A great deal of thought has gone into preparing your restaurant’s food, menu, décor, ambiance and style. Just as much care and planning need to go into the preparation of your restaurant’s website. You want to ensure that your website captures the essence of what your restaurant is all about to attract new customers and meet the needs of returning clientele. But accomplishing this is not an easy task. A modern, attractive and easy-to-use restaurant website can take a bit of time, expertise and careful thought—but the results will pay out in a steady flow of virtual visitors and actual customers.
Follow this restaurant website design and development checklist to produce a website that will meet visitor expectations and grow your business:
1. Start by thinking of your restaurant website as a communications tool.
Inside your restaurant, your staff interacts with customers as they walk in, at their table and when serving their meal. You can engage these same loyal customers (and acquire new customers) before and after their meal through your restaurant website and social media pages, the digital storefront of your brand.
Begin by setting goals and asking the tough questions.
• Why do I want to build a new website for my restaurant?
• What does the new site need to accomplish?
• How do I want to interact and communicate with new and existing customers in this digital age?
• How can I control the information that is out there about my business?
• What are my expectations for success in terms of website traffic, increased sales, etc.?
Once you’ve strategized about your core goals, it’s time to plan ahead. Start with Google Analytics: Make sure your current website has the proper analytics tracking code in place. With Google Analytics you’ll be able to know who is visiting your website and where they came from, how long users are staying on your website and what pages they are visiting the most, among many other traffic statistics. If you’re building the restaurant’s first site, sign up for your free Google Analytics account, and make plans to have a developer add the code to your website once it’s developed.
2. Go beyond mobile friendly: Commit to a responsive, mobile-first design.
Chances are that a vast majority of your guests are well-equipped with the latest handheld technology and are using their smartphone or tablet to find information about your business online.
A potential guest could be searching for a restaurant near their location and land on your website from a Google search, or they could be looking up your business directly. They may have read a positive review or seen a shared photo on social media, and arrived at your website looking for your location, phone number, or menu.
And they’re doing it all from their mobile phones.
A responsive, mobile-first approach to web design makes mobile users a priority, starting by creating a mobile design on the smallest screen and then building out bigger screen versions of the design from that baseline. You wouldn’t turn away walk-in visitors with a messy exterior and hard-to-read menus, so why do it on your website?
Consider your target audience
3. Craft a rewarding user experience.
User experience, or UX, is a buzzword of modern web design and development trends, but with good reason. The experience a potential customer has on your website heavily influences their decision of whether or not to visit your restaurant in person. Make it easy for your customer to find the information they need in order to make their decision. Tip: Don’t hide your phone number! Ensure that contact information is easily accessible on all pages in a well-designed manner.
When preparing a UX strategy for your restaurant website, start by asking yourself the questions your potential customers might ask of your website:
• What type of restaurant is this?
• Where is the menu?
• How do I make a reservation?
• What is their phone number?
• Where are they located?
• What are their hours?
• Do they deliver?
• Can I order online?
These are only a few examples of the expectations a hungry visitor may have when arriving at your website. Here’s your chance to set up a rewarding online experience, while highlighting what’s unique about your restaurant. Make sure your design provides complete answers to each of these questions.
4. Invest in professional photography.
You wouldn’t hire an amateur to run your kitchen. Hire a professional photographer to lend their visual expertise to your website, portraying menu items in the best possible light. Rely on your talented chef for beautiful on-plate presentation; leave mouthwatering images to the photographer.
Some restaurant owners rely on their customers to share photos of their food and drinks, capitalizing on “free” material by sharing this content or pulling in a stream of tagged social media posts on their website. While this recent trend may work for some restaurant brands (more often for casual businesses), don’t lean on user-generated photo content without creating some of your own. Be in control of the information that is out there about your business.
5. Create content that considers your target audience.
When it comes to creating written content for your website, take each audience group into consideration.
Think of all the types of customers that walk into your restaurant on a given day. Maybe your target demographic is couples on a date or young groups celebrating a special occasion. Perhaps your restaurant’s target market is families with young children. Take your audience into account when writing content for your website, using appropriate language, voice and tone for each group, and providing useful information that speaks to their particular wants and needs.
Allow easy access to a kids' menu and special offers, prominently featured two-for-one date night deals or a page dedicated solely to celebrations and events. Providing information that’s tailored to your target customer makes content creation a more efficient, effective process.
Keep it fresh
6. Serve up social media.
Restaurant social profile pages can be a powerful part of your marketing mix. Use your popular social profiles to channel traffic to your website, but don’t forget that it’s a two-way street.
Dedicate prominent space to social feeds, and be sure to include links to your social profiles in the header, where they can be seen from any page on your website. Encouraging website visitors to engage with your social profiles can create opportunities for happy customers to share feedback, rate and review your business and post photos of their meal—all of which can convince a new diner to try your restaurant in the future.
Incorporating social into your website only works if you dedicate time and effort into your social profiles on a consistent, ongoing basis. Consider hiring a social manager or assigning a trusted staff member to be the voice of your brand on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube or Pinterest.
7. Keep it fresh.
Designing a new website also means keeping it up to date and in the restaurant industry, there is always something to talk about. Whether it is posting a weekly special, introducing a new entree, bringing back a fan favorite or inviting customers to host an event – the possibilities for keeping your homepage fresh are always there. Maybe you’ve updated your bar area or outdoor signage; take a video and add it to your website. These are all ways to keep customers coming back to your website to see what is new.
Don’t forget to integrate your email newsletter sign-up into your homepage as another way to tie your marketing communications and social media efforts together. Your email newsletter sign-up should be prominently featured with a call to action. Tell customers why they should sign up for the newsletter. Perhaps you’ll offer them a free meal on their birthday, quarterly coupons/discounts or invitations to tasting events–whatever the offer may be–make sure they understand they are signing up for something exclusive.
8. Make use of user testing.
At the end of the day, your website is for your customers, not for you. While you already know what makes your restaurant so great, potential customers may not. That’s why it’s important to build a restaurant website that’s approachable and intuitive for any user.
There are many opportunities to incorporate user testing into the website design and development process. In the kitchen, menu testing allows you to try out different options before introducing them to the public. You can do the same for your website. Conduct user testing on the existing restaurant website to gather insight for the new version, or bring in a user testing group post-development to discover any user experience issues before the site goes live.
Restaurant website user testing can also be done after launch. One way to obtain feedback post-launch is to add a pop-up survey to the website to select website visitors and offer a coupon to those who complete the survey and share their opinion on your new website.
9. Measure your success.
You’ve put a lot of hard work into your new restaurant website. After site launch, it’s time to see how well your website is working to achieve those goals you set earlier.
Get familiar with your restaurant website’s Google Analytics account, setting up new dashboards and monthly reports that keep you informed of visitor traffic numbers, where the traffic is coming from and what pages are performing best on your website.
Treat your website like you would your menu: Continually refresh and improve it. Listen to feedback from guests, make changes, test often and learn as you go.
Seth Worby is c.e.o. and founder of Champ Internet Solutions, a full-service digital marketing agency that designs websites and provides digital marketing services for restaurant groups, high-end restaurant chains and food incubators.