This Foodie Friday I have restaurant marketing on my mind. That’s the result of some close encounters with restaurant websites.

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(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From time to time I’ll check out places to eat in cities where I’m heading. Of course I use the review sites as a first source of recommendations.  Inevitably if a few places seem to be of comparable quality and hold potential I’ll go to the establishment’s website to do a deeper dive on the menu.  This is where things begin to break down in a couple of ways and there are some broader points which come out of the experience.

Many of the sites are beautiful.  Clearly, someone spent many hours creating a multimedia site complete with music that plays while you experience the site, flash movies that auto-play, and dozens of pictures of happy customers.  Unfortunately, most of these sites are painful to use and are a huge waste of money.  I’ll go even further to say that they do more harm than good.  In the case of restaurant sites, no one cares how the site looks.  Visitors want information, not to be entertained.  They’re pretty and useless.

Think about it.  Why do you visit the site?  Probably, first and foremost, to check out the menu.  Many of the sites I visit force a download (it’s easier to update one file than several pages of the site) and some of those downloads are huge.  Next, I may want to make a reservation so I need to know where the place (Google Maps link!) is and some means of doing so – a phone number or a direct link to Open Table or whatever service the place uses.  Finally, the hours they’re serving and maybe a listing of the specials would be good.  That’s it.  Designers need to focus on the business goals and not on “pretty.” The most important factor in the design of a website is that the website makes it easy for users to find what they want.

The problem isn’t restricted to restaurants.  If you’ve built a site and not had a discussion with the design and coding team about business goals for the site, target audiences, analytics you’ll be using to measure activity and success, or how you’ll be marketing (SEO implications), you’ve missed the mark.   Unlike the restaurants with crappy sites, there probably aren’t lots of review sites driving people to your business (most review sites contain a modicum of the critical information).  Maybe now is a good time to take a look at your site through a visitor’s eyes?


Filed under Consulting, digital media, food

3 responses to “Pretty/Useless

  1. Barbara

    You are right! I DID leave off the wine list! Where was my head?! That is definitely one of my #1s (I have several things tied for #1 🙂 ).

  2. Barbara

    I agree with your points of what I want (and don’t want) on a restaurant site until you say, “And that’s it.” I am a foodie, and yes, I admit, not the hardcore foodie you are. And I am a woman, and that, too, may skew my wants and needs (on many subjects… 🙂 ). So, we may have a slightly different take on what we’re looking for on a restaurant site.

    For me, one of the most important aspects of a restaurant is the ambiance. Though I don’t want bells and whistles on the sites (and I hate the download menus! Put ’em on your site, you lazy gits!), in addition to everything you mentioned, I DO want pictures — and not a close-up of a glass of wine, or of a row of top shelf liquors at the bar. Some pics of the food served is not a bad idea (since it is a visual marketing tool), but I want to see the restaurant! If it’s intimate, I don’t want to bring my boss or a customer there (or the overzealous guy to whom I don’t want to give the wrong impression!). If it isn’t, I don’t want to go on a romantic date there. I want to know from what I see (not just from subjective reviews from people with variable — and often questionable — tastes) what kind of attire a restaurant calls for, and what to expect in terms of atmosphere.

    If I’m not choosing a restaurant just for the kind of food I want to eat or for the number of Michelin stars, but for the kind of overall experience I want to have, then pictures of the restaurant (inside! Not just the facade!) are up there on my list of whether or not the site is good.

    Just a comment from someone who knows nothing about marketing but is an avid user of restaurant sites…

    • First, thanks for reading and for the comment. I agree with everything you wrote and I’ll also scope out the “food porn” shots on some sites. You left “wanting to see the wine list” off your content needs! That’s one of mine too.
      I should have been more clear that the focus on menu/location/hours etc. isn’t to the exclusion of all the other stuff but must be emphasized and placed front and center. These owners need to remind their designers they’re making commerce and not art.

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