10 Reasons Your Restaurant Website Sucks

I have spent more than ten years consulting with companies in a wide range of industries on the design and development of their websites. It's a job that can be quite challenging because I often work with organizations who don't know very much about website design and don't want to. It's my job to help craft and execute a strategy that results in a website that is good for their business and their customers.

I also happen to like food and eating out and have had occasion to visit many restaurant websites. The results have been disappointing to say the least and I've heard many others voice the same concerns I have. There is no doubt that creating a website for a company that serves the general public isn't easy. Restaurant patrons have particular needs that must be met, which is why I find it so frustrating that many restaurants seem to ignore these needs.

As a public service to you, dear restaurateur, I offer you the 10 reasons your restaurant website sucks. Use it in good health.

10. You auto play a video on your front page.

No want wants to watch a some poorly crafted commercial as soon as they hit the front page of a website. Not everyone will be able to view it properly (i.e. smart phone users) and, most importantly, no one cares. I'm sure you think the face of your chef talking about the ambiance of the restaurant while images of food whiz by in the background is totally nifty, but it's really just lame.

9. You have music playing in the background.

I've argued with photographers over their desire to play some track from Coldplay or Pachelbel's Canon while visitors sit through a slideshow of blushing brides and smiling babies. Fact is, most people hate music playing in the background of websites. Yes, I said hate. Especially if they're at work and getting busted for messing around online. They either hit mute or scramble for a pause button. No one needs to hear the dulcet tones of strolling minstrels playing on your website to realize you are an Italian restaurant. Save it for your iPod.

8. You force me to open a new browser window with every click of a link.

Years ago, it was standard to have any link to another website open a new window, but it was never okay to force a visitor to open a new browser window for pages of your own website. I don't want to be forced to open and close ten windows just to view the different pages of your site. Don't do this...ever.

7. Your "updated" menu is a year old.

Few things are worse than a website with outdated content. If you are a restaurant that updates your menu frequently, you guessed it, Emeril, your website needs to be updated too. It's a pain, I know. I do it for clients every day. But, it helps you look like you are still open and keeps diners updated on what you have to offer. Don't say I didn't warn you when a diner shows up all ready to try that seasonal squash risotto listed on your website and leaves pissed off when they find out you haven't served it in six months.

6. Your only method of electronic contact is an email form.

There is probably no more efficient form of communication than email. It's generally fast and, unlike a phone call, you can answer it when you have time. Having a good email address that is actually answered by someone is akin to having a host available to answer your phone during business hours. It's important. Forcing someone to fill out a form to send you email is like requiring diners to fill out their own orders and hand them to the chef. While I am on the topic, give up that AOL address already and join the 21st century with an email that uses your domain name.

5. Your photos are awful.

I also happen to be a photographer, and I can tell you that good photos can make people want to break down your door in mouth-watering anticipation, while bad photos can cause them to gag at the thought of your food. Photography isn't that expensive. Don't skimp. You don't need a picture of everything you serve and every corner of your dining room, but a few photos of signature dishes and maybe a couple of the chef in action are tantalizing. Don't pull out your point and shoot and think you can do it yourself, either. You can't.

4. Your website looks like someone's kid designed it for free.

I'm sure that a good website is well down your list of expenses, below new napkin rings and a replacement for the lazy parking attendant, but it is the one piece of marketing that will be available to your customers every hour of every day. A good website can make a hole-in-the-wall look like a five-star dining experience, and a bad website can do the opposite. You don't have to blow ten grand on a website, but don't think you can spend 500 bucks for something of quality either.

3. You have no menu or offer only a downloadable version.

When you print out your menu, I'm sure it is very easy to get a digital version in PDF format. It may seem like the right solution to just throw that up on your website. It isn't. PDF's are a lazy approach, and they are not always usable for people using smart phones or in offices where downloads are restricted. There is nothing wrong with having a PDF of your menu on the site. In fact, it is recommended, but don't make it the only option. It doesn't have to look perfect, but a simple menu in HTML format (the basic code for every website) is a quick and easy option for visitors unable to view a PDF.

2. Your website utilizes Flash.

My dad used to jokingly say, "If you can't dazzle 'em with brilliance, baffle 'em with bullshit." This is the essence of the Flash website. Sure, it can look really cool when done correctly, but it is slow to load, it doesn't work on smart phones and it often sacrifices function for form. In short, Flash is a pain in the ass. If you have it, get rid of it. If you don't, avoid it at all costs.

1. Your hours of operation and contact information are nowhere to be found.

I cannot for the life of me figure out why the most basic and important information for any business - the contact information and hours of operation - are often so difficult to locate. Without doing a poll, I'm guessing a large percentage of restaurant website visitors would be satisfied if that were the only thing available to them. I'll make this really easy. ALWAYS put your address, phone number, email and hours of operation on the front page of your website at the bare minimum. If it isn't that way now, go change it. I'll wait. Okay, good. If nothing else, you've got that going for you.

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