Running a restaurant profitably may be one of the toughest challenges in business. But according to a scathing review of restaurant websites written by Slate's Farhad Manjoo, finding a good restaurant website may be even tougher.

In surveying a variety of restaurant websites, including some of the most notable in the United States, Manjoo came to a disappointing conclusion: they are, by and large, "horrifically bad."

He writes:

I haven't ever seen an explanation for why this industry's online presence is so singularly bruising. The rest of the Web long ago did away with auto-playing music, Flash buttons and menus, and elaborate intro pages, but restaurant sites seem stuck in 1999.

The problem is getting worse in the age of the mobile Web—Flash doesn't work on Apple's devices, and while some of these sites do load on non-Apple smartphones, they take forever to do so, and their finicky navigation makes them impossible to use.

As Manjoo notes, the "general terribleness" of restaurant websites isn't the result of a lack of money available for investment. The restaurants whose websites Manjoo uses as case studies of web design worst practices, such as Masa and Chez Panisse, are some of the fanciest and most acclaimed in the U.S. And he notes that all of the extra toppings (Flash, music, etc.) internet users so fiercely hate typically cost more to create.

So what gives? In Manjoo's opinion, a big part of the problem is designers who are "either too unscrupulous or unsophisticated to disabuse [restaurateurs] of their [design] ideas."

It's a criticism of designers that some might argue is overly harsh, but it raises an interesting question about web design today: are the days numbered for designers who can't do more than just design?

On one hand, a good designer can collaborate with clients to deliver what they want. If a restaurateur has his mind set on an extravagantly annoying Flash website, there's only so much you can do to talk him down.

On the other hand, a designer who has some knowledge of strategy and best practices is usually better capable of educating even the most difficult clients and helping them understand the importance of building an effective website.

In the context of restaurant websites, Manjoo suggests that the restaurateur's desire to entertain leads him to believe that his website should be entertaining. This is despite the fact that potential customers are generally far more interested in finding out what's for dinner and how much it's going to cost. Sitting through an audiovisual atrocity beforehand? That is hopefully not on the menu.

At least amongst the websites Manjoo reviewed, designer and client apparently didn't discuss goals, target audiences, the importance of cross-channel compatibility, etc. Which led to an unfortunate outcome: the designers delivered their clients the work product they may have wanted, but they didn't really deliver a solution.

More sophisticated clients, of course, know that the web produces greater ROI when it solves a problem. Which is why they're far more likely to engage with vendors who can understand their businesses and produce work product that meets a real business need.

Some of the world's most successful restaurateurs may not be there yet, but they'll get there, and when they do, the designers that serve them had better be prepared.

Patricio Robles

Published 11 August, 2011 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (9)

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And thats without even mentioning PDF's for menus!

almost 7 years ago



Interesting article. It is also a common occurrence that restaurant websites rank lower than listing and review sites. Taking the initiative and managing customers' reviews proactively is a very powerful strategy in business, and surely all the more so for restaurants?

almost 7 years ago


Teajai Stradley

I often have restaurateurs looking for websites but they either don't have the budget to create a decent website and / or they don't understand how the website is supposed to serve visitors. As a company that does provide strategy and emphasizes usability & goals it's extremely frustrating that these types of clients often want the flash (not good if you are on a mobile device seeking a restaurant) and flair without considering the basics of menu, price range, reservations etc.

Good article that hits home!

almost 7 years ago



Whilst I don't necessarily disagree with the author I would like to know how many web sites Mr Manjoo has made. around zero I would wager, so I'm not sure he has the knowledge or experience to understand how a clients mind works nor how agencies work (and often give clients what they want not what they need).

Big question is though, does any of this stop people from going to dine at these eateries? Probably not.

almost 7 years ago


UK Suppliers


Nice writing Patricio. I found different writings and articles for the same topic but I could not understand the actual problem. Where is the problem that is disturbing the restaurateurs? A web designer can not be the actual reason for this. I am not from the internet field but I want to know the source of information by whom you are discussing this topic to make me sure about the web designers issue.

almost 7 years ago


Brandt Dainow, Director at ThinkMetrics

I've worked on a number of restaurant sites. They're actually easy to get right. People want pictures of what it looks like inside. If there's a view they want to see it. They want to see the menus and the wine list. They want to know the hours and the prices. If the venue is available for special events they want to know. If it has something unusual (eg: cigar menu), they want to know that. A bit of personalisation, such as a photo/bio of a top chef, greeting from the owner, etc. A booking or enquiry form.

That's it.

If a designer can't get a client to agree to something like this, they're doing their client no good. In my experience, it is usually the designer's fault - most clients just go with what designers suggest. Designers want to do stuff which is interesting to them, not what is right for the client, and pages of menus are tedious work for a designer.

almost 7 years ago

Ian Tester

Ian Tester, Senior Product Manager at brightsolid online publishing

Most restaurants are small businesses with small budgets and limited web experience. They mostly go to small web design firms nearby to get the job done. A recipe for disaster.

Brandt's post above captures most of the things you'd want on a restaurant site and it's not rocket science. I'd like to see some parking directions and a link to some social media/reviews as well, but critically, I'd like it to work on my mobile so I can read the menu on the way over.

almost 7 years ago


June @Utah SEO

Nice. This is really goo Patricio! Thanks for posting this and I really appreciate your motives. This is totally right and im really proud to it.

almost 7 years ago

Gonzalo Español

Gonzalo Español, CEO at Tanta Comunicación

Something quiet similar happens to the architecture sector... of course, having in mind that it´s a completely differet sector with other goals...

over 6 years ago

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