By Brian Casel, founder of Restaurant Engine
It is probably safe to say that we all agree your restaurant must have a web presence — it's no longer good enough to rely on a Facebook page or a Yelp listing to get the word out.
But is your site providing the information that first-time visitors are looking for, who are often making a dining decision that very moment? Ninety percent of web searchers who visit a restaurant website from their mobile phone will end up eating somewhere; will it be your establishment?
Let's break it down to the basics. Here are 5 things that a visitor should see when they reach your restaurant's website for the first time.
If a customer can't find your restaurant, they aren't going to eat there. Make all of your contact info visible on every page, and that includes phone and full address, as well as any social media outlets if that's appropriate (perhaps you tweet specials, take reservations via Facebook, etc.). Use plain text for your contact info; this makes it easy for mobile phone users to access, and allows search engines to know where you are as well.
You might want to consider putting your contact details both at the top and the bottom of your site. The top placement lets people who need to reach you right now ("I'm lost, need directions," for example) and the bottom placement encourages visitors who have perhaps browsed their options and are now thinking about whether or not to call for a reservation.
Nothing is more frustrating than making plans to meet friends at a restaurant, only to arrive and find that it's closed or the kitchen stopped serving 15 minutes ago. Make sure your operating hours are very clear and easy to understand, and update them immediately when schedules change, whether that's holiday hours, closing for maintenance, etc.
There is no better way to educate first-time customers than by providing them a copy of your menu — it's often the page most-shared with friends while deliberating on a dining choice. Make your menu's easy to find, and keep them updated with seasonal changes. And yes, that includes what the latest specials are.
If your menu changes daily, it's still good to update the site every day. However, if you are finding that difficult to manage, it is still a good idea to provide an example menu (clearly marked as so). Nobody likes surprises; providing potential patrons with a menu that gives them an idea about the variety of dishes and prices will make them more comfortable about coming in to see what the day's menu is.
And please, do not use PDFs. It's a jarring experience for novice web users, and it doesn't take any longer to update a simple web page.
Let's face it: people are busy, and many of your website visitors will only read a half of the text you provide. Photos can tell a story just as well as a copy of a menu can.
It's absolutely crucial that you have high-quality photography on your website — hire a professional if you don't have the skills in-house, because low-quality photos can lead a new customer to think your restaurant is also low-quality.
Aim to provide a variety of photos that showcase both the exterior of the restaurant (making it easy to spot on arrival), the interior (what's the atmosphere like?), and the food (nothing sells food like photos of food!) There are opposing schools of thought on whether you should photograph the restaurant empty or full; I suggest shooting both and looking at the photos to see which best reflects your establishment.
Also, bigger photos are better, but do make sure they load quickly, especially on a mobile phone.
While studies vary in reporting the effects of reviews on a person's decision on where to eat, having no reviews on your website is a red flag. Be open and transparent about your reviews; a first-time customer is going to go check them out anyhow, so make it easy and don't hide them.
A good approach is to pull quotes from reviews to feature on your site — whether those are from the local newspaper or a Yelp reviewer — and then provide links to the full review. Many visitors won't even click over, they just want the proof that your establishment is "good enough" to try for the first time.
Brian Casel is the founder of Restaurant Engine, a website design solution for restaurants. For more advice on how to win more customers from the web, visit the Restaurant Engine Blog and get the free email course for restaurant owners.
Photo provided by UltraSlo1.