People love to eat, but that doesn’t mean restaurant owners have an easy time getting people in their doors. As passionate about food as you may be, you know there’s more to the restaurant business than a great menu or atmosphere. People need to know about you first, and one of the key ways to get the word out is your website.
A restaurant’s website can make or break their business.
So how do you ensure yours has everything it needs to entice people into your restaurant to give your food a chance to wow them? We’ve got everything you need to know about creating a sleek, attractive website that showcases everything you have to offer, so by the time people are done with it, the food speaks for itself.
The Menu, a.k.a Your Lifeblood on Paper (or Pixels)
Aside from the homepage, this is the second most important section of your website. It doesn’t so much matter who you are or how beautiful your establishment is if the food isn’t scrumptious. Show it through your online menu.
First, the rules:
- Never use a photo of your menu as your website menu. It’s a nightmare for mobile users trying to zoom around and pan out to read. Plus, search engines won’t recognize the keywords on it to let people know what you offer is exactly what they’re searching for. The search for “great pizza in Anytown, USA” is not going to lead to your site if your menu doesn’t speak to Google’s algorithms correctly.
- Don’t make users download a PDF menu. These are also difficult for search engines to mine for keywords, and the files can be many megabytes. People, particularly mobile visitors, will click off your site fast because they’re not interested in using data. The only way to use a PDF menu is if it opens a new browser tab automatically and loads fast. Some menus are too extensive not to have a PDF.
- Make the entire menu available with one click. Linking to the varying sections isn’t navigation-friendly. A series of clicks between appetizers, soups and sandwiches, entrées, and desserts will make people give up. Additionally, if they’re clicking through and skipping sections, you’re missing the chance they’ll catch their attention on something else that sounds good. Maybe they would rather have pizza, but just don’t know it yet. Clicking endlessly will just frustrate them and send them to the next restaurant on their search results.
- Consider putting food photos on your online menu, even if you don’t have them on your physical menu. Online diners can’t just peek at a neighboring table’s plates, so it’s harder to know what’s good. You don’t have to add a photo of every item, but if they can see you know your way around a well-prepared steak, they’ll be confident you can handle a proper burger, too. If the food looks good—no matter the exact menu item in the photo—you’re more likely to pique their interest.
Hours, Location, and Contact Information, or Your Second Lifeblood
How can hungry patrons find your restaurant if they can’t see where you’re located, when you’re open, or contact you to make a reservation (if you take them)? They’ll move on quickly if they can’t easily see your hours of operation and location. Your website is a tool to bring people to you, or at least have them call with questions. If they can’t find this most basic of information, then you’re losing potential business. The restaurant name, address, and phone number should be prominently displayed and static even through scrolling. A fixed menu bar at the top that has these details and is visible from any page on the site should do the trick.
Better yet, format the phone number to a tel link or other automated format so users can call with one click. It’s pretty easy: <a href=”tel:+1112222″>111-2222</a>
While you’re at it, link your address directly to the Google Maps app so one finger is all they need to input your location into their GPS.
Photos Galore and More
The biggest selling tools of food are smell and taste. Obviously, you can’t convey those things through a website, so your photos have to showcase the food’s delectability. High quality, professional photos of juicy meats, steaming breads, and decadent desserts will have users drooling before they ever step foot inside to smell the wonderful creations you serve. This is also necessary to convey as best you can the portion sizes. If something looks larger than life on your site, they’re going to expect larger in real life and feel cheated if they don’t get it.
If you’re really brave, go for a super short, looping video (much like a longer gif), showing the food being prepared, like this one. You’re proud of what you do. Your restaurant is gorgeous. And your clean kitchen is where the magic happens. Let customers see it! Let it make them hungry for more.
Mobile Navigation for a Mobile World
We live in an instant-gratification society, and people eat the same way. If your restaurant offers carryout ordering or delivery, or if you take reservations, make these features available online. Being able to order immediately is a big plus.
But mobile functionality is absolutely key here.
- Clear site navigation (to find menu, hours, location, contact info, etc.).
- One-click to call feature.
- One-click to reserve feature for establishments that do allow reservations.
- Open your location in Google Maps app so they don’t need to type it in.
- Clear, relevant, and most of all, enticing images of the food and an easy to find (and read) menu.
If your mobile site works well, on any and every device, then customers will find you and you can feed them to everyone’s satisfaction. It’s a win-win.
Put Your Brand in the Mood
Atmosphere matters as much online as in your dining room and your website should match your aesthetic. You want it to evoke the same feelings online as people get walking through your door. The quality of the food (through those stunning photos you’ll have taken), will be judged. The cleanliness of the site correlates to the cleanliness of your establishment. This is the first impression many people will get of your business, so make it a good one. Photos of the restaurant itself will help people see this is somewhere they want to spend their time and money.
The All-Important About Section
Have a mission about your food. Why does your restaurant stand out? Are you all about sustainability and local food sources? Do you serve farm-to-table style? Have you perfected barbecue? Or does your pizza rival what you’d find in Italy? Tell your audience why you’re so passionate about your food.
Let your humanity shine here. If people relate to your passion, your principles, or your opinions—and people have definite opinions about food—then they will be more likely to come in for a bite to eat. You can do this by speaking about why you opened your restaurant, what inspired this particular food, how you source your ingredients, and/or your core team and chef. Play up your strengths.
Your restaurant can appeal to people for more than one reason. Is your food meant to strike an emotional chord, like with sustainability, local sourcing, family dining? Or do you do something else, like specialize in a particular region’s or ethnicity’s food? Maybe your appeal is also that you’re fast, making your restaurant ideal for professionals who need to be in and out in less than an hour on their lunch break. Seek out ways of connecting what you do to people’s food interests and desires, and you’ll be speaking their language.
Local Events and Catering
If you frequently host or attend events, putting an event calendar on your site is a great, fast way for your loyal customers to find you out and about. It also lets area event coordinators know you’re happy to participate, and events are a fantastic way to find your way to the palates of new eaters.
If catering is more your forte, or if your venue is fabulous for private parties, let people know. List any packages you offer (if you have different levels of service) for parties. If your venue has an occupancy limit, display it so people will know right away if their party of 50 will fit. If you’ve got a dedicated person on your staff who handles bookings, provide their specific name, phone, email, and any other relevant contact info so interested people can ask questions directly without getting transferred between the hostess stand, the kitchen, the office, and back again.
Don’t Be Afraid to Get Help
Does this sound like a lot? You’re a restaurateur, not a web developer or programmer. Don’t be afraid of hiring a quality website designer. It may be a cost you hadn’t considered spending, but it can save you time, headache, and give you a quality website you wouldn’t have achieved another way. Some website developers and companies, particularly in your local area, may also specialize specifically in the restaurant and hospitality fields, and as such, may have their own staff photographer, or relationships with local professional photographers and videographers, to facilitate that part of your website design. Pick someone with knowledge of the industry, and let them build you a beautiful site. That way, you can concentrate on what you do best—making and serving food everyone wants to eat.