In November and December 2016, I visited many restaurant websites while looking for holiday information. As in previous years, I muttered and complained my way through the process. Why are restaurant websites so bad, and what can be done to fix them?
To be sure, some things have improved since 2010 when I wrote my first version of this list, and in 2013 when I brought up the topic again. Flash is almost non-existent. Landing pages – the type that say something like, “Click to enter” are now rare. But I still have a huge list of common problems, and worse, a whole new set.
With the newest coding standards, website designers have more ways to screw up the experience than ever before. True, we don’t have stock ticker type crawls advertising specials anymore, but, like a surprising amount of restaurant dishes, they are overburdened with ingredients we don’t need.
A simple design is paramount. When I go to a website, I am looking for one thing – basic information. I don’t want animation – nothing flying in from the sides, thank you. I’m just old enough that things flying around at the corners of my eyes make me think I’m having a stroke. One website scrolled from right to left instead of up and down, making me queasy, and not inclined to browse any further. Designers love all these bells and whistles, and developers love adding them because they can charge you more. Don’t fall for it unless you just want to throw money out the window. Is anybody really going to think, “Oh, that is a cool website… let’s go there”.
Something else to keep in mind – most of us aren’t looking for glamour photos of your food. Let’s face it; highly styled photos rarely match what I am going to be served. They also suck up my cellular data; important to customers with budget data plans. Even worse are images that stack on mobile devices – we don’t want to scroll down and down (and down) to get to your address – if you must have a lot of images, put them below the vital information. This is important, because on restaurant websites, the majority of views come from mobile devices. Give us the basic information front and center. The name of the restaurant, hours and address. Make sure the text size is readable. An example that is so close but just falls short is Park Kitchen. It’s uncluttered and has large navigation buttons front and center. Photos are available, but under a separate tab. But reduce it to a mobile device and it’s impossible to read the address and phone number.
Having menus online is great, but think them through. There is a lot of psychology behind the design of a good one. Even the choice of font can affect sales –
“People infer that if something on a menu is difficult to understand or hard to read that it takes great skill and effort to prepare,” says Song, a Ph.D. candidate in psychology at the University of Michigan. “When I go to an expensive French restaurant, I can hardly pronounce the words on the menu, so I take for granted that it’s expensive because it’s not comprehensible.”
If you are going to put menus on your website, do a bit of research beforehand – heck, you should be doing that for the restaurant version anyway. Put them on a second page, and for god’s sake, don’t play the game of removing prices; it makes you look like you are hiding something. If you don’t intend to update the menu very often, be upfront about it. One website said, “This is an example of a typical Winter menu”. That is perfect; I don’t expect you to update your website every day – though WordPress, which is being used for many sites, makes it very easy. Are we too cool to use capital letters now? All lowercase menus make you looking like you are trying to hard. Oh, and making your menu prices larger than the descriptions is bad business – Google “Best practices for restaurant menus” or something like that. It’s even worse when you also bold the price – don’t feature the cost, feature the food!
If you are going to have a “News – Events” or “Calendar” page, keep it current!
I added Valentine’s day information to my 2016 list, only to realize that had been posted in 2015. On more than a few sites there was a completely blank events calendar. If you can’t be bothered to take 15 minutes to update your events, have that menu tab removed. It makes you look like you don’t care, and if you don’t, I’m certainly not going to. On more than one site, clicking on “Events” gave me a slide show of food images and no events. Another has a menu item which says “Events”, but when I click the link, I get T-shirt sales. Also, “Events”, “Private Events”, and “Private Dining” are not the same thing. One site has an “Events” page, and then a “Special Events” page, and then a “Calendar Page”, all which offer slightly different information – some with menus, some events from long ago, and some that are just partial listings. Many sites have an Events tab, which to me means an event that you, the restaurant will doing, but it actually goes to private dining room rentals.
Here are some other things I stumbled across while browsing restaurant websites that drove me crazy:
- One website has nothing but 8 large photos, with a list of hours down the side. Nothing about the restaurant itself. No menu, no mention of cuisine, nothing.
- Apparently it is trendy to leave zip codes off of addresses, but as a mobile consumer, when I’m putting your info into my GPS it is much easier to add an address followed by the zip.
- “At the corner of NW 23rd Ave & Hoyt” is not an address.
- Having an embedded map on your website is fine, but try just putting a link that will open directly in a viewer’s map application. That way they don’t have to copy/paste your address.
- Acadia, I appreciate your aesthetic, but why does your brand new website not have the address or phone on the front page? I shouldn’t have to click on “Make a reservation” to see that you even have other pages.
- “Coming Soon!” I might believe it when your website says this, but it’s been saying that for 3 years now. Just have someone take the menu item off. The cutsie construction worker icons don’t help. There are a lot of partially completed sites – I’ll click on a menu item to see “Add your content here” or “Say something to pull in your viewers!”
- I’m looking for a Facebook link because many businesses post upcoming events there instead of on the restaurant website (don’t get me started). Is it on the top? The footer? No – it’s only on the contact page, or the home page. Then I follow the link, but the latest social media entry is 2 months ago. If you aren’t going to keep your social media up to date, you shouldn’t have it.
- Personally, I find the new style of very long single page websites annoying, but that’s just me. However, when “Click for reservations” scrolls me w a y down the page to a blank box that says “Reservations” and nothing else, I’m not impressed.
- The same could be said of many websites with menu links that lead to a “404 Error – page not found”.
- Oh, and why, when I click on a link for more information, am I taken to the same page I am already on?
- A very large restaurant chain has a reservations system doesn’t work unless you have the dead and buried Adobe Flash plugin.
- I know about the “hamburger” menu, but lots of people don’t. Rumor has it that Google marks you down for using it as your main site navigation. Yes, you are cool with your sparse design, but are you really so cool that you don’t want people to know how to navigate your website? Come to think of it, there were several websites where it took me a moment to figure out how to use the navigation, and I’m not exactly new at this. That’s not a good customer experience. Sure, it will become more familiar in the future, but I’d wait a while.
- Make sure your website is loading quickly. Have you tested it yourself? When I go to a website, I give it two seconds to load, and then move on. Studies show that I’m incredibly patient. Amazon has great statistics on the number of dollars each second of loading time costs them. Strike a balance between making your images the smallest file size possible and having a reasonably high quality picture.
- The Portland Dining Month menu from Spring 2015 shouldn’t be featured on your homepage in January 2016. Neither should “Coming soon! 4th of July celebration”.
- I don’t want a virtual tour. I don’t want a pop-up saying I have to install software to view the virtual tour. It’s really annoying when I have to tell the dialog box I’m not interested every time I go to a different page.
- On one site, “Click to reserve” takes me back to the home page with a “Click to Reserve” link. My brain went into an endless loop, which caused it to overheat.
- Sometimes I wonder if restaurant owners have tried using their own website. There are a few where the colors defy logic – maybe your designer thinks it looks cool, but don’t let them talk you into using 200 weight black text on a brown/orange background. The same thing goes for tiny text. What, are you being charged by the pixel? I don’t want to have to zoom the screen on my mobile device to see your address.
- Prix fixe dinners without a listed price. It’s a secret!
- Play music, and I’ll exit your website so fast my visit won’t even count as a click. We are way past the 90’s, and, if your reader works in an office, now everyone knows that they are surfing restaurant websites.
- Why does your front page feature your vegetable gardens, and not any information about your restaurant?
- Why is your menu embedded into a little window with a scroll bar that has such tiny arrows it’s more like a challenging video game than a restaurant website.
- Why does every page click open a new window? After I have browsed all your menu tabs looking for the damn address, I have to go back and close 4 new windows.
- Why do you have a local news widget on your website? The same goes for advertisements for other businesses. And weather widgets. Ugh.
- Why are there three pages of Instagram photos to scroll through before I get to location or hours.
- On one website, I am presented with the notorious “Click to Enter”, and then wait while the spinning wheel loads a flash script – which is never going to happen, as, like many modern-day users, I don’t have flash. Another one has a separate button for “iPad users”.
- A few months ago a restaurateur told me that he puts the hours and address information on a separate “Contact” page, because he wants people to explore his entire website. That’s just idiocy. This is the information that the bulk of viewers are looking for; put them on every page!
I could keep on going, but I feel better now. Restaurant website design is not that difficult. You don’t need a ton of bells and whistles, just give us the basic information fast and efficiently. Designers may try to talk you into a lot of things you don’t need, because they can charge you more to implement them, and it looks good in their portfolios. And if you are paying more than $6k for a site, inclusive of photos, go somewhere else.