If you’ve just opened the doors to your restaurant or are looking to reopen sometime soon, it’s going to take some time to attract more customers. You know that your potential customers are at home, hungry, and searching Google for a great place to eat.
But how do you reach them? How do you tell them that your restaurant exists and that it’s open and ready for business? With your website.
How to design a restaurant website
If you don’t have a website yet, you need one. And even if you have one, you might be missing key elements that your hungry customers expect to find. To help get more customers through your doors, here are ten things to consider when building your website.
1. Build your own or hire a developer
Before you dive into creating your website, there are some prerequisites you’ll need to address. The most important being, how much time and money you want to invest in the project.
How will you use your website?
To help make this decision, you need to first know how you intend to use your website.
Is it simply a landing page with information about your restaurant? A place to house an online menu? Or do you expect to do more with it?
Now the other half of this equation is considering what your potential customers expect to find. New or visiting customers will expect and require very different information compared to returning customers. And typically, you’ll need to do enough to cater to both of them.
The important thing is to identify your target customers who will interact with you online as you did when you first started your restaurant. What brought them in? What questions did they have or positive things did they mention after eating with you? You need to be able to replicate this experience and answer all those questions online to get these customers.
How much time and money are you willing to spend?
So you know why you want a website and who you’re customers are but you also need to know what type of investment you’re willing to make. It may be obvious that you need to upgrade your digital presence but you need to be sure you can afford it and that it fits into your company goals.
Review your financial statements and forecasts to determine where a new website fits into your budget. Then determine how much hands-on work you are willing to commit to. This combination can help you decide if you want to hire a developer or build your own site.
If you decide to create a website on your own, there are plenty of easy-to-use hosting sites such as Squarespace, Wix, and even restaurant-focused options such as JIMDO. These require no coding or design knowledge and instead give you clean, prepackaged design elements to utilize. If you’re willing to start from scratch and have a bit of development knowledge, you may be better off using a tool like WordPress to give you greater flexibility and control.
There’s really no right or wrong option here, and it all depends on what you can afford and handle. The best thing you can do is review your goals, finances, and determine what you intend to invest in your web project.
2. Pick a web domain
No matter the development path you take you’ll need to decide on a web domain for your site. This is the URL that represents your site, that pops up when customers search for your restaurant and will likely be placing on social media, business cards, etc. You want it to be short, memorable, and descriptive.
Typically, you want to include some variation of your business name. If you get too complicated or stray too far away from it, you may just end up confusing those searching for it. But before you get too attached, make sure you check that the domain name is actually available. You can do this through a domain registrar and typically will be able to through a site creation service like Wix and Squarespace.
3. Outline your pages
Even if you’re working with a designer, you need to know what pages you intend to include. Since you’re not an eCommerce platform or retailer, you probably don’t need specific product pages or categories. Typically for restaurants, simpler is better, and you want to sell the idea of a customer immediately eating your food before they consider searching for another option.
That first enticing impression and message must appear on your homepage. And when it comes to food, you want to do this visually. Leverage actual photographs of your menu items and place them front and center. This is another area you don’t want to skimp on, meaning it may be best to hire a professional to get those savory shots.
Aside from your homepage, you should have a contact, menu, and about us page. The rest of the site content is somewhat up to you. You may want a section to highlight employees, ingredient sourcing, your social channels, or even a blog. Start with the basics and be sure those elements are well-established, then think about adding more for your regular customers to explore after the fact.
4. Make necessary information easy to find
When looking at a website for a restaurant, there are typically five things that most people care about:
- Phone Number
- Specials / Happy Hour
- Address with a link to Google Maps
- Hours of Operation
- Current Menu
They ignore everything else on the website. Why? Because if they’re looking at a restaurant’s website, they’re hungry and want to find someplace to eat. Which means you should have all of this information sitting on your homepage.
Like we said before, you can have additional content and pages, but those elements should fit naturally in the background. Your restaurant website should focus on providing your customers with answers to their pressing questions. If they can’t get the details they need within a few seconds, they’ll start looking somewhere else.
5. Create an online menu
The need for a menu has already been mentioned a couple of times because you really need to have an online menu. But here’s the catch. It can’t just be a direct copy of your physical menu.
Now that doesn’t mean it can’t include everything actually on your menu. What we’re saying is you can’t just upload a pdf or image. That entirely defeats the purpose of having it online and doesn’t provide a high-quality customer experience.
This is where modern eCommerce directly affects your online presence. Customers expect an intuitive and informative online shopping experience. So when adding your menu, you want to replicate the best parts of looking in-person while making the process simple and easy.
How you actually implement your digital menu, somewhat depends on your overall site design. You can create a page that recreates an optimized version of your physical menu — clearly listing out every item, description, category, and price. Or, you can try and create a unique digital experience, and use collapsable tabs, additional images, and design elements that wouldn’t be possible offline. Look at other sites for inspiration and decide what best fits your brand and serves your customers.
6. Showcase your food
Having the right high-quality photos says a lot about your restaurant. It showcases the look, atmosphere, and of course the food. And really, you can have the most compelling descriptions, approachable prices, and convenient business hours, but it’s going to be the food that convinces them to walk in the door.
Along with having any vital information immediately available, you want any images you display to draw the customer in. So, your best shots should sit front and center on the homepage. From there, you can litter different images of the restaurant, employees, and more food throughout the rest of the site.
It may even be worth having images of every core entree, appetizer, and dessert available to preview within the menu itself. Just don’t overload the page if the design you chose doesn’t really support featuring so many images.
Speaking of support, you’ll want to be sure any images you use are optimized for the web. Uploading multiple full-size and uncompressed images can quickly hurt your page speed, and often aren’t friendly to mobile users. Depending on what you used to design your site, there are typically integrated tools or free add-ons to help you easily optimize your images.
7. Integrate online ordering and reservations
If you haven’t started offering online ordering or pickup due to recent events, now is a great time to do it. Not only is it super convenient for your customers, but it also streamlines your ordering process. You won’t have to deal with countless phone calls and can directly integrate digital orders with your current POS system.
Being able to order online also provides a greater return on investment for your website. Instead of prompting them to “come visit” or “call to order,” you can instead encourage them to “order now” right from the website. This makes any call to action you place unified and easy to act upon for the customer. You can even directly integrate ordering within your menu, making it that much more enticing to just add that juicy looking burger to their cart.
8. Connect your social media profiles
One of the greatest benefits of being online is having a connected presence. Your Google listing, website, and social media profiles can all showcase the same information in very different ways. But they can also be woven together to tell more of your brand’s story.
If you have social profiles, like Instagram or Facebook, already created the easiest thing you can do is add in links to those profiles somewhere on your website. However, if you have an active social presence or followers regularly posting photos of your food or restaurant, you may want to go a step further.
Featuring your own feeds or customer posts is a great way to showcase your brand. It humanizes your business and in some ways works as endorsements that potential customers can look through. This is not a requirement by any means, especially if you don’t currently utilize social media, but it presents a great opportunity for those that do.
9. Encourage users to subscribe
One of the greatest strengths of having a website is the ability to collect info from your customers. You get some of this through web analytics, which is useful for refining your site, but you can also get more intricate info through lead generation forms. These are simple prompts that ask for a name and email address typically in exchange for a coupon or some other beneficial resource.
The benefit for you, is that you now have a direct line of contact with your customers. You can send them promotions, event information, menu announcements and anything else that you think could be relevant. Like adding your social channels this isn’t a necessity, especially if you don’t currently run any email communications, but it is something worth considering.
10. Test and refine your SEO
Creating or redesigning a website isn’t a one-and-done process. In order for your site and business to stay relevant, you’ll need to keep it updated and maintained.
The simplest piece of this is just keeping any restaurant info, menu items and imagery up to date. The more complicated piece, is maintaining the health of your site and optimizing it to bring in more traffic.
Now this isn’t something you need to have a full grasp of right away. It’s going to take plenty of trial and error, text and page title adjustments and a number of other factors to keep refining your site. The best thing you can do at the beginning, is look at what your competitors or bigger companies in your industry are doing.
What does their site look like? What questions or terms do they pop up for when you search? Then compare the state of your current site and try to replicate aspects that you think are bringing them success. It’s simultaneously a scientific and intuitive process that will take some practice. To help you get started, check out this article for specific tools and steps that can help you out.
Use your website to its’ fullest potential
Building a website can be a technical, creative and time-consuming process. But once you have it up and running, it can be an incredibly valuable tool for bringing in new customers. Just be sure you don’t let it just sit there.
Find ways to keep it updated, optimized and regularly test different descriptions and images to uncover what resonates with customers. Obviously, you don’t want this to take up too much of your time so do these steps whenever it makes the most sense for your business goals. Maybe even at some point look to hire someone to manage it full time if you really start seeing an influx of customers finding you online.
But no matter how much time you can spend optimizing, having a restaurant website is already a big step that can put you ahead of the competition. It’ll make finding you easier and make potential customers that much more likely to walk in your door.
Editors’ Note: This article was originally published in 2011 and updated for 2020.