – the only thing you need to know is that your site is now really easy to update. If you want, you can hire any number of people to set the site up – but when it’s done, you can update it, you can edit it, and you control it.
7. YES PICTURES AND CURRENT MENU
Why do you have a restaurant?! TO SERVE FOOD!!!! Let people know what you have. Get pictures (lots of them) up there showing the food, showing people eating the food, showing how much everyone loves the food … AND … always have ALL your current menus on the site – INCLUDING DAILY SPECIALS. The daily special should bring people in – not merely be a surprise for those lucky enough to pop by.
8. REWARD GROUPS AND REGULARS
Start a program for customer rewards that you (again) control. There are lots of people out there who want to take your money to set up a rewards program. Make sure the site details how you love your regulars and how you reward groups. Not just “groups of 10 or more call for special discounts,” but make a hot dinner for 10 people and make it known that if you come with 10 – it will be awesome. Out of all the restaurants I’ve been to world wide – it seems only high end Chinese restaurants get this right.
9. BLOG OR BE BLOGGED
This is the toughest one. I think every restaurant should have a blog because every restaurant has formed for a reason. And those reasons, and the restaurateurs, are individualistic and fascinating. Blogging doesn’t have to be hard. I could go on about this for hours, so I’ll leave it with this: Blogging is the best way I know to make Google and other search engines love your site. Why? Because I provides constantly updated, new and unique content. Search engines love that.
10. UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE
This may seem like I’m perseverating, here, but web sites must be routinely updated for both customers and search engines to stay interested. Your web site is now your maître’d. That site isn’t a brochure, it’s your entry hall. If it isn’t updated, it is shabby.
So these 10 recommendations for a better restaurant web site should be helpful, if only judging by most of the sites I’ve seen. I fully understand that most restaurateurs are not web site designers and many wish the whole thing would go away. But it isn’t, and with a 3% margin – you can’t afford to let any customers get away.
Blogged at the Metropolitan Hotel in Vancouver, BC