What is it with Bad Restaurant & Bar Websites?

What is it with Bad Restaurant & Bar Websites?

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*This is a guest article contributed by Jennifer Moline.

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I have gripes with many different websites, whereas others are so user-friendly with their easy-to-navigate tabs and legible fonts. But by and large, while the ones I like include some sites where I pay bills as well as certain travel guides, an entire industry leaves me frustrated: restaurants and bars have lousy websites.

The other night I looked up a restaurant where I was meeting friends. I wanted to send them the address, but because it was coded as an image, I couldn’t copy and paste the location. In addition, the menu – while not made up of several PDFs like so many restaurant sites – was also an image, so I, yet again, could not copy and paste items to entice my friends. My biggest annoyance, though, was that the online menu listed a pizza that sounded right up my alley: butternut squash, sage and goat cheese. But upon my arrival, it turns out that’s a seasonal pizza, and it wasn’t available.

Having worked in print publishing for many years, I love the web for its flexibility. There is no reason restaurant and bar websites should not always be up to date. You can redesign a page, and if you don’t like it, you change it. Service industries can post sales and promotions on their websites and take them down when they’re complete. A restaurant or bar’s website should always list happy hours and other specials prominently on the homepage.

What it seems web designers are missing is that people look up restaurants and bars on their smartphones. They happen to be in a neighborhood and are searching for a nearby place to grab a bite to eat or have a cocktail. Sure, they might go to Yelp first to find out what’s close, but when they link to your site, they want sample menus, a phone number they can click on through their phone and an address they can copy and text to friends.

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Here’s a checklist of what restaurant and bar websites should include:

1. Use web fonts if you’re concerned about losing styles. Many computers and smartphones can’t open your PDF menus.

2. K.I.S.S.: Keep it simple, stupid. Don’t clutter up your site with Flash animation and zany fonts. Make sure the homepage, at least, can be easily read on a smartphone.

3. Don’t save your address and phone number as an image – and be sure they’re prominently displayed. I agree with webcomic, The Oatmeal, that the address should link to an online map.

4. Have someone else look over the entire site. Typos make you look dumb and sloppy – not a reputation you want if you work with food.

5. Make sure your hours are also easy to understand. I was recently on a restaurant site that listed its lunch hours as 1:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. – huh?

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6. Update your website regularly. Take down expired specials and archive old news.

Foodies and drinkers can be a fickle bunch. If your bar or restaurant has a website that is difficult to navigate, your audience will move on. Make it easy on potential customers so that they become paying customers.

*Jennifer Moline writes about freelancing, small business and design for the PsPrint Blog. PsPrint is an online printing solutions company, which you can follow on Twitter and Facebook.

Photo by Shutterstock.

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39 thoughts on “What is it with Bad Restaurant & Bar Websites?”

  1. Great read.

    I would also add the concept of making more mobile-friendly sites. A lot of the time when people are trying to make a decision on which restaurant to go to, they turn to their smartphones to find some in the area. The navigation is frustrating and sometimes can’t be functioned at all because developers don’t check compatibility with mobile devices.

  2. Such a great article and so relevant! I can’t count the number of times I’ve talked to a potential client in the food/bar business and took a look at their website only to discover a complete disaster!

    Mobile is huge. QR codes, Check-in incentives etc.

  3. Thanks for the article Jennifer. I can’t even begin to count all the times I’ve wanted to get information about a restaurant from its website on my ancient iPhone 3G and it ends up either crashing Safari or not loading at all because it was made in Flash. With regard to the menu I think most of them are PDF’s because trying to recreate the entire menu in HTML would be a bit tedious, but a basic menu listing the foods and their prices in HTML would probably suffice, with a PDF of the full menu if you’re printing it out at home to order take-out. The relatively new idea of responsive web design might be something to try when creating a site for a restaurant. I might just have to do some experimenting now…

  4. Quite true, and unfortunately difficult to overcome. In the experiences I’ve had with small restaurants or specialty bars, especially ones in affluent areas, the clients can be very difficult to convince when it comes to best practice. Some don’t even seem to mind the potential loss of sales from having website they demand, since the coffee shop/wine bar they’re making is more of a hobby or social fulfillment than money making venture.

  5. I had a similar problem while doing an Icelandic restaurant website in its native language. My mistake – restaurant opens ‘sunday to monday’ from 3am to 11am.


  6. It’s a problematic industry to make websites for. There is a small group that wants it all, but of course in Flash and what not. Then the majority of people in the restaurant/bar business:
    a. don’t want to spend money on a website
    b. don’t have the time to update the site on a regular basis
    c. are computer illiterate/phobic

    Eventually most of these points can be overcome, but it takes a lot of work convincing and hand-holding.

  7. Thanks for the info, I’m in process of building a website for a restaurant, this info definitely comes in handy.

  8. I think the problem is that you are working with people that have built their own business and are used to making all of the decisions. Many times what they are looking for is not something that works well with design or flow when it comes to websites. Working with restaurant owners can be hard, but very rewarding once you provide them with a great site and they can see the results.

  9. The website of a restaurant or wine bar plays an important role in its marketing mix. It is mainly used as a promotional tool especially when people hardly get time to visit places directly and rely more on the online information provided.

  10. I agree with Piet, he brought up good points, and it does take a lot of work convincing and hand-holding.

  11. Thanks for the great comments!

    So often I think restaurant and bar owners are so caught up in the venue and food itself that they don’t know that the business side — marketing, etc. — is a worthy investment.

  12. @Jennifer, well that is exactly it!

    I am going to generalise a bit now, but most restaurant/bar owners place their investment in the interior and kitchen. Then what’s left goes into the menu, getting the wine list and staff. Maybe they throw an opening party and that’s that. After that people will have to hear it through the grapevine and hopefully some local publications. I have been living in Beijing for more than 10 years and nothing has changed in this aspect during all those years. Surely some bars/restaurants have ok-ish sites, but then they never see any updates, so they miss a lot of opportunities too.

    If you think of it, it’s actually quite sad; I mean it is easier to make a website for an architects bureau then it is for a bar or restaurant, whereas there are so many more possibilities with the latter!

  13. hmmm, can’t edit my comment.

    What I meant to say with my last paragraph is that it is easier to sell developing a website for an architect firm than it is for a bar or restaurant…

  14. Great article and very relevant points. I’ve been frustrated many times perusing restaurant sites. The point of not including menus as a pdf is right on. When we design sites for restaurants, it’s one of the first things, aside from not using flash, that we go over with our clients. thanks!

  15. You are completely right, and this is an industry that has no idea how dependent on the web its success really is. I have had similar challenges dealing with night clubs and venues that want super flashy interactive sites and they just don’t understand that their visitors aren’t looking to have an experience on the website, they want the experience in person. Just tell them how to get there! An example of a really nice restaurant design is pizzaluce.com

  16. That is the best Tumblr EVER, Jonathan! My favorite: “Thank you for making your site entirely in Flash so that you make it clear as day that you have no interest in serving tourists and our iPhones.”

    I do wonder who is responsible for all those bad websites — is the designer not persuasive enough? Maybe there just is no designer?

  17. Agree with 100% mate.

    Any website that doesn’t allow me to copy & paste important information drives me crazy. Such a fundamental requirement that gets overlooked too often.

  18. This is a common problem I run into when researching for a new restaurant in the city: Flash made sites, sites made out of images, yet I don’t quite understand why some restaurants would prefer the aesthetic over usability instead of both fused together.

    Just for a college web revamp project, I chose to revamp the Zinc Bistro website because of the landing page. It’s a case of mystery-meat navigation and the navigation is made entirely in flash. It has potential but lacks in usability on Apple mobile devices.

    Thanks for sharing Jennifer.

  19. I agree with Piet. I worked for years in food service prior to entering design, in addition to family members also owning restaurants.

    Time and money are two things that are a commodity in that industry. Even though you hire managers to run the day to days just the major worries include

    Back of house > Waste, Portion Control, Theft
    Front of house > Service, Decorum, Staff

    Add to this the 35-45K/yr. average salaries for
    Kitchen Manager(s), Dining Room Manager(s), and the hourly overhead of most staff.

    This doesn’t include insurance, liability, legal fees, licensing, inspections, upgrades etc…

    To top it off, the average profit the owner takes in from every dollar in sales is ten cents. That is if the planets align on above mentioned and additional issues.

    This doesn’t even include the time investments of the owner(s).

  20. I understand that dealing with the service, staff, decor etc. have to be an immediate priority however, taking time and investing in a website that promotes your company and allows you to command an online presence, has to go down as being something that ranks alongside those considerations.

    Poor websites not only cause massive amounts of frustration for users but cause ripples of discontent at the service you have provided. Perhaps this is something which many businesses don’t really understand, but websites for restaurants and bars are a service that people now expect to be able to use. If this isn’t the case, you will alienate potential customers and lose out on a significant amount of profit.

    For this very reason, having a website with clear, real text, good layout, imagery and an easy to use navigation, is essential to expand your business and allow it to be as profitable as possible. It could even be argued that they pay for themselves in the extra business they generate.

  21. I agree with Piet. I worked for years in food service prior to entering design, in addition to family members also owning restaurants.

  22. Just for a college web revamp project, I chose to revamp the KD IP Camera because of the landing page. It’s a case of mystery-meat navigation and the navigation is made entirely in flash. It has potential but lacks in usability on Apple mobile devices.
    Thanks for sharing Jennifer.

  23. This is a subject close to my heart as someone who comes from a restaurant family, builds web software and likes to dine out a lot.

    One thing that restauranteurs seem to miss is that the web is a way for them to talk directly to customers. If their sites don’t represent them well, people look elsewhere for info and the power shifts over to sites like Yelp, Urban Spoon and so on, where the voices of the people in the restaurant itself get drowned out or go quiet. And it’s uber frustrating when you want to look up a place and the site doesn’t work.

    If it’s not too forward to say so, I built a recently-launched product to help restaurants out with their web presence just on smartphones called Menuito (menuito.com). I focussed on making them look good, but also getting the right into to mobile customers: hours, location, specials – the good stuff.

    It will take a lot of little steps to get restaurants to get what they should out of the web as a place to engage with customers, but I think they’ll get there.

  24. Agree with some previous comments. People who own bar & restaurants probably don’t see the value of websites and don’t have big enough margins to spend a lot of money on them.

  25. Great post! I would definitely include another point though to what restaurant and bar websites should include: Put genuine photos on your website. It happened a million times where a restaurant owner/designer visits istock and goes on a shopping spree. From the dishes and the staff to the views. Yes, the website will look appealing and inviting, but it will be totally different when you go there. When I tend to see those certain stock images on a restaurant website, i’ll tend do walk away.

  26. Quite agree about addresses in images and no maps plus the poor updates. Quite a few seem to use pdfs too much too – I guess because they’re easy to ‘print’, but they spoil the flow.

  27. @Jamie Wayne Guijarro, good job on the Zinc Bistro website! Has anyone looked at their website on a mobile phone? It’s pretty good too, and hosted by mobistro.com More restaurants should use platforms like that.
    Firehousesubs.com shows up great on a mobile phone too.

  28. Very nice post. People might say ” Don’t judge a book by its cover”, I believe a company is judged based on the website. Take a peek at my site digitaldesignzmedia.com

  29. OMG, so true! They are so frustrating! I frequently visit restaurant sites and run into the same problems all of the time. I’ve never understood why they cannot seem to stay up to date. Now I know the web designs are all messed up!

    //Beth @ the Web Design Agency

  30. Great article and having designed restaurant sites for 13 years. First in New Orleans and now in LA, I’ve seen all of this evolve and what I did say, six years ago for Acme Oyster House (Flash), I wouldn’t do today for Tender Greens (which was Flash until I took it over). A couple of thoughts I have I’d like to add. I’m a big fan of food photography and I personally believe you should have photos of the majority of your food items so people have an idea what to expect when they come in. I realize that’s difficult for a restaurant who’s menu constantly changes but for a Fast Casual, it can be done for sure. E-Commerce Online Ordering is very important and a lot of people take shortcuts and either sign up to a generic service or buy an off the shelf product and not pay for proper customization. I have a pizza client like that and they eventually killed their e-commerce. Which I disagreed with. Of course, making it work with phones is really important and http://www.tendergreensfood.com/ does just that. You can order directly from the phone with no app required. I’m about to start work on another Fast Casual site with online ordering directly on the homepage and the cool thing is we’re going to link it to a nutritional calculator so as people prepare their orders, they can see how many calories, fat, etc. they’re actually getting.

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