At Serious Eats, the food website and community I founded almost four years ago, we tend to look at a lot of restaurant websites on any given day. And, restaurateurs, we love you, but your websites could use some work. Many are slow-loading, loud and difficult to navigate and link to. I asked the brain trust at Serious Eats world headquarters for tips on improving the experience.
Here are five simple ways to make your restaurant's website more customer-friendly.
1. Stop Using Flash
Sure, Flash-based pages can look slick and set a mood, which is why we think many restaurants use this multimedia platform on their pages, but it is slow-loading, doesn't work well on mobile devices, and often makes it difficult for users to grab specific URLs‚ say the exact link to your menu section or your address and directions page. Flash also makes it all too easy to add background music. Which leads us to...
2. Get Rid of the Music
Background music is one of the single most annoying things you can "enhance" your website with. Again, we think restaurants are trying to telegraph a certain feeling to customers by using a jazz soundtrack or the ambient sound of diners conversing or clinking glasses or, at worst, a cliche old ditty (think "That's Amore" for a pizzeria).
We're lucky at Serious Eats because it's our job to look at restaurant websites during the workday. But for office workers toiling in a quiet warren of half-height cubicles, a sudden and unexpected soundtrack is a dead giveaway that they're doing post-work planning on the job.
Lose the tunes.
3. Put Your Contact Info on Every Page
Most people looking up your website simply want the address or the phone number to make a reservation or place a take-out order. Don't make them search for this info by burying it on a separate page. Feature it prominently on your homepage.
It's also helpful to place your phone number and address (with a link to whatever web-based map you prefer) in small text in the bottom navigation area of every page. That way, no matter what page visitors end up on, they'll always know where to find your restaurant or how to call you.
If for some reason you can't or don't want to do any of the above, at least name the address page "Address" or even "Directions." A rubric like "Contact" when what you really mean is "Address" leads visitors to assume that the page is simply a way to reach you by email.
4. Update Your Menus
If you have a page that highlights your menus, don't show us specials from spring when we're heading into fall. Don't leave up a dish that you stopped serving three months ago. We know perfectly well that you have enough to do without having to update your online menu daily, but if you can squeeze out extra time at the end of the night, you can draw in customers looking for something new.
And while we're on the subject of menus, be sure to include prices. We don't know why many restaurants don't do this. It gives potential customers a clearer picture of what they're in for and may prevent them from peeling off to a third-party menu-listing website that is outside your control and may list inaccurate information.
5. Stop Using PDFs
PDFs are useful in certain instances (tax forms and business presentations come to mind), but they require website visitors to download a file and open it in another window or program, cluttering up desktops and hard drives. If you present your menu in PDF form, ask your website creator if he or she can render it in a more user-friendly form.
Bonus: Make Your Website Media-Friendly
If you want to go the extra mile, consider devoting some space on your website to creating a digital press packet. Maintain up-to-date biographies of your chef, sommelier, managing partners or other key players. The idea is to give the food media accurate information and quash rumors before they get started. It's also a great idea to provide photos for media outlets to grab. Offer mouthwatering photos of your signature dishes and indicate that people are free to use them on their websites. In an age when blogs and review websites play an increasing role in the perception of your business, it helps to give these outlets beautiful photos to run with their stories.