Dear Restaurant owner,
I want to eat at your restaurant, but I need to find you first. You need a website. And not just any website. It has to work on a mobile device. If not, you might as well not exist anymore.
In the past few months, I have been out with my friends several times, spontaneously decided to get a lunch, dinner, etc. and had a bad experience with a restaurant's website.
Today's typical dining experience starts with a bit of research on a phone, looking for a menu. I start with the maps app on my iPhone, search for something like "Indian" or "Italian" around my current location, find a restaurant, go to the website, and I'd greeted with a message like "you must install Flash version 9 or higher" if I'm lucky enough to find your website at all.
You know what the cool kids call that? EPIC FAIL.
Even if I can see the website, I'm more likely to find a picture of the owner's family as if they are slaving over a hot stove, the history of the restaurant starting with the owner's mother immigrating in 1977, or a stock photo of a slice of pizza. If there is a menu at all, its an out of date pdf file I'm struggling to view on my tiny screen.
If you care about your restaurant, you should want your customers to find you.
What information should be at their fingertips?
When visiting a restaurants website from my phone, I want:
- location (including phone number)
Anything else is just noise on a mobile phone... If I'm planning a catered event, I'll do that from my computer.
But I bought a package deal...
Yes, I'm aware that ground-up website design can be expensive, and restaurants often fall for the "Website for $29.95 a month" marketing ploy, where you get a "billboard-at-a-url" and a scanned menu. You are losing out. You need a real website.
Customers can find what they are looking for
You wouldn't imagine not having a sign outside your restaurant - a website is the same thing to the person actively looking for you. Restaurants think nothing of printing thousands of folded menus and sticking them on every car in a parking lot or every door in a heighborhood. Your website can have a far greater reach than that, and with immediate impact.
you can have a CMS to keep the menu up to date
For most restaurants, the menu on the website is like a time capsule. Dishes come and go... prices change... why shouldn't your website reflect that? With a content management system behind your menu, you can log in to update prices, add specials, etc. Why shouldn't your website be able to tell people what the soup of the day is?
You can tailor your SEO strategy
Try this: Put the name of your city and the type of food your restaurant serves into Google. (If you are in a big city, try your zip code). Is your restaurant's website on the first page? It should be. If you put in the name of your restaurant, are you the first result? If you're not, the first result is probably something like a restaurant review - and you have no control over that! Your worst customer could be the first thing people learn about your restaurant.
With your own website, you can easily influence how search engines view you. That is a topic larger than this blog entry though - its called 'Search Engine Optimization' or 'Search Engine Marketing'.
Further, by having your website as a real website (as opposed to flash or pdf), all your dishes become keywords Google can index. Maybe I'll find you because I searched on "Vindaloo" or "Pad Thai". All those words are pure SEO gold.
You can target your market more effectively
Visitors to your website can be tracked more closely than cattle with tags in their ears. Are most of your visitors coming from a particular neighborhood? Maybe thats the place to target with your door hangers. Is there a neighborhood thats not visiting? Send them a coupon for a free cheesy bread.
Ok, so how do I do it?
I'm not trying to sell you anything here - in fact, our typical projects are much larger than restaurant websites. I just want a better dining experience, so I'm offering you some technical advice:
Use 'Open Technology' standards
Make sure your website looks good on small devices
I'll spare you most of the technical details, but with the kinds of tool we have today, a good website design scales down to work on phones, and scales up to work on big screens. On big screens, sure - show me your family in the kitchen. On my cell phone, echo the design with logos, fonts, and colors, but just give me the menu, hours, and location.
Search Engines are your best marketing tool
You don't need to hire an expensive SEO consultant - in fact, I think that most SEO consultants are the equivalent of Internet Snake Oil. Instead, just make sure your design firm eats and breathes the advice in Google's SEO starter guide. From your business' perspective, you should read a book like Search Engine Optimization (SEO): An Hour a Day or Internet Marketing: An Hour a Day to figure out how you can best market your restaurant.
Thats it! I hope you find this advice useful. Remember... I want to eat your food, I just need to be able to find you when you're just down the street.