There are few epic business fails that rival a bad restaurant website.
Let's face it: Restaurants have a special relationship with their guests. Emotions run strong around food and the dining experience, and guests are typically hungry and preparing to go into hunting-and-gathering mode when they visit a restaurant website. In that state, an easy-to-navigate and fun-to-use site can be as enticing as the smell of meat on a barbecue.
Conversely, a poorly constructed site will send hungry potential guests running to competitor sites that have a more appetizing appearance, user-friendly design and easy-to-read menus.
Smart restaurateurs know that their websites are far different than retail sites. Whereas Amazon attempts to throw anything and everything it knows you're interested in at you, a good restaurant site has simpler tasks: entice you to come in, if not tonight, then some time, or place an online order then and there. It uses color and design to evoke the feel of the physical space. It presents a menu that's easy to find and navigate. It uses simple phrases to send a clear message about the food. It embeds a Google map and displays hours of operation and contact information clearly. And it uses appetizing videos and photos designed to make mouths water.
Tips From an Expert
But don't trust us; instead, consider the advice of Cary Levine, former CEO of website designer MoPro, who offered up a set of restaurant website guidelines in a 2016 post for the National Restaurant Association. Three years later, Levine's advice remains a great list of tips for restaurateurs, and here's our spin on it…
Tip #1: Channel your digital feng shui
Think about your restaurant space and the aura you're trying to create there, and duplicate that on your website. If your restaurant presents a minimal, romantic vibe, your website should reflect that — think an image of a candlelit tabletop and a bottle of good wine in mid-pour. Conversely, if you are creating a kitschy vibe with lots of retro-signage, wall-to-wall eye candy, and numerous condiment options on the table, then your site should mirror all of that visual energy — without sacrificing ease of use and clean design.
Tip #2: Use color effectively
Remember what we said above about emotions running high around food? Well, few things trigger emotions more powerfully than colors. As such, it's critical that your site present a color palette that not only matches, but that also provides a natural bridge to the physical space, as well as the food that will be served.
Tip #3: Get the typography right
Font selection tells people so much about your business, and it's really easy to tell them the wrong things. Some fonts come off as stuffy and pompous, others come off as playful and childlike. Unless you're shooting for extremes, try to find a happy medium.
Tip #4: Choose words carefully
No one visits restaurant websites to read anything other than the menu. Yes, in the process of finding your menu, visitors will glance at a few phrases as they're deciding whether to dine in your establishment. These phrases set a tone, so it's crucial that they send a message that reflects the experience diners will have. Your task is to present a sort of mantra for your restaurant. Consider Poquitos, a Mexican restaurant in Seattle whose site was designed by MoPro. Visitors are immediately greeted by the phrase "Real Mexican food." Twice.
Tip #5: Graphics matter
This is a no-brainer. You're marketing your restaurant here. Presenting your food and space with sleek video and crisp photography sets a tone. You can't present aromas on a website, but strong food imagery can suggest those aromas. Think of your graphics as a virtual step into your restaurant. The more enticing and mood-evoking they are, the more likely your visitors are to want to experience that first-hand.
Tip #6: Call to action
Yes, the ultimate goal is to attract diners to your restaurant. But your website can fuel your business in numerous ways. You can spur visitors to place online orders, make future reservations, sign up for email lists, join loyalty programs or interact with your social media accounts. (As an aside, do not give short shrift to your social media activity; it's a beautiful way to keep your restaurant top-of-mind.) But you don't want to bludgeon your visitors with buttons to click, so be mindful of how they fit into the site's design. They should be thoughtfully placed and obvious, but not intrusive.
Tip #7: Flow matters
The last thing you want visitors to your site doing is looking for things. Any time they spend scrolling up and down and scanning for things they can't find is time not spent being drawn into your restaurant. Make sure your site is easy to navigate, consistent in look and feel and takes the decision-making out of the visitor's hands. You know the beauty of walking into a restaurant, being immediately greeted and seated and then being served seamlessly? You want your site to feel like that.
There's clearly more to a good restaurant website than these seven tips cover, and it's also important to remember who you are. You know the personality of your restaurant, and the vibe you're trying to create, so whatever checklist of must-haves and must-dos you refer to, don't forget your brand identity.
The bottom line is this: The restaurant business is hard enough. Don't let your website be a hindrance to what is already a huge challenge. Put as much energy into it as you do the restaurant itself, and you, your guests and your bottom line will all reap the benefits.