Best Practices and Tips for Restaurant Web Design

Whether you’re an entrepreneur opening your first restaurant or a seasoned business owner with many years of experience in the restaurant industry, you face many challenges. Among the most important of these challenges is your restaurant’s website. A strong web design can help a restaurant market itself more effectively. It can help convert visitors who find the restaurant by searching, for example, on Yelp, shopping for a deal through Groupon, or searching on Google or Bing.

Today, we’ll review 10 web design marketing best practices and tips for restaurant web design. Whether you leverage crowdSPRING’s community to build or update your restaurant’s website, work with a freelance designer or design firm, or create a design yourself, you might find the following 10 tips useful:

1. Keep the restaurant web design simple and fresh.

Your restaurant’s homepage is typically the most important part of your website. Your potential customers will first see this when they visit your website, and it is often the link listed on various directories like Yelp. Because most restaurant sites have fewer than 10 pages, the homepage is also an important anchor for your overall site.

Think about your potential customers. What are they most interested in finding on your site?

Most potential customers visit your restaurant to find hours of operation, phone numbers for reservations, and directions (put a map on your directions page and make it easy for users to get directions right on your page – here is an easy way to add a map), and a full menu (with prices). If you have several menus, list all of them. Ensure those items are clearly labeled and easily accessible on your homepage – most visitors are not patient enough to play hide and seek on your site. Most are visiting your site to look for your menu or phone number.

Consider including your hours and phone number on every page of your site.

Also – if you have a kid’s menu and welcome kids, make that clear on your site and make the kid’s menu available. I can tell you from personal experience (I have three kids) that this is important for parents looking for a meal with their kids.

Remember, too, that many customers will find your restaurant’s homepage after reading reviews, so keep the content on your homepage focused and short. People typically read only 28% of the words during an average visit, so don’t overload your homepage with much text.

Tip: Make your menu available as text, not as a downloadable PDF. Users don’t like downloading files, and many will be accessing your site without the ability to view PDS. Make a PDF available in addition to the text menu if you want. You can also use a QR code menu.

Tip 2: Here are some good examples of fresh restaurant website designs. Some more examples here.

Tip 3. Connect a reservation and table management system like Eat App to your website to take 24/7 real-time bookings online.

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2. Pay attention to colors. Color produces an emotional response in people – and, importantly, different colors trigger different emotional responses. For example, red and orange are said to increase heartbeat and breathing. You’ll find red color on many restaurant websites (and inside many restaurants – including on table cloths).

Black generally correlates to a more upscale offering – it reflects elegance and sophistication. For a good read about colors and what they mean in different countries, I recommend you read: Colors in Web Design: Choosing a right combination for your Website.

Tip: Don’t overload your site with photos or graphics. Although it’s been said that a picture can say a thousand words, pictures can also confuse and diffuse attention. Pick a few good restaurant or food shots and feature those on the homepage. Make sure you show high-quality photos. Your photo with your iPhone at 11 pm won’t cut it.

3. Consider Performance. Don’t play music on your site. People hate it. Save the music for your restaurant.

Keep in mind that people are generally impatient when browsing websites, and slow load times do impact conversions (getting people to buy your products or services). If your site design is graphically intense, you must ensure you’ll have the hardware infrastructure and bandwidth to support the designs.

One option is to use a free restaurant website builder. For a small monthly fee, you can create your site, accept online payments, and secure other add-ons to help promote your restaurant.

Consider also that your visitors might be visiting from laptops and mobile phones. Avoid designing pages for a large monitor size or using more complex features such as flash animation or navigation (flash isn’t supported on the iPhone, for example). This is a very common problem for many restaurants. To appear more upscale and modern, many restaurants chose to implement flash-based websites, and while some of them are nice, they simply don’t work in many mobile phone environments. Another reason not to use flash. I can’t stress that enough!

4. Emphasize discounts and special events.

If your restaurant runs promotions or has special events, make that clear on the homepage.  Although your visitors might be looking for a place to eat today, it helps to let them know that you’ll have special events in the future, too – that way, you might turn a casual browser into a regular customer.

Tip: Keep the discount/special event content fresh. Remove the event or discount from your site if it has already passed. Modern content management systems (like WordPress) make it easy to manage such content.

5. Organize your site to provide a better user experience.

Search engines prefer websites that are properly organized.  This is important because you want your restaurant to appear in people’s search results when they search on Google or Bing. Remember that you’re not just designing for search engines – people also prefer good organization. Have a strong navigation menu telling users (and search engines) how to navigate your site.

For example, can visitors to your site easily make a reservation or order by phone? Is your phone number visible on the homepage?

Tip: Use bold and larger fonts to present key information or to stress things you want the readers to notice. Add text color to stress the most important information. Remember that most people will ignore content if the headline above the content doesn’t interest them – so don’t ignore good headlines (more on that in tip 6 below).

6. Content is important. You may already know that search engines index sites based on the quality of the content (and links). The more content on your site, the more attractive your site becomes for search engines (more about search engine optimization in tip 9 below).

People also like the content. Don’t ignore headlines – they can be powerful and mean the difference between a visitor reading the rest of the content and leaving your site.

People also like to see how your restaurant differs from others. For example, if you offer dietary considerations for gluten-free, kosher, diabetic, vegetarian, or vegan dieters, prominently mention this. Saying so will help with search engine results and will be very helpful if people look specifically for such information on your site.

Tip: Study your successful competitors. Look at their websites, site colors, brand voice, use of graphics and photos, and organization. You can also look at the sites of restaurants you admire around the country (or worldwide) to see how they present content for their visitors. For more information and tips for evaluating your competitors, I recommend you read Start-up tips: 10 Tips for Evaluating Your Competitors.

7. Understand the difference between design and development. You’ll need both designs for the site and development to build a website. Although some freelancers can do both, the skills for design and development are typically different, and you may want to leverage different people for each part of the job. Freelance web developers tend to specialize in frontend or backend work.

Frontend developers focus on the client side – what your users see when they visit your website. Backend developers usually focus on the interaction between the server and databases.

Backend developers often work on several things, including scripting to permit users to interact with the site, web server configuration, and developing e-commerce features like a payment system. Good freelance web developers are skilled in multiple areas, including web design, information architecture, usability engineering, web content management systems, web server administration, database administration, software engineering, project management, network security, and search engine optimization.

Tip: If you hire a freelance website designer and/or developer, you should look for at least three people (or shops) and ask them for detailed quotes. You should also remember to ask for a few examples of their prior work so that you can evaluate their style and experience.

8. Consider the domain but don’t obsess about it. Your domain will communicate important information to your visitors. First and foremost, you want your visitors to remember your restaurant’s name. If the site URL doesn’t contain the name or only a portion of the name, your visitors might become confused and think they’re on the wrong website. If you cannot find a URL that matches your small business name, you can consider changing the name or finding an alternative URL that includes the name – or one that complements the name.

Tip: Consider how the URLs on your site will look to search engines and people. Where you can (this is not difficult to do when you use content management systems – such as a WordPress blog), use natural-sounding names for your URLs and titles. For example, the How It Works page on the crowdSPRING site has the following easy-to-read ULR:

9. Don’t forget search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM). Like many other small businesses, restaurants’ efforts on one marketing initiative typically detract from others. Search engine optimization and search engine marketing are highly specialized fields and require a substantial investment of time to learn. But SEO and/or SEM campaigns can provide great leverage to restaurants and, as a result, should not be ignored. Although much of your traffic will come from review sites like Yelp, you can also find a lot of potential customers on local search engine searches. For a useful primer on small business search engine optimization and search engine marketing, you can read 10 Practical Small Business SEO and SEM Marketing Tips. For additional tips, I recommend PPC Tips for Small Business Owner and How To Leverage Rich Media SEO for Small Businesses.

10. Personality! People are attracted to restaurants with personality – so make your purpose, passion, and differences apparent. You don’t need to write 1000 words about the history of your restaurant – keep that content focused and make it fun and engaging.

If you run a restaurant or are thinking about starting one and have a question about web design best practices for restaurants – please ask in the comments.

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