US Foods® Restaurant Operations Consultant (ROC) Laura Kron talks with the team at BentoBox about the importance of good restaurant website design, what makes a great website, and how to best optimize your site so that it does its job – inform and attract diners. Read on to find out what she learned from these website experts’ insights and know-how.
Q: At US Foods, we’re really pushing the importance of independent restaurant websites right now, and as our CHECK® Business Tools partner in restaurant websites, you’re an expert on the subject. I want to hear from you: why is it so crucial for restaurants to have websites to succeed in 2019 and beyond?
A: The website is a restaurant’s front door to the world. It’s often a restaurant customer’s first impression. Eighty-nine percent of customers research a restaurant online before dining out, so it’s important to control what they see – and make sure the information (address, hours of operation, menu, contact information) is accurate. A website is the only place online that a restaurant has complete ownership over their brand, customer relationship, and revenue.
At BentoBox, we know that restaurant owners are busy running restaurants, not building and managing websites. By being 100% hospitality-focused, our platform is tailored to support the restaurant’s needs. Plus, it is easy to use, too. Our goal is for customers to have the same experience online as they would in the restaurant’s brick-and-mortar – with the focus of converting website visitors into paying customers.
Q: What are some of the key elements that all successful restaurant websites have? Do you have specific examples from some restaurant websites?
A: The most successful websites mirror the physical restaurant space. The online experience comes to life with unique design and beautiful high-resolution photography that represents the experience and vibe of the restaurant. The best restaurant websites are mobile-optimized and make it easy for the customer to find the information they need. The restaurant address, contact information, and reservations should be on the homepage – or one click away.
Also, it’s important that a restaurant website meets digital accessibility guidelines, especially as restaurants of all sizes are facing ADA lawsuits. BentoBox’s website platform has been certified accessible by Accessible360, a leading digital accessibility consultant.
Two of our favorite restaurant websites are the Alchemy in Ohio and The Original Red Onion in California. Both websites have a clear design aesthetic and uniquely represent the brick-and-mortar experience online. Another successful restaurant is The Busy Bee in Atlanta. It has an easy-to-navigate catering and merchandising store. Plus, all three restaurant websites make us very, very hungry!
Q: What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve seen on restaurant websites? And how can those mistakes be corrected?
A: We notice when a restaurant website is missing information, not accurate or hard to read. Customers are coming to your restaurant website for information like your location, hours, menu, or the best way to get in touch with you. We recommend including key information on the homepage or in an easy-to-find place on your restaurant website. Also, all information should be accurate. The restaurant website should have an easy-to-use backend.
Another mistake is including PDF menus on your restaurant website. PDF menus are slow to load, particularly on mobile devices, and are challenging to update. Plus, they lead to poor Search Engine Optimization (SEO) results. With BentoBox, we create text-based menus that are quicker to load, easier to read on mobile, and allow the restaurants to easily update without a designer.
Q: Let’s get technical for a second. I know search engine optimization is key, but many operators don’t have those kinds of web skills on their team. Can you provide a high-level overview of what SEO is, and any quick tips to get ahead and show up in local search results?
A: SEO values good websites that are created and optimized for people, not machines. Google, the biggest search engine, emphasizes that each website should have a specific purpose and fulfill its purpose, to the best of its abilities.
For restaurant websites, that means providing users with the information they expect to see – like address, hours, menu, contact information, reservations, and events formatted in a clear and easy-to-access manner. The goal is always to be as direct, clear, and useful as possible.
At BentoBox, we prioritize SEO, so you don’t have to worry about it. Our websites are built using structured HTML data that search engines understand and include descriptive page titles, copy and URLs – all of which improve a restaurant’s rankings. BentoBox websites also get a boost, as they are optimized for speed, performance, and mobile. We make sure your website has the right keywords and information to rank highest in organic searches. You can read about BentoBox’s SEO approach here.
Q: Mobile optimization is another big challenge many restaurant websites have. The page may look great on a laptop, but can be tiny and hard-to-navigate when viewing it on a smartphone. Why is mobile optimization so important for restaurant websites – and how can restaurant operators ensure their websites are responsive?
A: Almost 60% of customers visit a restaurant website from their mobile devices. It’s extremely important that your restaurant website is responsive to different devices, and loads quickly regardless of connectivity. A poor mobile experience leads to lost customers – and ultimately less revenue. Mobile optimization is also crucial for SEO, which helps potential customers find you. We’ll talk about SEO more in a bit. All BentoBox websites are 100% responsive and mobile-optimized to boost SEO, and create a better user experience.
Q: The visual aspect is also important for a restaurant’s website – so let’s talk about photography. Every restaurant wants to put their best foot forward online, but may not have great photography equipment. What are your top tips for great photography on limited budget, time and resources?
A: Photography is incredibly important for a restaurant website, as it tells a visual story. We believe that quality comes first – and hiring a professional photographer is well worth the investment. The images on a restaurant website should accurately reflect the quality of the restaurant’s food, service, and hospitality.
If a restaurant has a limited budget, then we recommend hiring a student or aspiring professional to take the photos in exchange for a free meal, discount, or class credit. One tip is to look at the restaurant’s Instagram location to see who has been taking high-quality food photos. The restaurant can then reach out and see if they want to take photos for the restaurant website in exchange for a photo credit and a free meal. It’s a win-win.
Lastly, more is less. The restaurant website should have meaningful photography that tells a story. It is better to have a few beautiful images that represent the feel of the restaurant than several low-quality images that take up extra space.
Q: Lastly, can you give me your top 10 must-do best practices for building a restaurant website?
1. Text-based HTML menus that are easy to update, load quickly, and support SEO
2. Use photography with landscape orientation to ensure images are fully viewable
3. Sticky navigation that is clearly labeled
4. Reservations and online ordering are one click away
5. Address and phone number are visible on every page
6. Built responsively and adapts for devices
7. Prominent alerts that communicate timely information, like specials or holiday hours
8. Always open with eCommerce – such as gift cards, merchandise, and catering
9. Add social media links and press coverage
10. Understand your website’s reporting and analytics
About BentoBox: BentoBox powers website design as part of CHECK® Business Tools. BentoBox offers a restaurant website builder, and develops websites exclusively for the restaurant industry. Creating a strong website for your restaurant can help convert visitors into paying customers, while saving your business time and money. Learn more about BentoBox by visiting website design in CHECK Business Tools.