Restaurant brands abandoning Flash websites

According to some website designers, we are witnessing the extinction of Adobe's Flash platform. The rapid adoption of mobile has sent the multimedia software platform into a downward spiral, and many restaurant brands are abandoning the feature on their websites.

Last year alone, Rosati's Pizza, A&W, Culver's, El Pollo Loco, Wendy's and Jack in the Box, among others, underwent website remodels aimed at specifically becoming more mobile friendly, which really translates to dropping Flash.

"Our website was just outdated. We wanted to update it to make sure people could see the menu and food and locations as clearly as possible on their mobile devices; not just make it a mobile-friendly site, but optimized for mobile. That was the big kicker," said Liz Bazner, social and digital communications strategist at A&W. "Everybody's moving away from Flash specifically because of mobile. I think it will be extinct."

Marla Topliff, president of Rosati's agrees, calling Flash a "dinosaur; an 8-track player living in an MP3 world."

Flash's clash with Apple

According to Web Technology Surveys' website, the percentage of websites that still support Flash is about 16 percent. Its decrease stems mostly from Apple, according to some.

"Apple and Adobe have both publicly stated that they aren't working to make Flash work on iPhones. How significant is this? Roughly 18 percent of traffic to our own website is from smartphones and tables," said Paul Sheng, CEO and cofounder of website builder FoundHere.com. "It's been a little tragic that some of the nicest looking sites have had the lowest traffic and are basically a blank white page on an iPhone."

Additionally, Flash-based sites make it difficult for restaurant operators to make routine changes and updates to their websites, according to Brian Casel, founder of RestaurantEngine.com, a website design company. To make routine changes on a Flash site, operators would more than likely have to hire a Flash designer, and that can get costly.

"Also, Flash is not ideal when it comes to Google search. Google basically can't 'read' Flash sites, so they won't show up highly in search results," Casel added. "We always recommend avoiding the use of Flash. Redesigning your existing site with a new, non-Flash website is a smart move."

Copying Flash's best features

Still, Flash was highly popular a few years ago for a reason.

"Flash sites became popular because you can create glossy video effects and interactive features," Sheng said. "This is the sort of problem that causes engineers to get creative."

Rosati's site, for example, features special effects likely created via HTML5, Sheng said. A&W's site features "Rooty's Corner," a 25-live cam on the brand's iconic bear mascot, Rooty.

"Flash is eye-catching, there is movement, you can get creative with it. We knew we still wanted those dynamic elements with the new site," Bazner said. "This trend sort of forces you to think outside of the box a little bit more."

Casel said non-Flash sites have advanced enough to include a similar look and feel, and to even include rotating imagery.

"Ultimately a site using today's web standard practices would result in a site that is easier to use and gives customers what they want — a simple, clean, easy-to-use site that presents relevant information elegantly," he said.

The cost of dropping Flash

A&W's website upgrade came at an opportune time for the brand, shortly after its divestiture from Yum! Brands. Because the company was updating everything, not just its digital presence, Bazner said it's hard to gauge the cost of the update.

"For us, the trend of moving away from Flash provided a good opportunity to not just tweak our site, but to start over from scratch. We looked at piecing together a new site, but that lasted maybe a half hour before we decided to just do the whole thing over. So, I can't speak about whether or not moving away from Flash is cost prohibitive," Bazner said.

Casel said the effort requires a website redesign from the ground up. The new site should be designed and built using the web standard HTML and "hopefully" a system for the owner to make their own updates. Hiring a web designer, he said, with mobile optimization and a content management system will cost an average of $3,000.

However, Sheng and Casel both added that while a complete makeover can be expensive, there are other options.

"You will always be able to spend thousands of dollars on a website, but now there are options to make DIY websites for the next best thing to free," Sheng said. "If you go to these companies, you can create a website for yourself using the same skills you use writing a document in Word. You don't need to know HTML code anymore to make a great website."

Read more about online initiatives.

Photo provided by Wikimedia.

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