31 Mar 2014

Guide for a Restaurant Website

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When I first started website development back in the mid 90’s restaurants were one of the types of businesses that didn’t benefit from having a website. The lack of benefit was due to the web technology available at the time, and the fact that the medium was new and most business websites were glorified brochures. Fast forward to 2014 and things have radically changed; we search the web when looking for anything that crosses our mind, people love to share on social networks, and smartphones make those activities very easy and fun to do.

Today restaurants without a mobile version of their website are at a disadvantage. Restaurants are one type of business that users search for on the go and often from their phones. The user expects to find your location quickly and make a reservation in the same interface.

When planning for your restaurant website keep this in mind: keep it simple and think of mobile first. Your website is the one media you own - and it needs to be the hub of all your social media activity.

Your website should include the following:
  • A good CMS (Content Management System) you need to be able to update quickly and frequently your content.
  • A page with the hours of operation, a map and direction to your location(s).
  • Phone number and tool (web form or OpenTable) for visitors to make reservations.
  • A page (not a PDF) of your menus.
  • Mobile version.
  • Social media bookmarks for others to share your content.
  • A Blog.

Why you need a website

Having your website enables you to own your message and lead the conversation. It is true; some restaurants don’t have a website. And yet you can still find them via search engines because they are listed on sites like Yelp, Google+ and Urban Spoon - all websites where you the owner, can provide information such as phone numbers, address and hours of operation. They are also websites that lead to reviews and right or wrong; these reviews won’t necessarily tell your story - they may even describe your food incorrectly.

And these websites do an excellent job of cross promoting other restaurants that may serve similar food or are in your neighbourhood - before you know it; you could lose a potential customer if they only place they find you are on a site like Yelp.

Find the right web partner

Find a partner who makes having a website easy, and will help market your restaurant online. Make sure you are using a tool that enables you to do everything on your website requirements in the list above. Although you may not launch with every feature, like on-line reservations or a blog, make sure you are starting with a tool that you can grow.

Most self-serve website systems come with a blog; this tool can prove very useful for keeping your customers and fans engaged by sharing and commenting on the new content you post.

Recommended tools for your website

WordPress wordpress.com
The most popular content management system. Open source and has the advantage of hundred of different plugins for added functionality. Many different themes are available to choose from but, some customization requires programming knowledge. Make sure you select a theme that works well on mobile. Pricing starts at free with added functionality at additional cost.

Wix wix.com
They have hundreds of templates to chose from, with a supported mobile version. Once you picked a template, you cannot change it. Pricing starts at free.

SquareSpace squarespace.com
Has some templates to choose from, all of them support responsive design (This means your website will display well on different size screens including mobile). Pricing starts at $10/month ($8 if you pay for a full year.)

Weebly weebly.com
Ideal for small businesses in general. Easy to use with hundred of templates to choose. They allow access to the HTML and CSS code for customization. You can have a fully (but simple) website for free; they have paid packages that have more features. It does support mobile screens.

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