By Allison Tetreault, Foodable Industry Expert
In 2012, only 50 percent of independent restaurants had a website. Of them, 40 percent displayed their menu online.
Now, in 2015, a time when Millennials and Generation Z are strongly influencing the restaurant decision, it should be common sense that restaurants not only have a website that prominently features their menu, but also be active on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
But as more restaurateurs embrace the Internet, more and more websites are gaudy, clunky, flashy, and just downright annoying. You can tell that the websites from that 2012 study haven’t been updated since. Restaurateurs aren’t updating their menu online, and aren’t keeping their content fresh.
If you didn’t know this already, Google likes fresh content. And your customers? They like Google.
Below are seven ways to keep the content on your website creative and entice more mobile viewers to put down that smartphone and visit your restaurant in person:
7 Ways to Create Better Content
1. Keep it simple.
Creativity doesn’t mean complexity.
There are too many restaurant websites that don’t adhere to basic design principles. They’re either too fancy with so many buttons to click before actually entering the website, or too minimalist with no real information at all. They include timed popups on every page rather than exit-intent popups on the most important ones. They’re trying to get you to join their email list rather than visit your restaurant, where customers can sign up for your digital loyalty program after signing the check.
I think this is due to an identity crisis amongst restaurant website owners. I understand: you’re not a restaurant marketing expert; it’s not your job to know how to design a website. It is your job, however, to know what you want your restaurant website visitors to do. Reserve now? Order now? Eat now? What is the main value proposition of your restaurant? Your food. What is the purpose of your restaurant website? Getting customers to eat your food. It’s that simple. Make reservations, hours, and locations front-and-center, and prominently feature pictures of your food on your homepage.
2. Showcase special offers and promotions.
Do you have a special seasonal or LTO menu item you want to feature? Rather than just upselling through your servers or placing a chalkboard outside with a pithy message, generate some hype about it online. Create a page all about your Spiced Pumpkin Pie Milkshake or your Butternut Squash Custard, and tell your customers why you love it. Use the same language you would on your menu, with exciting adjectives about how drool-worthy and delectable this new treat is.
3. Brag about your restaurant every chance you get.
You want me to do what?! Yes. Brag. This is your place on the Internet — away from those disappointing Yelp reviews and angry Twitter messages. Why not show what really makes your restaurant shine? Feature testimonials from rapt customers, praise-worthy reviews on social media, and any media clips your restaurant may have been featured in. You should also showcase any awards your restaurant may have won.
Psychologically, seeing these positive reviews could make your website visitors really consider becoming customers. It’s called social proof, but I like to call it the “me too” effect: the theory that people will adopt the beliefs or actions of people they like or trust. Once someone sees that a few people have enjoyed the food, ambiance, or staff at your restaurant, they may decide they want to try out the experience, too.
4. Film a short video of your chef preparing a dish.
Fast videos are “snackable” content, which is perfect for your hungry customers. Take a look at Tasty’s Facebook page — they have over 6 million followers. Why? Because they’re literally creating “snackable” time-lapse videos of recipes that hungry viewers can watch, learn from, and try on their own.
These time-lapse videos, or high-speed videos, are a great opportunity for your restaurant to show how a popular dish is made. Ask your chef to create a meal as usual, but use the time-lapse setting on your iPhone to film him or her. The result will be extremely fun, and could even drive restaurant sales. For example, Radisson Blu Edwardian uses QR codes on its menus that diners can scan to watch a video of the dish being prepared. If you do produce video content regularly, you might want to create a YouTube account, where even more potential customers could view your videos.
5. Provide a virtual tour.
People want to know what the guest experience will be like at your restaurant. What is the ambiance? How big is your restaurant? How noisy is it? Is it a place I should take my grandmother, or a place I should take my rowdy friends? These are all things that I look for when I search for a new restaurant online.
Unfortunately, many restaurants only feature pictures of the outside of their restaurant and not the dining room. While that’s all fine and dandy, I prefer to see the actual restaurant atmosphere, so I search for pictures on Yelp (usually low-quality) instead.
Make sure your restaurant website answers all these questions about your restaurant ambiance. Take a video as you walk through the restaurant, and feature it on the homepage. Otherwise, create a picture gallery including the exterior of your restaurant, the interior of the dining room, the back of house, and your restaurant employees.
6. Publish a web-based food menu -and- offer a PDF version.
This is a big debate in the food industry: Would customers rather see a PDF version of the menu, with the exact design used in the restaurant, or would they rather see a web-based menu on the page, without having to download something?
Well, why not include both? When a visitor clicks “Menu,” immediately show them what they want to see: a web-based menu with pictures and descriptions and prices. This will be easily accessible via mobile phone, tablet, and desktop. However, somewhere on the page you can also include a link that says “View this menu as a PDF.” Then, customers can choose their preference.
7. Blog about upcoming events, employees, menu updates, and your restaurant experience.
Managing a restaurant blog is a big time commitment — it requires a creative mind, and it means you’ll have to constantly update your website. However, even if you’re only blogging once a month, that one post is building your brand and keeping your restaurant on guests’ minds.
Feature upcoming events on the blog, making viewers excited to join. Feature your employee of the month to show that you care about your team as much as you care about your customers. Talk about the restaurant experience — why lighting is so important, for example, or your opinion on restaurant tablets — to show that you’re a thought leader in the restaurant industry. Overall, it can be a place to continuously nurture interested customers, especially if you ask for their email address in a sidebar or header and email them posts whenever they’re published.
The content on your restaurant website can help you reach, find, and secure new customers. What’s holding you back from publishing new content on your website? How is your website adding value to your restaurant?