By Paul Barron, CEO/Founder of DigitalCoCo, Foodable WebTV & the Restaurant Social Media Index
As you all know, there’s this thing called the Internet and social media — oh yeah, and the main computer that emerging restaurant guests are using is in their pocket. When I started designing and developing media websites in the mid-’90s, we just had the grace of AOL Keywords and Alta Vista in a time when the Internet was truly the Wild West.
I feel like the web is still a Wild West showdown with entrants of all types in social, mobile and the vast array of web services available for a restaurant operator today. The hard part is navigating the waters of what not to do when creating a website for your restaurant. Though I still believe that a website will be a thing of the past in the next ten years, today we still have to deal with this 25-year-old technology called the web. Mind you, the web and the Internet are two very different things — I won’t go into detail; that’s a different article completely.
Before we get started, it’s crucial to know that mobile is surpassing desktop use for finding restaurant information. In fact, 84% of restaurant consumers use mobile to engage with restaurants.
For now, let’s just stick to the DON’Ts of restaurant web design and interaction.
Don’t No. 1
Non-responsive websites are a waste of time for the consumer. In fact, 75% of consumers show displeasure with a restaurant website that is not mobile compatible. There are a few differences in mobile compatible and responsive. Most get this confused, but think of it this way: responsive changes the look and interaction with the device that is looking at the website on the fly. Mobile compatible is a clunky way to say you have to pinch and zoom and or deal with a less than full experience. Responsive, in my opinion, is the only way to build a website for your restaurant. (Bonus: Check out our article on Mobile Strategy: Why Every Restaurant Should Have a Responsive Site.)
Don’t No. 2
If you’re using Flash on your website, you should just shut your doors right now because you’re already disconnected with reality and your guests. Instead, showcase your restaurant with video. You’re an entertainer, and you need to show that you understand this with amazing video that not only showcases your experiences, but your story.
Don’t No. 3
Online reservations are here to stay, though I am not a fan of OpenTable. They do have the market locked for now, though, so don’t try to use a home-baked reservation system or one that does not have critical mass. Don’t worry — Google, Yahoo and Apple will come calling soon with a free reservation system, so just be patient. In the meantime, use a simple call to action link to your OpenTable profile. Guests value reservations like children — don’t mess with them, and make sure you pay special attention to every single one.
Don’t No. 4
Ahh, mobile and online ordering. The messiah that was promised to change our business a decade ago may actually be coming to a website near you. But right now, the landscape is rocking in a big way with GrubHub and Seamless, which I do not think are good decisions for an operator compared to others in the market that are focusing on a new model. Be patient, but don’t overlook this opportunity to engage with mobile users on a mobile ordering solution.
Don’t No. 5
Don’t let your GM or head waiter who took web design in school four years ago design your site. Listen, this is your number one touchpoint outside of your actual restaurant, and you need to treat every design element, tweak, and color palette the same as you did in designing your brand or restaurant. A website that looks hokey does not flow well, and for guests who have not yet been into your restaurant, it reflects poorly on your business.
Don’t No. 6
Most guests that seek info about your restaurant will go to the location and menu section of your website the most. The issue is that most sites lack great photography of their food — we find better food shots from your customers in some cases. So don’t lack in photos, and if you have the right responsive website, galleries are the best thing you can have for consumers to understand what you have to offer. Invest in a good smartphone with a great camera and a few apps that can enhance your filters. If you want really amazing shots, get your own DSLR for those amazing food photography style shots with that crushed depth of field. Get a macro lens and use this setup for both video and photos. Your customers will love you for this one.
Don’t No. 7
PDF menus are the most difficult way for a guest or customer to peruse your online menu, so get off your lazy butt and update your menu online — remember, it’s searchable! SEO helps, as well as the ability to share these menu items on social. Make it easy with clear categories just like if they were in the restaurant — easy to read and easy to navigate.
Don’t No. 8
The social dilemma is that there are so many platforms to manage, and I get that, but you have to be on Twitter. Facebook is great, but Twitter is your social customer service platform, as well as an amazing tool for sharing your great restaurant brand. Currently, 67% of restaurants are on Twitter vs. 81% on Facebook. It’s great that this is happening, but 94% of restaurants have websites, which means we should have 94% of restaurants on Twitter. Don’t miss this one!
Don’t No. 9
Websites are an extension of the brand and the biggest miss is when staff don’t even understand what’s on your website. Location, menu, video, and social all need to be conveyed to staff — and vendors, as well. Everyone should provide an understanding so they can share in restaurant with patrons.
Don’t No. 10
This is the biggest miss for all operators: they don’t “get” the digital connection to close the loop! Email, social, and even video subscribers are all digital connections and ways for you to communicate with your guests and potential future guests. Out of 2,500 restaurant websites reviewed in our recent RSMI reports on online digital communities, only 8% collected all three — email, social and video subscribers. This is a huge miss. Your digital connection list should be growing every month and you need to engage in all areas – this is the new frontier of advertising. Forget mail and forget major media outlets — you will get lost in the jetwash. Digital connections are your one-to-one future. Remember, you serve your guests one at a time — start communicating that way as well.
Hopefully these tips of what not to do provide some deeper insight in how to move forward with your online restaurant presence. Whether it’s your website, mobile presence, or social media presence, it’s important to remember that “going digital” isn’t a separate or optional part of your business. In fact, it’s quite the opposite if your goal is to build and maintain relationships with your guests, turning them into loyal advocates of your business — both in and outside the four walls of your restaurant.