Restaurant websites have become infamous for their outdated designs, and frustrating user experience. How many times have you visited a restaurant website and asked, “What was this web designer thinking?”
We see the same (often laughable) problems again and again: background music as you skip past another Flash website “intro”; PDF food menus (or no menu at all); all of the content is image-based instead of text, causing extremely slow load times. The list goes on and on…
As you would in any website design project, you must start by putting yourself in the visitor’s shoes and pinpointing their most pressing needs. For restaurants, we know that visitors want to easily browse the food menu. They want to know the restaurant’s location and it’s operating hours. They want to see a few photos to get a feel for the interior dining experience. Many of those visitors want to access all of this using their mobile phones.
It amazes me that in 2012, so many restaurant websites still fail to meet the most essential must-haves that visitors have come to expect. So if you manage a restaurant, or if you’re designing a website for a restaurant client, here are some essential pieces of advice.
Create web-based food menus, not PDFs
The food menu is a central piece of any restaurant business, so naturally it should play a central role in any restaurant website. Visitors want to reach the website and quickly glance over the menu, find things they crave, and get an idea about prices.
It's been common practice, for some time, for restaurants to simply post links to download their menu in PDF format. While it may be a quick solution for the web designer, PDFs are quite frustrating for visitors. Why should someone be required to download a file to their computer, just glance over a menu? Not to mention the fact that PDF menus slow down your website and have a negative impact on search engine rankings.
A better solution is to include your food menus directly on your website, integrated with the design. If you’re using a content management system like WordPress, the food menus can be built into the CMS (using custom post types) and designed in such a way that makes them easy to update. This way, visitors can see accurate information at any given time.
Always include contact info, location & hours
You’d be surprised how many restaurant websites fail to meet this most basic need. It’s imperative that your restaurant website display contact information, location, and operating hours. Without these, the visitor will likely decide not to dine at your restaurant, either because they don’t know where it is, or they don’t want to risk showing up only to find it’s closed.
Contact information — telephone, fax, and/or email — should be visible on every page of the website. It’s a good idea to place it near the top of the website, where it can be quickly accessed, especially on mobile devices. A plain-text phone number should be used so that on phones, it can be clicked to initiate a call.
The restaurant location can be shown using an embedded Google Map. I’d recommend placing the address in plain text alongside the Google map as well. Again, this can be clicked on mobile devices to initiate a maps app and get directions. This brings us into the next point.