Restaurant web sites are an interesting beast. It’s 2010. By now, nearly every restaurant realizes they need a web site. Unfortunately, a lot of owners still don’t quite understand what purpose their site serves or how to best serve their potential customers.

I’ll keep this simple:

  1. Your full address, hours, and phone number should appear on EVERY SINGLE PAGE, please. Don’t make me hunt for this information, since this is what at least 90% of your visitors are hunting for. Jam it into a sidebar or footer, but do NOT make me click a separate link or search like a truffle pig for something so very basic.
  2. Put a map on your contact page. Don’t just link to it, put the damn map there. This is extraordinarily simple, and full instructions are here, but suffice to say, enter your address on Google maps, click the Link option in the upper right corner, and copy and paste the embed code that appears. Don’t make me click through to see the map.
  3. Stop using Flash. Just stop. Resist the urge. It doesn’t make you edgy. It annoys the hell out of me. And any of your users who are trying to pull your site up on their phones. You can accomplish cool image changing effects in other ways, and if you’re playing music, that needs to stop too. Save the ambiance for your restaurant. Flash is also exquisitely bad for search engine optimization; people searching for a specific dish or words and phrases that would otherwise appear on your site may not find them if the search engines have trouble grabbing them. They’ve gotten better at searching Flash, but it’s still nearly impossible to drop someone accurately to the right spot in your Flash movie, so it just frustrates people.
  4. Make your full menu available. With prices.¬†And incredibly prominently. The 10% of users who already know where you are and when you’re open are coming to check your menu. If you have several menus, list each of them. If they change often, that’s fine, but keep it seasonally representative at the very least.
  5. Make your menu available in a manner other than PDF. I know this one is a toughy and it’s unlikely to be a change anyone adopts in the near future. Restaurant owners are busy people who barely have the time to update the menu in PDF form, which is how they get it printed, to worry about converting it to HTML or making it otherwise available on the site in a way that looks half decent. But doing this the right way is better for search engines, mobile users, and people who know that opening a PDF is a sometimes-Sisyphean ordeal that causes you to curse the gods. Don’t put us through that. We want to plan our meals or see if you have something we like. Make it easier on us.
  6. Only show fantastic food photos. Pay a photographer to get it right if you must, but do NOT post cell phone pictures from your Blackberry that you took on the patio at 11pm. This reflects poorly on your presentation even if the dish looks fantastic in person, and there’s no need to give people a specific reason NOT to show up. Also, you need not over-emphasize photos. While fantastic photos can really help push someone the right direction, you don’t need to overwhelm them. This isn’t McDonalds. In any event, make sure they’re great quality photos: well-lit, not overly compressed, and of something appetizing and plated well.
  7. Make sure you list things that set you apart. If you offer dietary considerations for diabetic, gluten-free, kosher, vegetarians, or vegan dieters, mention that. It’ll help in search engine results, and it’s invaluable for people who are looking specifically for that information and are unsure if you have anything that works for them. Consider whipping up an online menu that showcases some of those dishes; people in those communities will be extremely appreciative.
  8. Give us a little personality. Clearly state your purpose, your passion, and what you do to deliver and set yourself apart. A simple explanation with a few well-written bits about how much you love making great food for people can get your visitors energized and ready to make a reservation.

These are pretty universal, simple to apply tips that can enhance the experience for visitors who need a very specific piece of information typically very quickly: don’t frustrate us by burying it, forgetting to supply it entirely, or by designing the site so horribly that it’s nearly closing time when we finally track down your hours.

Posted in: Design, How To