11 Essential Features For Your Restaurant Website
Table of Contents
Do The Work, Reap The Rewards — All From Your Restaurant Website
Today, it’s second nature for consumers to research restaurant websites before choosing a place to dine — usually from a mobile device. A restaurant’s website has never been as important as it is right now! That said, the restaurant industry is somewhat notorious for outdated, poorly-designed websites that do little to gain the confidence of consumers.
A well-designed restaurant website can (and will) make the difference between a new customer and an opportunity missed. Even if you have a tribe of loyal customers, an inviting atmosphere and great food; a bad website will reflect negatively on your business. Remember… everyone doesn’t know you.
Many consumers will assume the quality of your restaurant website is reflective of the quality and care you put into your food and service. I know that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but the data shows it to be true.
Your website is the face of your restaurant’s brand. It is the first impression maker and sets the tone for customer expectations. You’ve perfected your menu, honed your customer service, and have a great location. It’s time to demonstrate to the masses who don’t know anything about you that you put care into the biggest impression maker you own — your website!
1. Contact Information
Let’s first consider why people might be visiting your website in the first place. When it comes to websites for restaurants, one of the most common reasons someone might visit your site is to find out where you are and how to get in touch. They will also want to know your business hours, whether or not they need a reservation, how to make one, and maybe a dress code. All stuff they really shouldn’t have to call to get.
At a minimum, your restaurant’s email address and phone number should be visible on every page in the header and footer sections. Additionally, your address and hours of operation should be prominently displayed on every landing page.
Contact information makes it possible to come to the restaurant. That sounds silly, right? But you might be surprised how many restaurant websites overlook this gimme.
You should also link your address to Google Maps (if not displaying a map on the site) so directions are just a click away. A phone number that can be tapped to dial on mobile is also a must. Google data shows that over 50% of the users in a recent survey indicated they were more likely to call a restaurant if the phone number on their site was clickable. Very simple to add a clickable link by using the format tel:1234567890
2. The Restaurant Website Menu
Yes, let’s talk about your menu. Not the menu to navigate the restaurant website, but the one describing your food. One of the most common reasons visitors come to your site is to see the menu. For obvious multiple reasons: to see if you have something that will satisfy everyone in their party (or at least something that everyone will eat) and to check your prices. There are other motives but these two top the list.
A mobile-ready (responsive) online menu is imperative. Skip the bad photo because it makes you look like you last updated your website in 1996. Additionally, it’s difficult for mobile users to scroll through and it’s virtually impossible for search engines to read (unless you have all the menu information in the image metadata for the photo, which would be ridiculous). The same goes for PDF menus, although slightly more acceptable on the scale of annoyance. The idea is to make your menu available without jumping through hoops or being forced to open external applications to view it. If you’re asking visitors to “download” a menu, forget it. You’ve lost 98% of the opportunity at that point.
If the menu absolutely must be a PDF, create a link that opens the menu in a new browser tab. That is the best way to mitigate an otherwise bad user experience and will minimize confusion.
3. Reservations & Online Ordering
This is very important for the traditional restaurant because even fast-food chains have now turned to online ordering options for delivery and takeout. The ease of online ordering is incredibly tempting to consumers because it avoids a phone call. Ordering online also gives the customer the perception of control over the order being correctly taken, whether it’s true or not.
With the onslaught of online retail, most consumers feel more comfortable providing credit card information on a secure restaurant website than reading the card number to someone on the phone — another shot in the arm for online ordering.
Every restaurant website obviously doesn’t have a need for online ordering, or it simply doesn’t fit the business model. But, if a large part of your business comes from take-out orders, you should consider an online ordering platform to level the playing field with larger chains.
There are other processes in the business that can be automated to give the consumer the feeling of more control and self-service. This might be an online reservation system (easily integrated through a site like OpenTable or Resy). Even a way to place a catering order online where your customers receive a follow-up call to confirm details.
Anything you can do to provide visitors to your website more control or some simple automation will go a long way in making a solid impression and improving your bottom line.
4. Food Pics On Your Restaurant Website
When it comes to foodies, never underestimate the power of great photos. It is critical to give visitors to your site a glimpse of what your fare looks like on the plate, even if it’s a big, fat, juicy burger with fries. But, if you do it, don’t go cheap, and don’t rely on photos taken by patrons on social media to suffice.
Spend a couple of bucks and get a pro involved here. Lighting and image processing are equally important. I’m not saying to Photoshop the food images to make them look better, but there is an art to photographing food.
Be honest! Don’t overload the portions shown in the photos because patrons will notice and they will call you on it. We’ve all seen the fast-food commercials and thought to ourselves — hey, mine never looks like that!
Stage the shots. It’s OK to dress the plating with a little extra care. You don’t need images for every menu item, but more is better in this case. If you spring for a pro photoshoot, get as many as you can because they will come in handy over time, even if you don’t use them all initially. So, put the smartphone camera down and get some real shots. This small investment will win you customers, period!
While you’re at it, have the photographer take photos of the interior and exterior, the kitchen (make sure it’s clean), patrons if possible (with permission), and even outdoor seating areas, parking areas, etc.
5. A Restaurant Website For Your Style
Another one that should be obvious, but surprisingly it’s not. As a restaurant owner, you understand the importance of style and ambiance, right? Think of the website as an extension of your physical space. Does it connote the style or vibe you would expect a customer to have walking in the front door?
For instance, if you’re a giant buffet serving home-cooked food, a modern industrial motif would be downright wrong. That’s an extreme example but to the point. Designing your website is an opportunity to convey your style to customers before they walk through the front door.
Be consistent. If you run an upscale restaurant that caters to upscale clientele, you may want to opt for a minimalist design. If you have a family restaurant, maybe something more fun with a whimsical theme.
The idea here is to create a design concept that is consistent with what a patron will experience when they show up. If you have a specific color palette that is reflected in your brand, it should be conveyed in your web design.
Believe it or not, a website can evoke emotion — that’s what good visual design is supposed to do. That emotion should not only be consistent with your in-restaurant vibe, but it should attract the right customers. Let your visual design do the talking.
6. Who Are You?
Restaurant websites can benefit immensely from effective use of an about page or section. Look at this area of your website as an opportunity to tell your unique story. Tell your prospects and customers what is important to you and maybe what inspires you. This is your chance!
The about section is also an opportunity to talk about what differentiates you from others similar to you. That may be a specific service or high-touch that you provide your patrons.
If you’re not sure what you’re good at, and you’ve been open for a while, check out your online reviews. Patrons reviewing you on Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google, Facebook, and any other review platform will tell you exactly what you’re good at. Play to your strengths without bragging! You already have social proof.
This is also where you want to talk about your amazing staff. If you have a renowned chef, you can talk about her here. Talk about the attentive service team and how they hit all the right notes to make a memorable dining experience.
The about page is the one opportunity you get to talk about everything you do, how you do it differently, and why visitors to your website should take an additional step to try it out.
7. Moving Pictures
Video is a very important medium to convey what an in-restaurant experience is like, but use it sparingly, and only use it if it’s done well. Refer to #4
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video is worth a million as long as it’s done right. Here are a few ideas where you can implement video into your website for effect:
- Reviews from customers. Most of your patrons will not want a camera in their face while they are enjoying their meal, but many would be happy to say something nice on there way out. Don’t offer anything in exchange, but if they do provide a nice personal review on camera, make sure you reward them with something meaningful. Tread carefully in seeking out paid reviews. Consumers are more savvy in sniffing these out than ever before.
- A video from the chef, owner or restaurant manager talking about the restaurant and the awesome customers (more the latter) can also go a long way in delivering personality online to website visitors who have never been in the restaurant.
- Show them the kitchen! Giving your prospective patrons a glimpse into your food prep can speak volumes about the cleanliness of your kitchen and the freshness of your ingredients.
8. What's Happening?
An event calendar is not a necessity for all restaurants and may not apply, as such. But, if you have events or specials, it may be helpful to include a calendar on your website. Yes, you have to manage it, but the value comes in letting your website visitors know there is life at the restaurant and you’re paying attention.
You really have to update the calendar regularly. There is nothing more digitally-embarrassing than to have a calendar that hasn’t been updated for years, and nothing more frustrating for visitors to your site.
You may think you don’t have any events, however, that Wednesday night special is perfectly appropriate for an event calendar. Understand that it doesn’t have to be a full 30-day calendar posted on your website — just a place that you can show upcoming out-of-the-ordinary occurrences.
9. Be Social
Restaurants are easy to cross-promote on your social media and review site profiles because patrons love to share restaurant experiences on their own accounts and tag you. Just make sure you have links on your website so visitors know where you are and on what platforms.
Here’s the key. Make absolutely sure your social media accounts are consistent with your website in terms of brand. Also, stay active on review sites, responding to reviews as needed, but with caution.
Your social media accounts should link back to your website as well. This is a great way to get some social authority as well as drive traffic to your site. You worked hard on it so show it off! Pro tip: any links from your website to your social platforms should open a new tab so you don’t completely lose the traffic or control over the browser session.
Regarding review sites, there is a method to follow when responding to reviews and there are many pitfalls if you don’t follow the rules. I’ve written on this before. Inevitably, you will encounter a bad review or 10. Even if you have the best restaurant in the city, you will stumble, or someone will have a bad night and take it out on your review site. Here’s the executive summary on how to handle these situations.
- Don’t handle it at all because it’s likely nothing you can say will make it better.
- Handle it with grace and understanding. Dear customer, we are very sorry to hear that you had a bad experience. While it is out of character for us to let our customers down, we’d like to make up for our shortcomings on your next visit. Please contact us directly.
- Short and sweet. Thank you for your feedback. We take all customer reviews to heart and use them to get better. We hope you will have a better experience on your next visit.
You get the idea. The wrong way to respond is to engage the reviewer with criticism, excuses, or reasons as to why they had a bad experience. It’s a losing proposition and their perception wins, no matter what. They are the customer.
One quick note on good reviews… if you receive good reviews (especially on Google), always thank the reviewer. It doesn’t have to be a long reply. A simple thanks mentioning the persons name will suffice. This is a signal to Google that you pay attention to your reputation.
10. Local Search & Analytics
Google Analytics is used to track website performance. It is not part of the user experience and it’s invisible to visitors, although an essential element of all successful websites.
There are various analytics tools — Google being a key platform — that can track everything from where website visitors are located to which pages get the most views and how users behave on each page.
It may sound daunting and maybe you’re not sure where to start. As a minimum, here are some metrics you should be tracking:
- Bounce rate: Bounce rate refers to the rate at which people leave your site after getting there. The more time people spend on your site, the better, so you’ll want your bounce rate to be as low as possible.
- Keywords: If you plan on doing search engine optimization (SEO) — and you will — you definitely want to know which keywords and phrases people are searching to find your website. Tracking this will help you refine the words you use to market your business. As an example, if many people find your website by searching “juicy steaks near me,” you may want to stress your awesome steak entrees, even if you have several other menu items.
- Devices: This is critical. You can track which devices visitors are using to access your website. It’s very likely the majority of your visitors are on mobile devices, but wouldn’t it be helpful to know for sure? Analytics can help you determine whether or not you are penetrating the mobile market, as well as which operating systems your visitors are commonly using.
11. Be Mobile
Well over half of all website traffic comes from mobile devices. It is imperative for all websites for restaurants to be able to adjust to any screen size or device type. This is made possible through responsive design. Many consumers search for a restaurant website while on the go and while deciding where to eat. If your website isn’t easy to view or navigate on a mobile device, you’ve missed the opportunity!
This may be last on the list but it is not least important. Responsive web design is critical to being found and it is often the difference-maker in whether or not consumers engage your business online or move on to the next option.
How Do You Score?
How does your website score? Not that we’re keeping one, but your prospects and customers are. Are you addressing 6 out of 11 of these essentials? More? Less!?! If you have a restaurant website, there are ways to be in the game and ways to sit out. It seems like a lot of work because it is.
You may have the best local restaurant in your city and your tables are turning over regularly, but we all know what happens when you rest on that laurel. The next shiny object comes along and you are yesterday’s news — unless you stay on top of the game. Your website can provide that edge, that competitive advantage. Do the work. Reap the rewards.