10 Tips For Designing a Great Restaurant Website

There are some industries known for having bad websites. The restaurant industry is one of them. Hotels another Maybe it’s hospitality in general. Why do restaurant websites suck? There are many reasons and the can all be fixed.

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It’s rare to see a great looking independent restaurant website. They’re never updated and always exhibit many flaws. Restaurant chains are different, they always seem to have good websites.

A lot of restaurant sites run on a platform such as Happy Tables and Restaurant Engine. Both of those providers produce decent looking template sites. But, a lot of restaurants need more than what they can offer.

Google searching “restaurants near Seghill” (the town I used to live in) provides a wide variety of results. Excluding TripAdvisor results, we’re met with a large scope of independent restaurants. Each have their own website, each varies in quality.

In such a competitive market space, it’s important to have a stand out website. Here are ten tips to think about when creating your restaurant website design:

Tip 1: Use a Neutral Background Colour if Possible

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The first independent restaurant website I click through to is a restaurant I know called Lal Qila. It’s a small tandoori restaurant in Cramlington. The main page body is bright red and orange in colour with black and white text dotted around the place. It strains your eyes to read it.

Now, using a bright colour like orange or red might bring your website inline with your identity. But, there are better ways to do it. Using a bright colour as a full background is never a good idea.

People like looking at websites and reading things on a light colour such as white, cream or light grey. Try to use bright colours in moderation and keep in mind, your website must be easy to read. Clarity is key here.

Adobe Kuler is a great colour tool. We use it daily and urge you to do the same when exploring colour schemes for your restaurant, brand and website.

Tip 2: Don’t Use a Splash Page

The second website I land on is Panucci’s Italian Restaurant. This isn’t a restaurant I’ve heard of before, and their website doesn’t inspire me to visit.

When I click through from Google I’m met with a splash page. It only half works. Splash pages died years ago (around the same time as Flash.) If you’re not preloading anything, making your user click from Google through to your site, then click again to actually get to the content is long winded.

Don’t put barriers in the way of potential customers. Why not give them access to what they want in the straight away?

Tip 3: Don’t Use Images If You Don’t Have To

The Panucci’s restaurant website uses a full image header. They could have achieved the same effect using HTML and CSS. Not only do they use up bandwidth, images slows down your website. In the age of the mobile web, this is a massive issue.

Another issue is that images don’t allow users to highlight key information such as your telephone number or email address. Even if your website isn’t mobile friendly, although it should be, users will stumble across it on their phones. Using best practices will help your case.

Tip 4: Consider Multiple Devices

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The next website that I visit is that of the Bay Horse Inn in Cramlington, a part of the Sizzling pub chain. The website looks a lot better than the others but still misses one important factor.

The way people browse the internet these days is completely different to the way they were using it years ago. Of the three websites that I’ve visited so far, not one has addressed the fact that I could be browsing on a mobile device.

If I’m looking for a restaurant these days, I tend to already be out and about. My partner and I tend to make decisions to eat out on the fly. We don’t plan these things in advance. This normally leads us to browsing for restaurant sites on our phones.

Consider the fact that your users might not be looking at your website on a laptop or desktop machine.

If your user is on a phone, make sure your phone number opens up the auto dial panel when clicked on. Make sure the email address opens up a new email and make sure your physical address opens up in Maps. This again, highlights reasons not to use an image to contain your important information.

You can check what percentage of your website’s visitors are viewing on a mobile phone or tablet using Google Analytics. I’d like to bet it’s more than 50%.

Why force your users to go through unnecessary bits and pieces to get the information they want? Imagery can slow mobile users down, and don’t even get me started on downloadable PDF menus!

Tip 5: PDF Menus? Forget About It!

The two independent restaurants had this bit right. The chainsSizzling Pub, Hungry Horse and Prezzo all force their users to download a huge PDF file to look at the menu.

Asking your users to download a PDF to look at your menu is ridiculous. People on mobile phones often point blank refuse. Even more so if your PDF comes in at more than a couple of megabytes. They charge a lot for data don’t you know!

People used PDF menus so they could style their restaurant menu design to align with their brand. But, PDF menus are difficult to update, and, you can’t offer updates to users that have already downloaded the old version of your menu. This practice is outdated.

Today, having to download something to look at it is crazy. There are lots of better ways to let viewers look at your menu. Your menu should have it’s own page on your website, it should look great and be up to date.

Tip 6: Don’t Forget About TripAdvisor

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TripAdvisor comes top for a lot of search results for a reason. It’s a powerful tool and a very well respected resource. For a lot of people, this is where the search process begins.

If I can’t think of anything I want to eat off the top of my head, I’ll just turn on the TripAdvisor app and see what’s local to me. If your restaurant isn’t active on TripAdvisor, it needs to be.

Some ideas for TripAdvisor are:

  • Get some professional photos taken and have them uploaded to your official Tripadvisor page (customer photos are great but you don’t control these).
  • Reply to everyone that leaves feedback, good or bad. This shows you’re willing to listen to customers and act on their feedback.

If you can show users that you’re active and you’re taking their consideration on board, you are already leagues ahead of your competition.

Tip 7: Consider Your Choice of Social Networks

There’s nothing worse than trying to choose a social network for your business. Follow us on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram FourSquare, TripAdvisor, Myspace, Bebo. The list goes on and on. And how can you focus on them all? Short answer, you can’t.

There’s probably less than 1% chance that your fans will follow you across more than one or two networks. Experiment with plenty in the first instance, then narrow your field. Pick the ones that work the best for your brand!

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Facebook goes without saying. Being the biggest social network in the world makes it a no brainer. Their paid advertising campaigns can also be cheap and super effective too. Don’t miss out on Facebook.

The rest however, are subjective.

Some love Twitter, others love Instagram. Pinterest is also a popular choice, especially among women.

Social networking presence can factor massively in the success or failure of your restaurant business.

By turning social media followers into brand advocates, you can rapidly grow your fan base. This will tempt new customers to try the food at your restaurant.

FourSquare is good at putting your business on the map, and something I would definitely consider using if I ran my own restaurant brand.

Instagram and Pinterest are image and photography heavy networks. If you love taking photos of your food and menu, then these are the places for you.

Perhaps you have some sort of great marketing idea? If so, it would be great to hear it in the comments below. Just don’t spread yourself too thin and you’ll be fine.

Tip 8: Things That Autoplay Are Bad

Whether I click through to a website and music auto plays, or, I click through and a video auto plays, the next thing I do is hit that big red cross in the top right hand corner.

Often when browsing the web, I’m listening to music, or watching a film. The last thing I want is some horrible auto playing music interrupting me.

There is absolutely no need to have music on your website.

Videos, I understand. In fact, they’re a great medium for promotion. YouTube is a social channel I missed out earlier.

If you are going to use video, have it play only on request, not on page load, not on page exit, not on anything except clicking the play button.

Tip 9: Get Some Good Quality Photos!

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Good quality photos will help your website succeed. With advances in technology such as retina screen displays, photography is more important than ever.

Having a professional photographer visit your restaurant and take photos will open up several avenues.

  • First, if the photographer likes the place, you’re likely to see them and their friends back for a visit.
  • Your food will look the best it can. Professional food photographers have trained for this moment. Utilise it.
  • You’ll have a whole host of imagery that you can use. Not only will your website benefit, but so will your menu designs, social media channels and more.

A professional photographer won’t be cheap, but just like a professional design agency, they’re worth it.

Forget taking pictures on your iPhone or similar. You’re not a photographer, you own a restaurant. To get the best imagery you need to hire a great photographer with knowledge for taking great food shots.

Choosing a good photographer is very similar to choosing a graphic design agency to work with. Have a look through local photographer’s portfolios and see who best suits your needs. Call a few up, meet with them, get some quotes, and commission the work.

Don’t underestimate the power of imagery.

Tip 10: Make Sure Your Brand is Present

Chains such as Dominos, McDonald’s and Papa John’s succeed because they never ever let their branding slip. Everyone knows that on Tuesday’s, you can get 2-for-1 pizzas at Dominos.

Their websites work to reinforce their brand. They’re not bolted on the side of the brand. The colours of the site normally take direct influence from the rest of the branding. The offers they have, the language they use, are ever present throughout all their branding efforts.

Make sure that your brand isn’t just an offline thing. Think about your core values and beliefs and work out how to put your best face forward online.

There are hundreds and hundreds of tips and ideas to get you started when thinking about designing or redesigning your restaurant’s website. This article is intended as a starting point, a launchpad if you will.

Take these ideas and run with them.

Maybe you’re considering hiring a web designer? If you are, take a read of this post over at the Hatch Conference website: “Should I Hire a Web Designer?

If you have any great tips for restaurant websites, or, if something in particular gets on your nerves about web design, let us know in the comments below.

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