While most restaurants now seem to at least understand the importance of having an online presence, many of their websites leave a lot to be desired.
Common problems include Flash overkill, difficulty finding menus and prices, and out of date offers and information.
I have 10 suggestions how restaurants both large and small can improve their online presence...
Add clear contact details
One thing many customers will visit a restaurant website for is to find the phone number for bookings and enquiries. Don't make people search too hard for it.
In fact, why not display it clearly on every page? This website has the contact number and email address at the top of every page where it can't be missed:
Show menus in text format
Too many restaurant websites display menus as PDFs, which just means that it takes customers longer to find, while making it very difficult for mobile users to view them.
Some are presented in even odder ways, such as this Flash-based menu for the Tontine restaurant in North Yorkshire.
It may look good, but it's not that easy to turn the pages, and the text could be too small for some users to read. Also, it is completely invisible when viewed on a mobile device.
The menus on the Arbutus website are even harder to view. The text is too small and you can only view it in a tiny window:
Canteen provides an example of how this should be done:
Add reviews to your site
Customers love the reassurance of reading reviews, and a couple of favourable reviews will help them decide to make a reservation. This restaurant in St Ives has a page of positive reviews and awards:
If you haven't had any reviews in the local or national press, then there's always the option of adding user ratings from sites like Yelp or Qype. As on e-commerce sites, linking to less favourable reviews may well make the positive reviews more credible.
If reviews can be shown in full, or a link provided to where the article can be viewed, this will be more convincing than extracting favourable quotes and displaying them out of context.
Provide quality photos
Customers like to get a feel of a restaurant, so a gallery showing the layout of the dining room and a scattering of the dishes on offer can be very persuasive. Also, quality food photography can stimulate visitors' taste buds and push them towards a booking.
Let customers book online
If people have arrived at your website to check out your menus, then they are clearly considering a visit, so why not catch them there and then by allowing them to book a table online.
This feature is not the preserve of larger or chain restaurants, as there are plenty of third party booking services available which can provide this functionality for small businesses.
According to Livebookings CEO Niklas Eklund, while 70% of customers want to find information and book online, just 7% of restaurants are offering this service.
Optimise for local search
If people are searching for somewhere to eat in your area, is your restaurant's website turning up in the search results? Try a few searches related to your locality to see where you sit on Google.
There are plenty of ways restaurants can improve their rankings for local searches; optimising related keywords, adding your business to Google Maps, and making sure you are listed on sites like Yelp and Qype, which generally rank well in Google.
Make sure mobile users can view your site
Thanks to smartphone usage, the numbers of potential customers searching for somewhere to eat on their mobiles while out and about is growing. If your restaurant is ranking well in local searches, and has an accessible website, this can provide a clear advantage over competitors.
It is probably too much to expect every small restaurant to have a mobile optimised site, but by designing a simple website, avoiding the use of Flash, and following some of the other tips here, then you can attract mobile internet users.
There are also plenty of apps and mobile sites like Yelp, Urbanspoon and Qype which can direct mobile searchers to your restaurant.
Make use of social media
I'm seeing more restaurants advertising their Facebook and Twitter profiles, and it makes sense to use these sites to promote your restaurants. Smaller businesses may find it harder to build a following but by using the personal touch and keeping people informed about new dishes on the menu, special offers etc, it can be effective.
Avoid flash overkill
Restaurants seemingly love Flash for their websites, and there are plenty of examples of this. Setting aside accessibility issues for a moment, it can be great for presenting photography of the food or restaurant, but there are plenty that go too far.
One prime example of this is Sketch. Its all-Flash website is a nightmare. First you need to click enter, then a pop up window opens up with a picture of an egg. It also starts playing music which cannot be turned off:
Users then need to click on the egg to open up the site, which is a mess:
It may well be very clever and stylish, but it's a usability nightmare. Apart from the irritating ticking noise which can't be turned off, the menu options keep moving which makes it hard to click on anything, and the text is way too small. Actually viewing the menu and finding out more about the restaurant takes real effort.
Keep it up to date
Running a website as well as a restaurant can be time-consuming, but it's vital that restaurateurs keep their online content as up to date as possible.
Quite simply, if information is clearly out of date, then many visitors will simply assume that it has closed.
Reviews should be as recent as possible, otherwise customers won't take any notice, while it's not a good idea to show an old menu in case customers are disappointed when they arrive to fine a completely different one.