There aren’t many things we’re more passionate about than creating kick-ass websites, but food is definitely one of them.

One of our good friends happens to be a restaurant reviewer for Square Meal, amongst other publications, and can usually be found at restaurant and bar launches. A little while ago, over some tapas and a bottle or two of a particularly nice Chianti, we looked at the website for a restaurant they were due to check out the following week.

It was disastrous.

Not the restaurant, mind, but the website.

This led to an impassioned conversation about what people expect from a good restaurant website, and mistakes that it seems restaurants are making time and time again. Following on from that, here’s a list of the pet peeves we discussed.

Autoplaying Music Or Video

Newsflash: It’s not 1999 anymore. Don’t get us wrong, having a promo video is great – it can show off your culinary prowess magnificently and in terms of social media, it’s a great way to get likes and shares to promote your brand.

Just don’t force us to watch it when we’re not ready.

This is particularly true nowadays when more and more often websites are being viewed on mobile phones. You want people to me chewing their food in your restaurant, not chewing through their data while trying to find it.

Not Mobile Friendly

Speaking of mobile phones, it still seems that so many restaurant websites still aren’t designed to be viewed on these smaller platforms. They end up fixed-width (again, very 2002), with text smaller than a poppy seed, forcing you to pinch and zoom to see what’s going on, where the menu is, and what the opening hours are. The experience is clunky and tedious.

Google is now upping the rankings of sites that are mobile-friendly, prioritising them over those that aren’t, and more than half of internet traffic is now taken up by people browsing on mobiles. Geolocation is increasingly important in terms of search engine results too, so if your restaurant website isn’t mobile friendly and someone is searching for a restaurant from their phone in your area, your competitors will win out.

There is simply no reason not to have a mobile-friendly website.

Lack Of Location

Touching back to the previous point, why is it so hard on many restaurant websites to find out the address? Those pictures look amazing, the copy and (optional) video describe the ambience and entice us in, making us salivate in anticipation, we’re ready to book but…

Er. Where exactly IS the restaurant?

There are plugins galore to incorporate your address and even a map into your website, so why is the address so often left languishing at the bottom of the page in tiny text, along with the copyright notice?

You need your location very clearly displayed, with links to a map so people can find you easily. Why must you make it so difficult?

Lack Of Contact Details

Again, we’re ready to book, we might even know where you are, but how can we get in touch? We’re not talking about an automated online booking system here, nice though that would be. A phone number, an email address, a contact form. Anything, really. Just make it obvious and easy!

Give your customers what they want (contact information), and the tools to do it (email links, forms, touch-to-dial on a mobile). Otherwise, you’re serving your soup with a fork – all very nice, but a laborious process that can leave a nasty taste in the mouth.

When Are You Open?

Many restaurants don’t open 7-days-a-week, and that’s fine, but make sure you tell us. If Tuesday is a quiet day and you shut early, or don’t open at all, or only open for lunch – great – but we need to know.

For some reason, many restaurants fail to list their opening hours. Along with the address and contact details, this is key information, and arguably just as important as…

The Menu

For a restaurant website this really shouldn’t need saying, but sadly it does: Make your menu prominent!

The first thing you see when you visit a restaurant is a menu – it’s outside, lit up, begging passers-by to look at it. Why do you not do the same for their digital counterparts? Even if it’s not outside, it’s handed right to you as you walk in the door, or it’s on the table as you sit.

We spent a good 60 seconds or so that night trying to find the menu for the new opening. As much as your images, your menu is what’s going to sell your food, so why hide it?

It’s also worth adding a note on design. There is absolutely no doubt that a beautifully designed and laid-out menu will set the scene once you’re in the restaurant. The flourishes, the typography, the descriptions – it’s part of the whole experience. Just remember that it doesn’t always translate well to the web, and especially not to mobile phones and tablets.

It kind of goes back to some of the points we made on layout earlier. It might look good, but it’s not user-friendly if you’re having to pinch and zoom your way around a PDF or image file just to see how much the steak is.

Worth noting also is that search engines don’t examine the text of PDFs or images – if you’re a restaurant in Macclesfield and the only place you mention steak is in something that Google can’t read, how are you going to appear in the results when someone searches for “steak in Macclesfield”?

By all means, get your menu professionally designed and printed, just don’t forget to make it easy to read (and find) on your website.

The Take Away

There are more and more restaurants popping up, and some of them are absolutely superb. The problem with many of them though is that their websites are getting so caught up in the style of things that they forget the substance, and what the customer really needs.

As a chef, you can create a phenomenal looking dish, but it’s no good to anyone if it tastes like cardboard.

As web designers and ardent foodies, we can build you a website that operates with both style and substance. We are your consumers, and know what will work for your business online from both sides of the coin.

Whatever your website needs, whether it’s social media management or a complete redesign from scratch, get in touch with Merlin’s Mule so we can present our offerings for your delectation.