Get a group of frequent restaurant-goers together, and soon enough their note-sharing will reveal the small things that can diminish an otherwise nice experience. Are we talking #FirstWorldproblems here? Absolutely. Does that stop us from venting? Absolutely not.
Why do most diners visit restaurant Web sites?
Because we are looking for information — not animation, music or even sexy food photography.
A few things should be upfront: Location, hours, phone number and menu.
In an age of diminishing online attention spans, I don’t understand why some restaurants make it hard to find such details. Neither can people who are paid to think about these things.
“We like that information on every single page,” says Valerie Zweig, director of conceptual projects for the food and beverage consulting firm Vucurevich Simons Advisory Group. “Don’t make people work for it.”
To Beefsteak, José Andrés’s veg spot in Foggy Bottom, I say, “Where’s the beef?” The only details on the home page are the hours, at the very bottom. You must click on another link to see where the restaurant is.
At least Beefsteak has “D.C.” superimposed on a picture of the Jefferson Memorial. Go to power spot Cafe Milano’s home page, and you wouldn’t even know the place was in Washington. Or even the United States, if your eye catches the “coming soon” notice for an Abu Dhabi location.
How do these things happen?
“A restaurant is a creative endeavor, and it is easy to get caught up in the cuisine and interior design and forget about the nuts and bolts of the operation,” says Allison Seth, creative director of Seth Design Group. Freelance designer Jason Pasch theorizes that some less-user-friendly pages were built by Web designers more used to corporate sites that don’t rely on direct customer communication.
Restaurants, heed Zweig’s advice: “You want to have the menu in an easily located space.” With prices. Don’t call the menu tab “cuisine” or “fare” or some other term, several of which can appear on a single site and leave a customer flummoxed as to where they can find the menu.
I’m also not a fan of moving parts. (I can’t be the only one who’d like a Dramamine after viewing Woodberry Kitchen’s sideways-scrolling site.) At least Adobe Flash animations are going the way of the dodo, thanks in part to incompatibility with Apple products.
Like me, Pasch is a skeptic about Web site music. (We’ve all had that moment when the mariachi band starts blaring through our office desktop, right?) Zweig, though, says it can work. But provide an obvious mute button.
And although I understand the importance of photos, I begrudge large ones that take up real estate and push key details to the periphery.
Prominently featuring vitals makes for a better mobile Web experience. Rather than develop separate stripped-down versions for devices, more sites these days are using responsive design, which adapts a site to the size of your screen. That allows mobile to be considered from the start, Seth says. Ideally, at least the phone number is clickable, so you can quickly call when you’re running late.
“I want my guests to have a great experience before they enter the restaurant,” Zweig says of such conveniences.
There are places doing it right. Fiola Mare, for example, perfectly balances large-format images with information, including a details side rail that is always visible. Its mobile site is clean and easy to use.
In general, everyone would benefit from Pasch’s Web site philosophy: “I don’t like things to be overcomplicated.”