I see a lot of restaurant websites. I spend ages looking for restaurants where my wife can get a decent meal that caters to her vegan diet. I search Google Maps for nearby bars when I’m in a new city.
And as the developer of WordPress themes and plugins for restaurants, I spend a lot of time thinking about what makes so many of these restaurant websites terrible.
I’ve found it comes down to five simple questions a visitor has when they arrive on your site.
What’s it like inside?
You need to have photos and they need to be great. Even the coolest, trendiest designer won’t save you if you don’t have professional photographs of your restaurant.
Here’s a popular meze bar near me.
Their website sticks closely to their brand, which is a good move. But I don’t get any sense of what the place is like inside. They’ve spent all that money designing their interior for a reason, and then not even shown it off.
Here’s another one, from a popular American-style cafe.
They’ve taken pictures, but they didn’t hire a professional. As a result, their strips of bacon, no doubt mouth-watering when you’re sat in front of them, have come out looking a little tired.
Avoid: Photographs taken on your phone or in poor lighting. Food is very difficult to photograph well.
How: You should always hire a professional. It’s worth the money.
Are you open?
Are you open right now? Are you open tomorrow? How early do you open on Sundays?
Please tell me.
A new pub opened up down the road from me a couple years ago. This is their entire website.
Looks great. At first I thought it was just a placeholder site. But years later this is still all there is. No menu, no information about what kind of food they provide and no opening hours.
I’ve since learned that their concept is street food from around the world. A great concept. I would have popped in months earlier if I’d known they served lunch during the week, or that they’re open early on Sundays!
Avoid: Make sure your restaurant provides opening hours so that people can pop by unexpectedly and on short notice.
How: Often I see websites use the Text Widget that comes with WordPress to add opening hours to their site. That works fine. If you want something a bit easier, try my Business Profile plugin.
Do you serve what I’m looking for?
A couple years ago, PDF menus would have been at the top of the list of restaurant website offences. But to be honest, I don’t see them that often any more.
Nice work everyone.
What I do see often is large menus that are either broken up too much or not enough.
Menus are tough to pull off online. In-house, you’ll invest a lot of care and attention in the design and layout of your printed menu.
When that gets moved online, you can’t control whether someone’s looking at it on their phone or on a big monitor. But you still need to make a menu that’s easy to browse — even more so because, when a visitor has come to your website, they’re not yet committed to dining with you.
Here’s an example of a famous old pub not too far from me.
They’ve organized their menu into sections and you have to click to open each section. That can be a great approach for large menus.
But in their case, it means I have to click just to read a few items, then click again. If I’m scanning for something specific, it can break my flow. And if I’m in a hurry to pick a place to meet some friends, I might move on to the next restaurant.
To flip things around, this approach can work well for restaurants with very large menus. Here’s a great Persian restaurant near me, with a large menu of mezzes and dips.
In this case, I think they made the right decision. Each page has a dozen or more items on it. So although it does require a bit of clicking around, it makes it easier to narrow in on what I’m looking for without browsing through a list of a hundred or more items.
Avoid: Break up large menus into different pages. But if you’ve only got 20-30 items, it’s easier for users to scroll down than to click to another page.
How: There are a bunch of restaurant menu management plugins available. But of course I’m partial to my own, Food and Drinks Menu, which makes it easy to pull together multiple menus, each with as many different sections as you’d like.
Are you nearby?
The most under-appreciated aspect of SEO for restaurants is local SEO.
But local SEO is a little different.
Local SEO is what happens when Google decides that someone’s search is for something in a particular place. Not just “Thai restaurants”, but “Thai restaurants in New York”. Or “Thai restaurants in Brooklyn”.
Maybe you already see why this is so important for restaurants. Every Google search for a restaurant is a local search.
When a search is local, Google will actually map the results. It will not only tell the searcher what Thai restaurants exist in the area. It will show them how close they are, when they’re open, and what their phone number is.
Google’s pretty good at figuring out where restaurants are. To get this information, it’s bought business directories and scraped websites for years.
But that won’t help you if your restaurant is new. Or if you’ve recently moved locations. You need to make sure Google knows where you are. And for that you need rich snippets.
This is a term used for specific markup that Google — and other search engines — can read that let’s them know not just what the content is, but what it’s about. It says, this is a restaurant and this is it’s address and this is it’s phone number.
Avoid: Don’t be missing from Google maps. A huge number of searches for restaurants end up right there.
Can I find all of this out on my phone?
By now, a “responsive website” has become such a common request that it should just be an acknowledged part of what a website is for. But I still see restaurant websites all the time that can’t be used easily on a phone!
You remember the last part, where we talked about local searches? Where do you think most of those local searches are coming from?
They’re coming from people on their phones. People on the bus home from work. Walking into town for a night out. Looking for a quick bite to eat near their office.
People are searching for restaurants — and finding them — on their phone. If you’re not making that easy, your competitors are and you’re losing business.
Avoid: Your website needs to be easy to use on a small phone. Period.
How: If your site’s not responsive by now, you probably haven’t updated your website in a while. It’s time to put that on the todo list.