I have a lot of problems with the vast majority – and by that I mean 98% of all restaurant sites today. They are not set up to help the users who are there for a specific purpose or to fully engage prospects who’ve never been there before, and there’s really no excuse for not making these sites better.
A few weeks ago I did a radio interview with Jeffrey Summers of Hospitality 101 on this topic, which you can listen to while reading this if you like – it will open in a new window: Blog Talk Radio: Building a Better Restaurant Business 7/27
I had an experience, just that day on the way to a lunch meeting that has to be a common occurrence for others, I’d imagine. On the way to Gordon Biersch, running slightly late, I needed to look up my meal in advance so Lisa could order for me, so I looked up the restaurant on my smartphone. They did not have a mobile version, so I navigated best I could, but had to put in a zip code or find my state to try to get to the menu. (A better way? Do a mobile app that picks up the smartphone’s geo-location and shoot them to the right menu/map/location information instantly.) I finally got the menu for lunch pulled up, and it was a PDF of course – restaurants seem never to have heard of HTML when it comes to menu’s online) and some of the PDF was dark and colored so it was very difficult to find what I needed to look at. I finally gave up, and since the one white page of the PDF had salads and appetizers on it, decided to pick a salad to eat. Sigh… oh well.
This is SO typical. Type in any major city into Google: “restaurants Chicago” for example, and go to the first sites that come up. Ask yourself this:
- Do they have their menu chunked into sections so you have to click back and forth to see what having a whole meal there would be like?
- Do they only offer their menu as PDF’s you have to download to view?
- Do they have pertinent information about how to reserve for big parties, catering info, delivery info, business meeting capabilities, and things beyond the typical that you might be seeking information about?
- Do they offer convenient links to Driving Directions so you can pull that up without having to do the work yourself to get them?
- Do they link to reviews for you so you can get a sense of the restaurant’s quality from unbiased sources?
- Do they solicit your feedback, either personally via email or social network invitation, or through poll questions or short surveys? Do they make it easy for you to ask questions?
- Do they have large, detailed photographs, video of the space and imagery that immerses you in the experience of what the restaurant would be like if you visited?
Sadly, many restaurants fall short in the areas above. And those are just basic needs: find a menu, get a sense of the restaurant itself, get driving directions to it, communicate with someone to give them feedback, a complaint or ask a question.
What about more advanced stuff? We aren’t even getting close to doing what technology and the social web enables us to do, like:
- A mobile site that is particularly geared towards the needs of mobile users and anticipates their actions to make the experience both efficient and pleasant.
- Real-time content, currently spread around the internet at sites like Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, Foursquare, Foodspotting and many more, being aggregated into your site.
- User experience on-the-cheap, because people are willing (and sometimes you can’t stop them) from sharing their experiences online. Polls, quick surveys, soliciting feedback on social networks, making it easy for people to give anonymous feedback… this is something every hospitality business should be using the internet for today. Listening, talking, and seeking information about what you’re doing right, what’s wrong and how you can improve.
- Real relationships – beyond simply interacting. Jeffery has long been a proponent of serving customers a bit more like they do in Europe, which is to get involved in their lives. Some of my favorite places where I do business get to know me personally over time, as I am a regular customer, and go the extra mile to help me get done what I need to: become more polished at the nail salon, cut off my nappy hair and make me look more presentable, clean my clothes so I can make a good impression at a meeting, or nourish me with some delicious food that I may be craving.
Jeffrey, a seasoned restaurant & hospitality consultant, says they’ve found that 88% of people visit the website of the restaurant that they will be going to later. So people ARE seeing your sites, whether you think they are and are watching the analytics or not. They’re visiting via their mobile phones (dumb and smart), on laptops, desktops and via links sent by friends. They’re visiting after randomly catching a picture of your food on Foodspotting, or a checkin from a friend on Foursquare or Gowalla. They’re coming to you from Yelp and other review sites, or even a random Google mention. What do they see when they get there???
This is what I want to see… I had wanted to make this a pretty diagram in Illustrator but only had time to whip out a fast sketch, so apologies for the low-fidelity image here:
Bottom line: this is what I need. This is what your site users, mobile users, customers and prospects need. Feel free to let me know what I missed in the comments!
We need you to have a website of your own, first and foremost. You are not in the Facebook business, though you may use that site for marketing and communications. Don’t rely on Google and Yelp and other directories to list your information – they’re not going to do your selling for you! I get so frustrated when I type in a restaurant and city name and cannot seem to locate ANYTHING except third-party sources of information. (NoRTH in Kansas City, I’m talking to you. I’ve seen a site before but think it was linked from your parent company, because searches don’t bring back anything relevant that is owned by you. You make enough to have a unique domain name, surely. Sigh… also, this name – it may sound fancy schmancy, but it is virtually impossible to find relevant tweets about you, because “north kansas city” or “north overland park” doesn’t bring up what you should hope it does on Twitter.)
We need to see FULL menu options, to read it fast or envision an entire meal, without hopping around all over your site, trying to piece together the big picture. Help me get enrolled by tempting me with the whole enchilada.
We need shareable menu content, down to a single item and for the whole menu. Use PDF’s for what they were primarily designed for – to print from and to send! Have your menu as a normal web page or pages so people can copy/paste and share this content with others. I have a design for this we’ve never implemented yet, that involves showing the shareable bits if the user wants to, with one click. The technology is there today – utilize it!
We need to see macro shots of your delicious dishes to make our mouths water, and large scale, panoramic shots of your space. We want to see happy customers at the bar, your waitstaff, chefs cooking, the front door staff, (and please tell me you have nice, sufficient waiting room!) Hire a great photographer, and bring the ambiance to your site – it’s the next best thing to being there!
We want to see your recent press. If you’ve been written up in the newspaper, a restaurant guide or even a blog post, please link to it for us and let us read about you from others. If the press mentions contain both good and bad, even better. It makes it seem like a more realistic, honest assessment in the reader’s mind.
We’d love to see some interactive elements like video taken in your space (from a low-rent Flip cam or a professional production, either one.) We’d love to see a virtual tour like real estate folks offer, so you can walk through the space without being there. Even better? An interactive tour with a friendly, appealing tour guide (like a hostess, business owner or your top chef.) Make us WANT to come and see for ourselves. Make photos in a virtual tour LARGE to immerse people in your space a few moments.
We want to read reviews from folks who have eaten there. Point to Yelp and other review sites. Link to Foodspotting. Ask for more reviews! Respond where you can, to negative reviews with the honest truth. Give people the 360 degree perspective about your restaurant and fix what’s broken.
We don’t just want a Facebook icon and Twitter icon in the footer of your site. That’s okay, but optimally, bring in social feeds, and aggregate this real-time content in your own site. People are talking about your place, you are hopefully sharing specials and information on Facebook and Twitter. Bring this all together in the ultimate hub of information. Keep an eye on your universe. Use Foursquare’s API to show who has visited you recently. Be a connector of people who love sushi, wine, barbecue, french food, tex-mex, etc. Get involved with them in conversations online and translate that into real-world sales. (Contact Jeffrey to learn more about that!)
We need directions. Make it easy – Google has given you all the keys you need to post a map, link to driving directions, or send directions to another person who might be meeting you. Take advantage of the technology that’s available and make it pleasant for users to utilize your site. This leads to goodwill, and goodwill leads to good customers and better sales.
We want to know how long you’ve been in business and what your credibility is. Give us visually rich, verbally descriptive images that tell the story of your history, your particular philosophy, your owners or chef’s background, your funny customer stories. Help us know you’re credible and engage us mentally, so we’ll want to be part of your world.
We want to know what others have said about you, so give us testimonials and link to or replicate positive reviews so we can quickly understand what other people like about your service, your food or your catering abilities for big parties.
We need a custom mobile site. There are inexpensive-to-expensive ways to accomplish this. We can help you understand all your options in the mobile realm. Beyond simply having a neat site, our friends at Meers Advertising are doing some amazing, fun stuff with mobile SMS text campaigns. Fun stuff to consider? Text “steak” and get back the special of the day, or text RSVP to reserve a table for tonight. Text “save” and get a coupon delivered you can either print, or show the waiter on your phone to use the coupon of the day.
We have a slew of other ideas for using social networks and content created by yourself and users to drive traffic to your site, but that’s a topic for another post. What to do if you’re a restaurant and feel overwhelmed by all the options, issues and choices? Here are some ideas: