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Top 10 Web Site Mistakes That Restaurants Make
By Jaime Oikle

Many independent restaurants miss out on the great opportunity that the Internet provides for their business by making costly blunders with their web sites. Let's take a look at ten common mistakes frequently encountered at restaurant web sites.



Hide and Seek

For some unknown reason, there are restaurant sites that hide their contact information. This really is lesson number one when building your website. Have your contact information in very easy places to find. Your full address and phone number should be on the top or bottom of every page. You should also have a special "Contact Us" page with more details including maps, directions, hours and other pertinent information. Hide and seek is a fun game when you are a kid, but not on a website.

What's on the Menu

Your menu is the number one thing that customers look for at a restaurant web site. Are you taking full advantage of posting your menu online? Is it the full menu with appetizers through desserts? Do you include your wine list? What about beer and specialty drinks, and even the kids menu? Prices should be included and there should be a printable version of the menu available as well, perhaps in a PDF format. Exceed your web site customer's expectations by posting the most effective menu presentation possible.

Lack of Photography

Nothing else can convey the brand image of your restaurant better on your site than quality photography. There is no reason for your web site not to have a variety of beautiful four-color photographs especially since there are no real size constraints with a website like there are in traditional advertising. Photos of your food, your interior and exterior, as well as your people can make a major impact.

Who Works in Your Restaurant?

Time and again, I encounter restaurant sites with no evidence that any real people work there. This is amazing to me because your people are your restaurant. Show them off - especially for independents because this is an opportunity to differentiate yourself from the chains and highlight the brilliant and passionate people that make your restaurant special. Who's in the kitchen, the front of house, and who are the owners. Include pictures and bios of as many people as possible. This makes a difference.

Hello?

You've got to think of your website much like the telephone at your host stand. Your goal may be to answer every call within two rings. Likewise, your goal should be to answer every email inquiry that comes into your restaurant within 24 hours (or sooner). Emails, like phone calls are business leads, and customers taking the time to email are serious about contacting your restaurant. Respect this and take advantage of prompt follow-up to win business. Is someone dedicated to responding to incoming email messages? If not, go disconnect your phone as well -it's really the same thing.

No Email Communication

If your restaurant is not using email to communicate with customers, then you are missing out on a big opportunity to promote your business and build a loyal customer base. At minimum, you should have a form on your site for customers to sign up for a newsletter or event information. Follow up with regular, timely emails to your list. This is perhaps where many restaurants stumble, yet this is precisely where the most opportunity exists. Contacting your customers on a regular basis with information that they have requested is one of the smartest marketing moves that you can make.

Happy Valentine's Day

This may be a big event for your restaurant with a special menu, music and maybe even flowers. I don't want to read about it in April though! Your Events or What's New page needs to be fresh and relevant. This area of your site should be a tool to actively promote your restaurant and drive business in, and having old information here is a web site sin. This is one of the easiest mistakes to avoid, so don't let it happen to you.

Design and Brand Disconnect

Upscale food, but low scale graphics and site design. It happens all the time on the web. Your cousin's friend could build your web site 10 years ago, but not today. Your web site is an extension of your brand, and if your brand concept is an upscale French bistro, then it is important that your site accurately captures that feeling. Likewise, if you have an irreverent and fun BBQ joint, then that personality needs to come through in your restaurant's site as well. In simple terms, make sure that your web site creates the correct expectation of the dining experience.

Not For Sale

Your restaurant's web site should sell for you 24/7 with no breaks. Many restaurant sites make the mistake of solely being a content site - i.e. name, menu, phone number. The best restaurant web sites look at their Internet program as an integrated marketing and sales tool. They do things like take reservations, sell merchandise, help book private parties and catering, and promote gift cards. Is your site selling for you? If not, then you've got some work to do.

Now Hiring

Throwing a big bright orange "Now Hiring" sign in your front window can be a bit tacky for sure. Having an Employment Opportunities section on your website is not tacky in the least. Take advantage of your website to spread the word about what a terrific place your restaurant is to work by posting open positions with detailed job descriptions. Build an online job application form, and include information of how prospective employees can best submit their information. While there are many recruiting tools and strategies available, ignoring your own restaurant web site as a source of leads is a foolish mistake.

An effective Internet program should be a key element of a restaurant's marketing budget and strategy. A strong Internet program can boost sales while helping to lower promotional costs. It should also help increase customer loyalty and retention as well as be a tool to drive first time trial.

If you are looking for strategies to incrementally increase your business, then take a good look at your web site to ensure that you are not committing any of these web site sins. These ten mistakes are all easily avoidable and must be reconciled in order for a restaurant to successfully capture business from its Internet efforts.

Jaime Oikle is the Owner & Founder of Running Restaurants, an online membership site for restaurant owners and managers dedicated to providing restaurant marketing, customer service and operational resources for restaurants to thrive.





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