Restaurants are a consistent staple of life throughout much of the world. They’re a place to not only dine, but also relax, sample new flavors, and enjoy the company of colleagues, friends and loved ones. They fill a social need by acting as a gathering or meeting place, while also serving the more basic need to eat. Because they cater to us on both an emotional and a physical level, it’s no small wonder that the US alone has more than half a million restaurants.
These days Americans are even spending more money dining out than they do on groceries, but there’s more to running a successful restaurant than simply opening one. Obviously, the food and the atmosphere need to appeal to the local market, and the restaurant needs to get its name and brand out into the public.
One of the most important things a restaurant can do to accomplish this is to build a quality website–one that appeals to potential patrons as much as the food does. A good website will help a restaurant stand out and, with so much competition around now, standing out is crucial for success.
Fortunately, creating a quality website that will attract diners doesn’t have to be as difficult as cooking a soufflé that won’t deflate, and doesn’t require as many unique elements as a gateau St. Honoré. There are several specific items that your customers are looking for, and that will entice them when they see your website.
1) Pictures of Your Food
You’re in the food business, so build your website around that fact. Show off your signature dishes to tempt the taste buds of anyone viewing your site.
People want to see what you’re selling before they come, and one of the best ways to do this is to include a photo above the fold (i.e. before visitors have to scroll). To save screen real estate, you can use it as a background image, as The Cinnamon Snail does on their website, placing photos behind their logo:
The Cinnamon Snail’s homepage automatically rotates between photos of their famed doughnuts, beloved burgers, and the exterior of their food truck.
If you can swing it you should consider hiring a professional photographer to help you get the most enticing shots of your food possible, but don’t shy away from photos if that’s out of your budget. Every smartphone comes equipped with a camera, so start snapping and use your best shots. A decent amateur photograph is better than having no pictures at all.
In either case, consider putting your best foot forward on your homepage with some of your best shots, and creating a gallery elsewhere on the site to show off your other dishes.
2) Your Menu, Your Address, and Your Contact Info
People who are looking at a restaurant's website are usually seeking at least one of four things:
- How to get there.
- How to get in contact.
- What time the restaurant is open.
- What’s on the menu.
Your website should make all of this information immediately apparent. Give the people what they want and they’ll be more inclined to look at what you have to offer, or to call you for a reservation. Take the homepage of Champs Diner for a good example:
It’s a simple, clean design, but you can view their address, hours, phone number, and a link to their menu right at the very top of the site. There are even pictures of some of their menu items, and it can all be seen above the fold. In fact, the homepage doesn’t really have a fold to speak of. Visitors see everything they could want from Champs’ website without ever having to scroll down.
As an added bonus, they’ve added a plugin for their Instagram page right into the photos, giving themselves a chance to further engage with customers and customers a chance to see more of their food photography.
3) A Simple Navigation Structure
Don’t bog your site down with too much text; you’re promoting a restaurant, not an encyclopedia. Your navigation bar should be simple and to the point. Sapsuckers, a slightly upscale gastropub, does a fine job of giving visitors a clear idea of where to click depending on what they want to see:
Those seeking pictures of the food, drinks, or the restaurant itself can click on the gallery. Anyone interested in the menu can hover over the dropdown “Menu” button for a clear list of distinct food, beverage, and happy hour menus. People who want to learn a bit more about the restaurant can click “Press” or “About Us” and, as with Champs, all of their contact info is displayed above the fold on the homepage.
4) A Recognizable Theme
Your site should employ visually consistent web design. This makes it more optically appealing to viewers, and in an industry where you’re trying to entice customers with appetizing images the appearance of your website can be as important as the appearance of your food.
You’ll notice that the Sapsuckers website above uses the same font and white text on a black background throughout, alongside some earthy brown accents here and there. This darker theme matches the dim lighting of the actual restaurant and conveys the atmosphere diners can expect before ever sitting foot inside. Even their word choice–referring to food as “grub,” beer as “hops,” liquor as “grain,” and wine as “grapes”–fits their niche as an establishment that serves craft beer and quality food in a cozy setting. The words make perfect sense, but they’re all just a little bit off from the basic terminology one might normally expect. Every part of this layout is designed to appeal to their target demographic of foodies and craft beverage enthusiasts.
5) Online Ordering
Do you offer delivery? Can patrons call in an order ahead of time? Unless your restaurant is strictly dine-in, you should be giving customers the option to order food online. By now, it’s a feature many people have gotten used to, and the option to place an order right from your website will encourage diners to do just that. There are even entire third party businesses built around helping you take orders online.
Local Burger (a restaurant which, as the name implies, is not a particularly large chain) has actually employed two of these services. Uber Eats handles delivery, and ChowNow takes care of their online pickup orders. Now using two completely different services for delivery and pickup services probably isn’t an ideal solution, but this small restaurant has found a way to fill the needs of two different groups of customers right from its website. Patrons can purchase food and either pick it up or have it delivered, and nobody at the restaurant has to waste time on the phone to take their orders.
Building an appealing restaurant website is a bit like cooking a restaurant-quality meal. Once you’ve procured the right ingredients and mastered the recipe, the results will delight your customers.