Cristina Baez knew the website for her Spanish tapas spot, Ataula, in Portland, Oregon, was far from perfect when it launched in 2013.
Knowing the site was cluttered, text heavy and difficult to navigate, Baez let it serve as a placeholder while she focused on overseeing the food and service with her husband, Chef-owner Jose Chesa.
“It didn’t do a good job of showing guests what they could expect if they came to the restaurant,” she admits.
After debuting a fresh website last year with more photos, less text and simplified navigation, customers took notice. “We get a lot of people coming in and telling us that they decided to dine with us because of what they saw on our website,” Baez says.
A restaurant’s virtual presence is an essential extension of its brand, a fact often overlooked by operators even as 2018 approaches, says Brian Cotlove, head of business development for BentoBox, a New York company that helps restaurants improve their online presence.
“Restaurant owners work so hard to create a great guest experience, but the industry is doing a poor job of extending that experience to the digital realm,” says Cotlove.
Here are seven tips to create a better online experience for guests.
1. CHECK OUT DIY TEMPLATES
DIY website-builders like Go Daddy, Wix and Squarespace not only cost less than hiring a web developer, they offer preformulated templates designed specifically for restaurants. Depending on your selection, all you’ll need to do is upload your information.
Thinking Yelp or Facebook is enough to serve as your digital presence is a grave mistake, says Cotlove. “You have no control over what appears on these sites,” he says. “The menu might not be accurate, and the photos could be poor.”
2. MAKE IT MOBILE-FRIENDLY
Although the National Restaurant Association has found that 83 percent of diners look up locations, directions and hours on their smartphones or tablets, fewer than 5 percent of restaurants have mobile-friendly sites. According to Cotlove, that’s the “equivalent of putting a sign on the door that guests can’t read.”
Baez created a mobile site for Ataula during the redesign that includes basic information and a menu. “We kept (the mobile site) short and to the point,” she says.
3. DITCH THE PDFs
When Alex Konstantinidis opened Greek on Cary in Richmond, Virginia, in 2012, he uploaded a PDF of the printed menu to his website. Not only did guests have to squint to read the text, the menu was often outdated because uploading it was a pain. A 2017 website redesign swapped in HTML menus for the old PDFs, taking care of both problems.
“Now I can change one thing, like adding a special, without changing the entire menu,” he says.
4. USE A MIX OF PHOTOS
Photos tell a visitor more about the restaurant than written descriptions, so steer clear of stock photos or personal shots and hire a professional photographer. Experiment with different photographic styles. Overhead shots of a chef preparing signature dishes can be just as effective as close-ups of the food, but Cotlove recommends a good mix of food, atmosphere, staff and guests.
5. ADVERTISE EXTRAS
Include links for private events and catering services. Cotlove says some BentoBox clients experienced 20 percent increases in revenues when these features were added. “Rather than a catering director taking calls from 9-to-5, orders and inquiries can come in 24/7,” he says.
6. FOCUS ON SEO
Catering inquiries at Greek on Cary tripled since Konstantinidis launched his new website earlier this year. The reason? Search engine optimization. Hiring an SEO expert to optimize your site might not be cheap, but it’s a proven way to show up more frequently in search engines, which drives traffic to your site.
7. KEEP IN TOUCH
Including links to social media accounts like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook is a given for any restaurant website. Adding an email or newsletter sign-up keeps the lines of communication open with customers for sharing information about special events or new menu offerings, thus ensuring repeat visits and higher sales.