About 60-80% of the time, a person or a group turns to the Internet for suggestions on where to eat; so, if you still don’t have a website at this point of the digital craze, you are simply missing out on the action.
That’s not just good news for your competition; it’s actually really bad news for your restaurant.
When you don’t have a business website, people who have an opinion on your restaurant — the menu, the service, the parking, the lighting, etc. — post those opinions elsewhere. They post them on social media, on Yelp, and everywhere else but a website you can control.
Chances are, you won’t have an opportunity to answer bad reviews. One bad review can influence a hundred more, perhaps even a thousand more. People who read those reviews are very likely to skip your restaurant. Good reviews, on the other hand, may influence others to visit your restaurant, but marketing opportunities such as this simply fall to the wayside, sans a website. All in all, you miss out on any kind of online opportunity to improve your restaurant and get more customers to visit.
The big restaurant chains typically have good websites. As for most local restaurants, either they have no web presence to speak of, or they have poorly designed websites that hardly ever get updated.
To make your local restaurant more successful, you must do things differently. You need that traffic, and there is a way to get it.
Here are some suggestions on web design for restaurants:
Careful with Color
A fast-food chain might get away with a website with loud colors, but you don’t have the history and popularity they have. Not yet, anyway. Use neutral colors for your background. You might be tempted to use bright colors to go with brand identity, but there are ways to make neutral colors work for your website. In all, neutral colors are easier on the eyes and may encourage visitors to stay longer on your site.
Don’t discount the importance of color when you design your website. Aim for clarity and the ease with which potential patrons can read what you have to offer. Bright, brash backgrounds appear irritating to the eyes, making your website unlikable.
No Flash and No Splash
A search engine user chooses from a list provided by the search engine. When that user clicks on your website URL, they want to get to your website. They don’t want to have to deal with a splash page so they can click out of it and back to your website. They want what they want already, especially when they’re obviously looking for a place to satisfy their hunger, literally. They don’t want to be delayed by a Flash animation, either. Those things — Flash and splash — are things of the past. You don’t need them, and neither do your customers.
One more thing about Flash: IOS users (iPhone, iPad, iPod) cannot open Flash. Apple has refused to allow Flash on their mobile devices for years. You can find out why here.
Big Image, Big Garbage
A website with a full image header loads more slowly, which means your patrons have to wait. That’s like looking at a splash page or a Flash animation. CSS and HTML can help you achieve the same intent in good web design for restaurants; you don’t have to resort to a giant image that slows down your loading time.
Also, use images only when you must. Prioritize user experience, especially the part where they can click on a phone number, an order button, or an address. Additionally, make sure to use images that are of good quality – no one enjoys looking at blurry, boring, poorly-captured images.
Make it Mobile
Optimize your website to work on any device: desktop computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. If you must design from scratch, prioritize mobile. Most people who use the Web to find a place to dine are already out, accessing the Internet through a smartphone.
A website not designed for a mobile experience is not going to load quickly on a smartphone or a tablet. It’s highly likely that it will not load correctly; worse, it may not even load at all. If a potential patron has to wait for your website to load correctly, they’re gone.
Mobile is another reason speed-defeating processes like loading Flash, splash, or big images is a huge deal-breaker. Not everyone has high-speed data or Wi-Fi wherever they go, and data plans are not exactly cheap, either.
Google also puts a high premium on websites optimized for mobile, so your website can rank higher on search and be found more quickly by more customers if it’s designed with mobile in mind.
Auto-play is Not OK
Why do you need to play music on your website?
Why do you need to put your TVC on your website?
Auto-play– like Flash – is simply a bad idea. If you must include any videos on your website, make sure they only play on demand. And don’t put any background music that automatically plays as soon as the site loads. Remember, speed and UX are the priority here. Bells and whistles, not so much.
Restaurants, computer stores, and many other businesses are guilty of this: they ask the website visitor to download a menu, a price list, or a spec sheet.
Nobody needs a PDF just to find what they want to eat! That’s another reason to worry about time and data. Not least of the hassles, the user has to make sure they have an app installed that can open a PDF.
On your part, it’s not as easy to update a PDF menu as you may think. Many restaurants that offer a downloadable PDF have an outdated menu or one that takes away from their website’s design theme.
Have a specific page for the menu; don’t ask patrons to download anything just to get to it. A hungry patron wants to find out what you’ve got on the menu, pronto.
Make Instant Contact
When a patron clicks on the phone number on your website, that action should launch their phone’s dial panel (if they’re on a smartphone). If they click on your address, that should take them to a Google Maps location of your restaurant. Clicking on your email address should launch their email app, with a new email ready with your address.
Customers love it when they don’t have to do anything extra to get what they want.
TripAdvisor has become a go-to site for finding hospitality-related businesses like restaurants and hotels. Use it.
Remember that people can leave reviews on TripAdvisor, so make sure you answer those reviews, good or bad. People like it when a business takes the time to pay attention to what they want or don’t want.
Also, hire a professional photographer to take pictures of your business for posting on TripAdvisor.
The largest social media network on the Web is still Facebook, with twice as many users as the next one on the list. Apart from Facebook, you can add a couple more, just to make sure you’re reaching more people. Instagram and Twitter are pretty good options. Don’t try to cover all social media channels, though. That’s way too much work, and many of them might not generate enough returns to justify a continued presence.
To put this all into perspective, here are the characteristics your restaurant website must demonstrate:
- It must look great
- It must be easy to use for anyone
- It must be mobile-friendly
- It must be quick
- It must be ever-present
Everything else is just gravy.