How to build a good restaurant web site

The typical restaurant web site, I've found, is completely useless and a waste of money. Here's a short list why:

  • Most of them are 100% Flash. Nobody who owns a smart phone can view them. At all. So if I'm on the road and want to know whether your restaurant is open, I can't see that, just because you wanted a photo slideshow with crossfades.
  • Most of them are missing the opening hours and/or the address. Those that have them often hide them in lots of prose. Someone on the road with their phone will want to know that information first.
  • Most of them are missing the menus. While some of them have the permanent menu, particularly the daily lunch deals or weekly changing menus are why a prospective customer might come back to your web site.

Of course, everyone can moan and complain, so here's my short and sweet summary of how to make a
good web site for a restaurant:

  • Put the following on your front page: Your address (including the city and country, this is the internet, after all!), your opening hours, and a tag line like "Greek taverna" or "Italian kitchen" or "exclusive 4-course dining in separés" or something else that helps a first-time visitor immediately get an idea of your restaurant. And no, your address as the "legally responsible party" on your web site's imprint page doesn't count. That could be an office building for a restaurant chain. Make sure it's clear where to go. Put a small picture of your front entrance on there so they recognize it.
  • Don't use Flash. People on cell phones can't see Flash, they just get a lego brick icon and that's it. If someone is in your general area and wants to know where to go, they will call up your site on their smart phone to check the opening hours. Make it easy for them. You're wasting money if half your interested customers can't see your site.
  • Put your daily menu and specials on the site. This is easier than it sounds. You don't have to pay a web designer every time. Pay them to make you one editable page where you can just log in with a password and edit the text from any browser. You probably already type up the daily menu and print it every day. Just copy it over there, click "Save" and anyone on the internet (potential customers sitting at work thinking where to go for lunch together, for instance) can immediately see what you have to offer. Your permanent menu is nice, but people who've been at your place a couple times probably have a general idea what's on it already. The specials change daily or weekly, everyone has to look those up.
  • Bonus points: Include a phone number (or even better, a web form) where people can make reservations. Ideally they'd be hooked up to your reservation system and immediately give feedback. Otherwise, make sure you check your e-mail often and confirm reservations in a timely manner. If you want to provide prose or an image gallery, put them on extra pages, so cell phone visitors don't have to download all of that over a mobile connection. And finally: Pay for a professional web designer and professional photographer. It will show in the end result.
That's my short list of how to make a good, useful restaurant web site. I hope it will help restaurant owners get the right thing from their web designers.