Food for thought for Restaurateurs...
The National Restaurant Association found that well over 50% of all restaurant customers will visit that restaurant's website before they dine there for the first time.
Staggering. And that poll is already several years old.
And the importance of a website certainly isn't diminishing, it is only increasing. While hundreds of thousands of restaurants around the world now have some form of online presence, many are still in the old era of static 'brochure-ware' websites. Anywhere from tens of thousands to a million dollars or more may have been spent on your restaurant's ambiance, but 40% of your restaurant's potential guests are making a go/don't-go decision based on yesterday's El Cheapo website.
I'm routinely shocked at how many Restaurateurs actually brag about how little they spent on their website or glow with pride (like a proud parent of their child's finger painting now on the home refrigerator) that their nephew was able to build their site over the weekend for $50 and some gift cards (I refer to this as "nephew marketing" -- and please note that my comments are cautionary in nature -not derogatory- this isn't an area of your business that should be left to novices or relegated to the interns because it's some how less important in the grand scheme of marketing your restaurant and putting butts in seats).
Effective restaurant Internet marketing isn't about how much was spent. The point is that an effective web strategy shouldn't be some afterthought or the type of thing one can put off because it's not as understandable as other parts of the business or not a glaring red light on the executive dashboard. The point is that if you and your organization are serious about competing in the restaurant industry of tomorrow, you either must know this stuff or bring on some people who do because it is not going away and it won't get any easier to understand or less important going forward.
Your website should be viewed as your "+1". Meaning, if you have one restaurant think of it as having a restaurant +1. If you have 5 restaurants, think of it as having 5 +1. The "+1" is your online location. It cannot be an afterthought. In fact, if you do happen to have multiple locations, your website is very likely the most important location of all of them you have (as it will host more guests, potential guests, media, investors, industry influencers, etc than any single one of your other locations).
You don't have to spend on it what a restaurant location costs (although some of the big chains spend that and more these days), but you do have to approach the design, construction, maintenance, and future planning of your online presence with the same level of detail you do with your physical location.
Think of it this way... It makes no sense to serve a $35 steak on a paper plate and give customers a plastic "spork" to eat it with. Likewise, it makes no sense to spend money on traditional advertising at the expense of your website. Dollar for dollar, Internet marketing almost always packs more punch today than traditional yester-year advertising.
A few must-have elements for any restaurant website include:
Mobile Site - Today there are more mobile phone users in the world than desktop PC users surfing the Internet. It is essential that your menu can be viewed from mobile devices. Have a full mobile compliance test run on your website to be sure it works across the various browser types. For instance, many websites still use Adobe Flash which isn't supported by many Apple devices like iPhones and iPads. This is important as they are two of the fastest selling products in human history and can't be ignored.
Menu - Your menu page is THE #1 viewed part of your website. Hands down. And to reiterate the point above, your menu should be viewable from a desktop computer -and- a mobile phone. But I wanted to add here another suggestion – make it easy to email a direct link to your menu. Many times, friends will want to suggest a restaurant and show a menu to get others excited. Some sites bury the menu in the site or have a URL address that is too long to either re-type or forward. Consider a sharing tool to make it easy for guests to email the link or post it to social networking sites (like Twitter and Facebook).
Social Media - Add your account links for Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. It is advisable to put these in the footer or global content area of the site so web savvy visitors don't have to search for them. Also, it is often advisable (depending who is managing the account) to put a "feed" of your social media on your website too (streaming your Twitter updates, for example). This helps cross-pollinate your accounts and engage with customers in prospective customers where they are already.
Full Address - A surprising number of restaurants list only the phone number or street address but doesn't say which city or state. By showing the full address, your website is more likely to get indexed in review sites, geo-search results, and various phone applications consumers use to find new restaurants.
Map & Directions - While many smart phones and mobile devices allow users to click an address on a web page and pull up separate directions, some Internet browsers do not. Therefore, to save visitors from re-typing your address into a separate mapping tool, set up your site so with just a few clicks they can see where you are located and get directions from where they are now. One of the best tools for this is Google Maps.
Site Updates & Blogging - You can cancel dependence on an outside web design firm or geek like me by using free blogging software as the backbone of your site -or- have your website developed where you can make changes to it. You'll still will want to have a professional (like me ;-) do the initial design, but let them know you want it set up on a platform that allows you to make your own changes or add blog posts.
Data Capture - Your guests want to hear from you. Help make it easy for them to stay in touch by offering a free newsletter or email list sign-up form on your website. Also do plenty of data capture off-line too (ie: check stuffers).
Optimized Landing Pages - You don't need to optimize every page of your site; just every page you want to be found easily. The more content you put on your site -and the more frequently you do it- the more hooks you have floating in the Internet ocean of prospective guests, employees, journalists, etc.
Always remember, your restaurant's website is the second most important piece of marketing collateral you have, second only to your menu. It must be viewed as an organic and evolving component of your brand rather than a static and abstract communication tool or advertising brochure. Again, think of it as your "+1" and have it managed just like the store-level is managed. Someone has to keep up with it and stay on top of it just like your restaurant's restrooms; only this restroom is on full display and not just every guest but every prospective guest enters through the restroom first.