Trying a restaurant for the first time can be a gamble for customers. It is up to you to convince potential diners that your restaurant and your food are top notch, and that begins with first impressions, including how consumers find your restaurant online. A number of factors influence that process and how would-be guests get information about your establishment and menu.
1. Word of mouth leads to online search
In a digital survey of food aficionados, nearly 50 percent of respondents said they seek information about where to eat from their trusted friends, family and coworkers. More than 80 percent went on to say they do additional online research after that first restaurant recommendation.
This particular study explained that customers take a complex journey before choosing a restaurant. Their journey consists of:
• a thorough review of the restaurant’s website
• visits to restaurant review sites
• tips from friends
• food blogs
• Google searches
Since dining outside the home is an activity shared by many people and talking about food is a natural part of everyday conversation, you can see how your customers’ search naturally flows onto the web.
Take action: Freshen up your restaurant’s website.
2. Mobile phone search on the rise
According to research firm Chadwick Martin Bailey, restaurants are the most-searched-for industry by consumers through mobile applications and browsers.
The firm polled nearly 1,500 people and found that more than 80 percent of them had searched for a restaurant on a mobile app and 92 percent had searched through a web browser during a six-month period. These searches outperformed other highly searched for industries such as retail, entertainment and hotels. What’s more, 75 percent of them say they choose a restaurant based on search results.
Other findings include:
• 80 percent of diners want to see a menu before they eat at a restaurant.
• iPhone users are doing the most restaurant searches.
• 84 percent of diners will look at more than one restaurant before choosing.
• 70 percent want to see the menu on their phone.
Take action: Invest in a mobile-friendly, responsive website. Your restaurant’s website should look as good on a desktop computer as on a phone or tablet.
3. Local search optimization is key
Local search is a proven marketing tactic because it puts your restaurant in front of diners at the moment they are actively searching for somewhere to eat.
We’ve already discovered that restaurants are the most searched for industry on mobile apps and mobile browsers. A Nielsen survey further validates this, showing that 90 percent of mobile search consumers convert the very same day, and 64 percent convert within one hour of their local search query.
To succeed at local search optimization, focus on a few of these tips:
• If you have more than one location, create a unique website page for each location.
• List your business with Google, Yahoo, Bing, Yelp, CitySearch and YellowBook.
• Concentrate on link building. Solicit reviews from local bloggers, put coupons on coupon sites and sponsor charity events.
Take action: Include local information on your website and sign up for Google+.
4. A professional website is critical
First and foremost, customers are heading to your restaurant’s website. Yet, even as recently as two years ago studies showed that fewer than half of independent restaurants did not have a website, and fewer than half of those with a website did not showcase their menu on it.
It’s important that you not only have a professional website, but a mobile-friendly site that is easily readable on all devices.
Consider these stats from a National Restaurant Association survey that tallied results from consumers ages 18–65+. They said they would likely use a smartphone or tablet for the following restaurant-related activities:
• 67 percent said they are likely to look up locations or directions.
• 52 percent said they are likely to order takeout or delivery online.
• 50 percent said they would use rewards or special deals.
• 46 percent would make a reservation.
• 42 percent would look up nutrition information.
Take action: The previous percentages increase dramatically in the 18-44 year old categories and those with children under the age of 18 at home. This study clearly represents the importance of a responsive, professional-looking website.
5. Menus are a must
Your menu is one of the most searched-for items on your website. The Chadwick Martin Bailey study found that 70 percent of diners want to see a restaurant’s menu online, and 62 percent said they would be less likely to choose a restaurant if they can’t read the menu online. That amounts to a lot of lost business.
Take action: Create an SEO-optimized menu that offers a good user experience.
Brian Casel is the founder of Restaurant Engine, a website design solution for restaurants.