The Restaurant Website – What the Hell Are You Doing?

I just rebooted my computer.

Who cares, you might ask. But I had to reboot my system because I was visiting the website of a local restaurant and the PDF file of their menu caused my operating system to freeze. This would be mildly annoying if it was the only time I ever encountered it, but it actually happens on a regular basis. Between the PDFs, the crap flash websites and sites that are just never updated, restaurants make my job of writing about them like pulling teeth, only with a lot more tears and crying.

Look, I get the fact that not everybody is good at (or interested in) everything. Cooks wanna cook, they don’t want to waste their time mucking around with computer stuff or marketing campaigns or anything that isn’t, well, cooking. I get it. Just about everybody who works in a creative field, making things to sell to other people, feels the same way. Farmers hate dragging their produce to market, craftspeople hate dragging their wares to shows, authors hate doing book tours, and chefs hate taking time out of the kitchen to deal with paperwork.

But it’s a reality of life.

One that more restaurants should embrace, because your website is the most important tool you have in marketing your business. It’s a 24-hour-a-day business card that can make people want to try your food or never set foot in your place ever. More than Twitter, Facebook or any other online social networking site, their own website is where restaurants need to be concentrating their efforts.

How to make your website work for you:

  • Keep it simple. Sure, let the design reflect your business, but make it easy to navigate, and lay things out so they’re logical.
  • NFF. No Fucking Flash. I can’t stress this enough. It’s lame, it’s annoying and if I’m standing on a streetcorner, trying to look up your restaurant with my smartphone, I can’t get to the info on your website at all. In an industry that relies on walk-by traffic, cravings, and last-minute whims, you REALLY, REALLY, REALLY want your website to be accessible to someone on a mobile device.
  • No stupid PDFs. For the life of me, I do not understand why restaurants insist on presenting their menu online via a PDF. You can’t change it easily if your menu changes. The files often freeze. Just put the info on a seperate page of your site that you can access and change.
  • Keep things up to date. I went looking for a weekly promotion a local restaurant is doing. It’s a cool weekly event that I can write about on Toronto.com and list on TasteTO. There is no reference to it at all on their website, because their site is all flash and PDFs and they’re obviously relying on an outside person or company to update the info for them. No publicity for them, huh?

What hurts my head most of all is that it’s so easy and simple (and pretty much free) to build an attractive, easy to use, easy to maintain website via someplace like WordPress. I should note here that I don’t work for WordPress and they’re not paying me to say nice things about them, but I really do not understand why every business in the world isn’t using a WordPress blog/website for their online presence. Not only does it allow users to have a blog that can be updated any time (new menu items, daily specials, special events, live music, general social interaction and stories from “behind the scenes”…) but unlike other blogging platforms, it allows multiple pages. For things like menus (without a stupid PDF!), or info about your chef, or products you sell. The possibilities are endless.

A web consultant can set up a restaurant with a WordPress blog. They can even create a unique and snazzy template to go with the overall theme of your place (such as this site for the Gladstone Hotel… yep, WordPress!) From there, updating the site with new info is simple. And if you want to get fancy, oh the plug-ins you can get. For the less snazzy-minded, the average person can set up a WordPress blog in under an hour. And the most basic version on WordPress.com is free. An ad-free version carries a small fee or you can host the site on a separate server and do astounding things with templates from WordPress.org. Our fancy new event listings site at TasteTO? WordPress baby!

Restaurateurs, chefs, please. Take a moment to consider your online presence. Don’t just go with whatever your web designer or some marketing company pushes at you. Think about the people who use your site (including yourself) and whether it’s an enjoyable experience (and if you aren’t able to update your site at all because of all the crap like flash and PDF files, ask yourself if that’s a good idea… I know of a local restaurant whose site hasn’t been updated since 2008 because the web designer disappeared and was the only one who was able to access the website’s back end. Don’t let this happen to you!). There’s stuff out there that is easy, accessible and attractive. Sites that will make the marketing and promotional part of running your business easy, and maybe even fun and interesting.

Please… no more Flash and PDFs, please?

 

7 thoughts on “The Restaurant Website – What the Hell Are You Doing?

  1. How difficult can it be to have a restaurant’s hours, reservation telephone number and address (with cross street, please) on its homepage?

  2. I would like to add a rule! How about no loud obnoxious music on the home page that you have to turn off, or even worse, that you CAN’T turn off? I may be checking a restaurant website at work, or while on the phone, and music on a restaurant homepage is intrusive, not to mention not necessary. Unless they are trying to warn me of what to expect when I come to the restaurant. In that case, no thank you!

  3. I’ve been known to make restaurant website the deciding factor when I have 2-3 options with equally (or closely) appetizing menus. I’ve also been known to not go to a restaurant because I couldn’t find their menu, or it was unloadable, or the menu obviously hadn’t been updated since I was there 4 years ago (and I know that the menu is seasonal).

    1. I hope there are restaurateurs reading this and clueing in. These are all reasons why restaurants lose business.

  4. Fantastic post. I’m a web developer and I do a lot of work in WordPress: it’s such a great way to whip up a quick, clean, SEO-friendly site, especially for smaller clients, and these days you can easily make it so nobody knows a site is running on WordPress if that’s a concern. There are tons of fantastic free themes out there designed specifically for restaurants. So even if a restauranteur doesn’t want to pay for custom design or development, there’s no reason they couldn’t have one of those installed and quickly customized with some images, menu items, and contact info specific to their business.

    The scourge of Flash has died out almost everywhere on the web except on restaurant sites, for some inexplicable reason. My particular pet peeve is when a restaurant site contains no map, and then when I try to copy/paste their address into Google to find one, I find I cannot because the text is trapped inside Flash and hence non-selectable. Bah!

    1. The scourge of flash. I love this.

      The scourge comes from the fact that many restaurants signed on to a restaurant-specific web hosting/promotional service and Flash was the standard. Likewise the crap music. So many restaurants are signed into contracts with these sites and are stuck with the websites they’ve got.

      But you’re absolutely right about WP solutions for restaurants – when I was redesigning this site, the number of templates for restaurants I came across for WordPress.org was astounding. Really nice ones too, that were easily customizeable.

      An in the job I do (writing about local restaurants), I can’t agree more about the inability to copy/paste stuff like addresses. It’s infuriating.

      Thanks for the comment Gary.

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