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Restaurant websites: A usability review

It’s been nearly two weeks since our last post and we are not proud of it! Even though there are a few of us on this blog, it just happens that sometimes life gets in the way and we’re all busy with with work, travelling or working while travelling. The good news is, we’re all back and will hopefully continue to pump out more great content for you to read. To kick things off, today’s post will be a little bit different, it’s still about food but more about restaurant websites and what makes a good one and a bad one.

Part of what I do at work is to analyse the usability and user experience of web experiences. This involves conducting in-depth usability analysis on not just the aesthetics of a website or user interface, but also the process and flow on how a particular function is performed or how information is retrieved and displayed. Or in normal speak – I look at websites and figure out how to make them work good.

I’ve seen my fair share of good and bad restaurant websites, and I’m sure you have as well. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to find out information about a restaurant, whether it be the address or tonight’s menu only to find it hidden away deep in the menu or in a forced PDF download. I’m perplexed at just how frustrating it is to use restaurant websites.

So it got me thinking, what constitutes a good restaurant website? What are the key things it needs to do? What information should it display? Should a restaurant even care? As long as the food is good who cares? I don’t have time to work on a fancy website, I have great food to make!

Regardless of what the answers are to those questions, I still believe that a good website can be key to a potential customer’s decision-making process. Who knows, it could be the little changes you make to your restaurant website that might turn you from zero to hero on a Friday night when a group of people are looking for a place to wine and dine.

Common restaurant website pain points

I’ve come up with a list of common pain points I’ve noticed on a sample of restaurant websites.

Lack of mobile web compatibility



The biggest culprits are flash-based or image heavy designs. Whilst using Flash may be a win on the eyes, you are alienating a significant amount of phone users (iPhone). Whether you love or hate Stephen Jobs, iPhones count for 25% of the market share, just behind Android on 26% and that’s not even taking into account the number of people on the iPad. While Flash does work on other mobile platforms such as Android and Windows Mobile, loading a Flash animation or movie which is not optimised for a mobile device will be time consuming to load especially on slow 3G networks.

Avoid barriers which contribute to a possible poor customer experience. It’s time to use HTML5, CSS3, jQuery the latest trends in web design to provide content rich web experiences which are platform independent, in other words working on all devices and browsers.

Poor placement of key restaurant information

I’ve lost track at the number of times where I need to click-through multiple website sections and then having to scan through a another section just to find out basic restaurant information. Information such as contact numbers, opening hours and menus shouldn’t require an easter egg hunt to be found.

Outdated menus and the PDF menu

As a potential diner, the menu on a restaurant website is in my top two requirements for a good user experience. I’ve noticed a few times that the menu listed is a ‘Sample’ menu, which is fine as menu’s change on a regular basis in some restaurants. However it’s a bit of poor form if it’s Summer and you are still displaying the Winter menu on the website.

Also, while PDF menus can be easier to generate and print off, they’re an additional click and download between your food and your customers. It doesn’t hurt to provide a nicely formatted menu which people can quickly scan through on the website.

Update: Fair comment from Robert Candelori regarding the costs and difficulty of updating a menu on the website. With this in mind, you can get around these difficulties by having your website built around a web content management system. Examples include WordPress, Drupal, Joomla and Cushy. The advantage? You can update static content yourself and much more.

The nice to have’s on a good restaurant website

Provide critical information up front

As a consumer I expect the following information to be displayed on the front page of the website:

  • Opening days and hours
  • Contact numbers
  • Email address
  • Location of the restaurant with a link to Google Maps
  • Links to the restaurant menu, both on the website and to a printable PDF.

Provide all the most common search information upfront, don’t make the user search for the information. The more steps it takes for a user to find information, the more likely they are to give up and leave the website

Be one step ahead

Front page of www.perama.com.au

Anticipate what other information people would like to see, it saves them from phoning up and potentially not getting through to your restaurant because your front of house is busy.

  • Menu: Specify which dishes are Vegetarian friendly or might contain ingredients which relate to common allergies. Provide a last updated date, it’s always nice to know that what is shown on a website is what is served at the restaurant. Also when linking the PDF menu, make a note that is a PDF file and have the file size in brackets. State upfront the formation of the menu, if it’s in PDF put (PDF and file size) in brackets. Have all your bases covered, have a simple HTML menu as well.
  • Location: Provide a link to Google Maps, also provide parking advice and instructions if parking might be an issue in the area. Public transport information would also be a nice to have.
  • Social media: Getting involved in Social Media is not for everyone, but there is no doubt that it has its advantages. Having a Facebook Page or Twitter account to facilitate two-way communication is a great way of interacting with existing and potential customers. It can also be used to drive traffic and attention to a restaurant website.
  • Branding: Be consistent with branding. If using a particular font or logo for your branding use it on your website. Allow the customer to make a connection between your site and the restaurant signage. Put a picture of the entrance of your restaurant on the site, make it easier to find.

Be useful and convenient

Remove things from the front page which don’t add value or distract the experience. As mentioned previously I goto a restaurant website usually for a few things; opening hours/location/contact number/menu. Having a video on the front page or music playing in the background is distracting and consumes unnecessary space on the front page.

Less is more

It all comes down to providing only the most critical information on the front page and then having a structured information hierarchy to direct users to other parts of the site. Things like a restaurant blog and restaurant history should have their own sections on the site and not take up space on the front page, first impressions count.

I’m not an expert

These are just general observations of mine and what I think would make a great restaurant website. It’s all about making information easily accessible, everyone just seems so ‘busy’ these days and we want information right away, if not “yesterday”.

Quite happy to see what you guys think about this topic, leave a comment with your thoughts. Also, what restaurant websites have you seen lately which provide a good user experience?

Good website designs

I also think this comic by The Oatmeal sums up the context of my post: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/restaurant_website

Comments

  1. Reemski says:

    Howard! You’re a legend! This is exactly the issues restaurants need to deal with to improve their sites

  2. can I just add – No flash please… why would a restuarant need a flash site? Poor SEO, can’t view on phones, annoying coz all I want is the basic info and the menu. Also no MUSIC please!! OMG…what a turn off.

  3. Lil says:

    Agreed. It’s annoying when I go to a website and they don’t even provide a menu with pricing.

  4. Steph says:

    Hahaha I immediately thought of that comic from The Oatmeal when I started reading this post. It’s not just restaurant sites, I’ve found a lot of sites for Australian stores in general suffer from the same problems. People really need to get over flash-based websites.

  5. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Howard and Jess Nichols, sydneyfoodtweets. sydneyfoodtweets said: http://bit.ly/len9p Restaurant websites: A usability review – eatshowandtell: Who Are We? 5 friends from Sydney … http://bit.ly/f2yD6d [...]

  6. Fiona says:

    I prefer a full current menu to decide if there will be dishes on there that are edible for those with allegies/intolerances.

  7. OohLookBel says:

    Good points – you must be psychic – or just good at your job! Can I add: keeping the website up-to-date is also important; nothing worse than reading about an upcoming Christmas in July event when it’s October. Of course, restaurants need to follow up with good service and booking systems, too. quay.com.au has a nice site.

  8. Some good points.

    I disagree on PDFs – I think they’re a good solution to use as the main format for menus. Getting a web developer to transcribe a menu and update it regularly is an expensive and unnecessary cost when you can simply upload a new menu via PDF in seconds.

    But, that said, happy for you to provide honest feedback on my family’s restaurant website: http://candeloris.com.au – I built it myself.

    1. Howard says:

      Hi Robert. It depends on how your website is designed and the back end system it sits on. Ideally, a website would be built off a content management system so that tasks such as updating a food menu would be easy to do without the need to consult a web developer.

  9. Gaby says:

    Great post! Updated menus, easy to find address & opening hours, and special conditions (BYO, public holiday surcharges, etc) are critical IMO.

  10. Interesting article. Flash on a website is damn annoying as is not displaying opening hours. Gaby mentioned public holiday surcharges. Let’s remember that such charges are now illegal

  11. Great posts, I use the net to research the restaurant all the time… and I’m sure others do too. Athough I’m torn because I can imagine a small restaurant in the ‘burbs who serve wonderful, authentic food can’t probably provide a very extensive web presence.

    Great food for thought.

  12. Great points. I agree with you – Video, sounds, flash etc are unnecessary. All I need is location, opening hours and contact number upfront!!

  13. Very salient post. I hate it when restaurant websites have old menus. I remember Bilson’s was a particularly bad culprit with a two-year-old menu last year.

  14. Awesome awesome post Howard and totally agree with all your points. My biggest irks are pdf menus especially when there’s one for EACH course. Seriously? Separate PDFs for entrees, mains, desserts?! And Flash is a definite no for me.

    I agree with Perama being one of the better examples. District Dining is also the best – no gimmicks, minimal and all the menus on one easy-to-read page! Hallelujah!

  15. Onur says:

    I’m a designer in a restaurant marketing firm. I designed more than 100 restaurant websites, and I totally agree with your points. Great article! However, I agree with Robert regarding to pdf menus. Our clients prefer pdf format rather than an html version because they can change the pdf menus faster than html which is a big deal for my clients, and also a cheaper solution.

    I also don’t prefer content management system, because it is limited regarding to design perspective. Here is an example of a client website http://www.mymoonnyc.com, there is no way we can do this design using wordpress.

    Most of the browsers support pdf files, it means you can view pdf files without downloading. That’s another plus for pdf files.

    To be able to promote different menus, we separate pdf menus. A good example would be http://www.ayzanyc.com. We want to promote Chocolate Martinis, so we create a separate menu and to be honest it works.

    Again, great article.

    1. You’ve highlighted a good point about content management systems, Onur. While I’m by no means a professional web developer, I do have an idea about good design. Attractive, appealing designs are just not possible with a CMS backend. It’s very limiting unless you want the site to be something akin to a blog. I’ve investigated many, from Joomla to Squarespace and none of them were flexible enough for the needs of our restaurant’s website.

      Also, when you’re running a restaurant, you don’t have a lot of time to be faffing about with a CMS anyway – it’s easier and quicker to simply make any changes in Word (or whichever document app you use) and save as a PDF and upload to the site. PDF is so ubiquitous that there is really no downside. Furthermore, PDF is search engine friendly as well, unlike Flash.

      To Howard: thanks again for a really interesting article – as someone in the industry, this is an excellent site as well.

  16. Nice work Howard! I agree, flash is so very painful, and it’s always staggering that basic details like address and phone number are often so hard to find!

  17. Holly says:

    Great article…I think restaurants are slowly coming around to see the importance of current content, mobile and social media. Let’s hope!

  18. Andrew says:

    Great post! I think you pointed out some key elements that lead a restaurant to having a poor website. A couple things that I liked where the lack of support for mobile phones and the outdated or PDF menu. I look at restaurant websites on my phone almost every time I eat out. If I can’t find there phone number to call or see a menu to see what I will be eating, I wont go there. Please update your menu restaurants! I can’t stand the feeling of looking forward to eating an item I saw on the websites menu and it not even on the menu when I get there! There are services out there that make it easy as pie to edit and maintain your restaurants website!