In an era when social media is king, it would be easy for restaurant, pub and cafe owners to overlook the power of a great website.
In truth restaurants probably generate a huge amount of trade from third party booking and referral sites, but the business’s own website will always be its spiritual online home. In a recent survey of consumers, 77% said they would visit a restaurant’s own website when looking to book online, even when using a third party service such as favouritetable. Further, 70% of those surveyed stated they would be discouraged from booking on any platform if the business’s own website gave a poor impression.
In this blog, we take a look at some simple steps to make your website really shine and become a primary sales channel.
First impressions count
Short of customers walking into your restaurant, pub or café bar and having a good look around, your website is the primary way diners evaluate your business. As with your physical environment, the website must create a fantastic first impression. All of the points below come into play here: ease of use, readability, navigation, photographs and the overall look & feel.
This isn’t just about the website itself creating a great first impression, because unless the visitor happens to be a web designer they won’t be there to evaluate your online presence. Their online experience should show your restaurant in the best possible light: if the website is constructed properly the customer shouldn’t even notice how great it is. Let’s get your visitors immediately wanting to book with you, rather than critiquing your site design.
We’ve all seen websites which greet the visitor with awful music which we can’t switch off or home-made clip-art type graphics which just look awful. There is a temptation to throw in off-the-shelf bells & whistles when designing a website, but we say: don’t be tempted. The watchword here is simplicity.
The golden rule is making the site easy to navigate. There is nothing more frustrating for would-be diners than having to deeply scrutinise a restaurant’s website to find what they’re looking for. In general terms people want to know when you’re open, what you sell, how to find you and how to book. Make sure your navigation buttons are easy to see and use.
You’ve worked hard to create your brand and are justly proud of it - it is instantly recognizable and encapsulates what you’re about and associated with. The likelihood is you’re known for a certain thing: you’ve used typefaces and colours in your logo which dovetail with your offer and your USPs are clearly defined.
Your website must reflect these values and be a solid back-link in the customer’s mind’s eye to the fabric of the business. A restaurant which looks and feels a certain way physically yet appears totally different on a website will just confuse the booker. The website must accurately reflect everything about your terrestrial claims.
Smartphone usage has ballooned in recent years to the point that, for some demographics, it is their only gateway to the internet. Websites designed only for desktop computers display very differently on smartphones and it is vital that your website responds correctly on the latest devices.
Professional website designers worth their salt will ensure your new website looks fantastic on a mobile or tablet and the DIY website builders will go some way to doing the same. Desktop websites will give a fuller experience graphically, but mobile versions need to subtly utilise key design techniques to deliver the same wow factor in a smaller package. Examples include transposing the traditional menu bar for “burger” or drop-down menus, together with a focus on swiping rather than scrolling and tapping instead of clicking. Images will need optimising in order to make them load quickly, too.
So, you have decided upon a beautiful design and agreed some lovely imagery. That’s it, right? Not quite. The idea of your website is to provide an all-round source of information conducive to generating bookings. Customers won't work hard to find the information they need, so include only the most important resources. In broad terms, these should be geared around “who/what/where/when/why/how”.
Who: A few lines on your home page to describe who you are (you personally and your business). Easy.
What: Illustrate the core of your offer and the fantastic experience provided. If you have special offers, reserve a space within your design for these to be displayed prominently but don’t forget to regularly update them. An out of date special offer or promotion will only irritate would-be bookers. Be very clear about what your customers can expect in your restaurant, pub or cafe.
It is surprising how many restaurant websites do a great job of presentation and design, yet fail to show off their wares. Having managed to get the online surfer to their sites and wowing them, restaurants' exclusion of what they actually offer is surely an own goal. An effective website isn’t just an online brochure; it should be the gateway to a solid sales channel. As with all marketing, the website should clearly answer the question “what do you actually sell?”.
Including your menu online is essential - a button or link to a simple PDF document is certainly better than nothing, but savvy restaurateurs go a step further and combine their online menu with a booking portal enabling customers not just to make a reservation, but choose their meals.
Don't forget to mention how you cater for everyone, including those with special dietary requirements or physical needs.
Where: Obvious one, this. Include a contact page with full address, phone number, email address and a map with directions (link with Google maps and an interactive journey planner if you can). Links to your social media channels (Facebook, Instagram and so on) will complete the picture and cater for all users.
When: On your contact page, include your opening hours. In the current climate of phased re-opening, you might wish to add a banner for this on your home page too.
How: Your call-to-action (“CTA”) has to be “Book Now”, so don’t bury this vital click three pages deep. If there is just one button you need displayed prominently, it is this one. Keep clicks to a minimum, so if possible put your availability calendar on your home page, or even every page.
Why: Perhaps one of the most important questions to answer is “why should I come to this restaurant?”. If you have followed the above points, you have already illustrated what you provide, but sometimes customers need a little help understanding why that’s a good thing.
Having given the features of your offer, you must now sell the dream. Address the questions consumers may have: how will I feel when I am in this restaurant? What experience will I have? Sometimes a little validation is needed, so always refer to your positive online reviews and proudly display your star rating badge.
They say a picture paints a thousand words and this is certainly true when it comes to websites. Blurred, poorly framed and old images won’t do anything to encourage customers to book. The good news is that you don’t need to hire a professional photographer to get some excellent results (although you’ll always get stunning images if you do) but if you’re going to take the photographs yourself you might like to put a little thought into what you’re actually trying to capture. Think back to your brand values for some inspiration and frame the pictures carefully to avoid unwanted views coming into shot.
Consider what customers want to see when they make their booking decisions. The chances are they will be influenced by your food, presentation and physical environment. They are looking to have a great time in your establishment, so photographs showing others doing the same will always be more influential than pictures of an empty restaurant or staged snaps of dishes.
Make a list of the features and benefits you'd like to convey photographically, such as the building and its features (inside and outside), surroundings, people, food, drink and most of all people enjoying themselves.
Keep it fresh
Restaurants do a fantastic job of keeping up with the latest trends in food, drink, ambience, décor and customer service. They provide a rich and memorable experience for diners, but many sell themselves short when it comes to their websites. Despite serving fresh food, some fail to produce a website to match.
It isn’t necessary to invest a fortune to produce a fresh, contemporary website as there are plenty of DIY options out there, such as Wix and GoDaddy, for owners with even a modicum of technical knowledge. Alternatively, local and national designers will put together a number of concepts together for you.
The important thing is to keep the website’s look & feel fresh and clean. Nothing discourages booking more than a website which hasn’t been updated for years and looks like it was designed ten years ago (probably because it was designed ten years ago).
When browsing a restaurant’s websites, different consumers’ booking decisions are influenced by different things. Some just want to know about your menu; others your “olde worlde” charm or how to book. Some, however, want to know more about the human side of the business and who they are dealing with. Story-telling is a great way to add a personality to the establishment and make a website experience pop. We’re not suggesting you become the new J. K. Rowling, but little tales will give your visitor a warm glow and add your own magic to the narrative.
A simple blog with, say, photos of the weekly quiz, details of your new menu, an event schedule, any renovations or newly installed equipment and posts featuring customers (especially special events and how you made them fantastic for the customers) will make the reader feel very drawn towards your business. Don’t forget to keep the blog fresh, however (did we mention that before?).
The humble website still has a big part to play in promoting your brand and generating direct bookings. Would-be bookers use websites to help in their decision-making, even when reserving a table on a third-party website, so your website needs to be as compelling as possible.
With the right content, simple design, navigation, brand values, photographs and look & feel coupled with a strong call-to-action, you will not only have a great advertisement but a solid commission-free sales channel.
Keeping the website simple and up to date is absolutely vital, too.
Favouritetable provides reservation software, pre-booking modules, take-away backed by a full manager portal and a host of restaurant-centric features.
We're passionate about restaurants, which is why we have developed the best value full-function restaurant software on the market.
Call us today on 033 0124 4785 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be delighted to demonstrate what you will achieve with the right technology.