February 2, 2016

The Essential Features of a Great Restaurant Website

Will technology turn on us? The idea of technology becoming the enemy of humankind exists only in science fiction. In reality, technology is nothing if not our ally. The ecommerce boom proved so lucrative that many brick-and-mortar establishments turned to using internet and mobile assistance to drive their sales. And it worked, beautifully. It worked so well that establishments outside of the retail sector began using digital elements to help increase their revenue.
computer-mouse-served (1)Will technology turn on us? The idea of technology becoming the enemy of humankind exists only in science fiction. In reality, technology is nothing if not our ally. The ecommerce boom proved so lucrative that many brick-and-mortar establishments turned to using internet and mobile assistance to drive their sales. And it worked, beautifully. It worked so well that establishments outside of the retail sector began using digital elements to help increase their revenue.

The restaurant industry is no exception, although it is not exactly riding the coattails of the ecommerce era. That being said, the major gains in the online restaurant food ordering industry have been made in recent years. While many major online grocery delivery services had already had their heydays by 2001, the food delivery market has been growing exponentially in the last few years. With its current rate of expansion, the global food delivery market size is expected to reach 90 billion Euros by 2019.

This level of growth is undeniable, which makes the online side of the food service industry very important indeed. With an industry experiencing such expansion, restaurants which are not yet offering their services (or elements of their services) online risk losing out on a great deal of revenue.

This is why it is not only important for restaurants to have websites, but for those websites to explore every avenue of excellent customer service. With more and more people turning to online ordering and research as a result of its convenience, the goal of restaurants should be to provide their customers with the most hassle-free process imaginable in order to capitalise on the opportunity.

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Part I: What a Restaurant Website Absolutely Needs

If your restaurant doesn’t have a website, it’s time to get one. If it does, you should ask yourself if it contains all of the elements necessary to satisfy your customers’ needs. This means more than just a few pages detailing the type of food you serve, the history of your restaurant, and a contact page detailing your restaurant’s address. While these are helpful pages, there are some more technical features which will greatly increase your restaurant’s ability to create customers online. Ideally, a great restaurant website should feature:

1. A Mobile Friendly Interface
2015 was the first year on record in which British adults spent more time browsing the internet on their mobile devices than they did on their PCs. Research conducted last year indicated that UK residents spent about 2 hours and 26 minutes per day using the internet on their mobile devices, which is 13 minutes more than they did on their computers.

Any business looking to capitalise on these statistics should be focussing more on making its website mobile friendly, but this is particularly important for the restaurant industry. It stands to reason that the rapidly increasing market size of online food orders and the increased number of mobile web users means that many food lovers are making bookings on their mobile devices. In fact, research made freely available two years ago indicated that 36% of all web visitors to restaurant sites came from mobile devices. This was from a time when the industry was valued at around 46 million dollars, and before the rapid growth period started, indicating that mobile traffic is likely far higher now.

Any restaurant ignoring mobile capabilities on its website is thus deliberately missing out on a great deal of its target market. If a responsive website is out of the question for any reason, a dedicated mobile site or app should be created to capitalise on the large amount of mobile traffic out there.

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2. Online Bookings
With food lovers frequently turning to the internet for assistance, online bookings are a must for any restaurant website. This is an excellent way to ease the booking process and encourage interested parties to become outright customers. But, aside from offering customers an easier booking process, online bookings benefit restaurants greatly. Among the benefits of online booking are the following:

• Streamlining the Booking Process: This applies to the customer, yes, but it also applies to the restaurant. As opposed to several restaurant staff members taking bookings and jotting them in a reservation book (a process which lends itself to mistakes and over-booking, based on the rigours of the job), online bookings provide an electronic answer to bookings. Online bookings allow prospective customers to view availabilities without the threat of human error and restaurants to be certain of their bookings, making online bookings fast, reliable, and effective.

• Freeing Up Staff Time: As mentioned, a busy restaurant shift is rigorous even for professional and experienced staff members. Thus, fewer distractions mean better service. Even if the bookings in your restaurant are handled by a dedicated host, the fewer calls for reservations will allow more time for the proper greeting and seating of guests. Generally speaking, focussed staff members are better value for money.

• Providing Important Marketing Information: This is one of the most valuable factors for driving repeat business. When taking bookings over the phone, many restaurants are quite content with a surname and perhaps a contact number. Online bookings, on the other hand, present a unique opportunity for obtaining information such as customers’ full names, email addresses, physical addresses, and various phone numbers. Used ethically, this information can be very useful for future marketing with a view to turning first-time visitors into repeat customers.

3. Easily Customisable Elements
A restaurant is an ever-changing tapestry. There are frequent menu additions and subtractions, daily specials, special events, and other changes – the knowledge of which would benefit restaurant customers greatly. These changes help keep loyal customers interested through variety, help create return customers, and help bring in first-time visitors. Essentially, a restaurant which constantly renews parts of itself stays relevant in the eyes of its customers.

It thus stands to reason that a restaurant’s website should be adaptable in order to represent its physical changes online. Having to wait weeks for changes is simply not acceptable in the restaurant industry, what with it’s blistering pace. A special event or menu item would likely have come and gone by the time a static website is updated.

It is therefore important for restaurants to keep their websites easily updatable. The moment a change is agreed upon in-house, notifications of this change or event should go up on the site. Not only does this help publicise the change to the multitude of online restaurant visitors, but it projects a sense of fashionable immediacy on the part of the restaurant, which is great for its public image.

Of course,  in order to be able to update your website as and when you need, you must have a Content Management System (CMS) in place that would easily allow you to do it and when it comes to CMS, WordPress is one of the easiest CMS out there.

4. Automated Marketing
The old maxim that states it is easier and cheaper to retain current clients than find new ones rings true for all businesses, restaurants not withstanding. It is good for restaurants to encourage return visits as regulars provide stable monthly revenue. But, in order to build a client base of regular customers it is important to maintain contact with customers.

When customers make online bookings they should be able to enter their contact details, as mentioned in point 2. This marketing information is extremely valuable, but only if it is used properly. It is never a good idea to contact customers too often (daily, for example), as this can quickly become an irritation and give your restaurant a negative connotation. Conversely, keeping this information stored in a database, and never using it, is useless. So, to best avoid any marketing pitfalls it is best to leave the email marketing up to automation.

Websites can easily be programmed to send automated responses upon receipt of a filled-out contact form. In the case of a restaurant, this can be used to confirm the booking and provide further information about the location of the restaurant, such as detailed directions. Automated emails can also be used to check up on your customers’ experiences following their bookings. Finally, the menu changes and events mentioned in point 3 can trigger email notifications.

Simply because something is automated does not mean that it has to lack a personal touch. The emails sent out do not have to be cold, distant form letters. They can be written by you, the owner, and scheduled for sending at the optimum time.

5. Social Monitoring
The digital community can be quite influential when it comes to the reputations of restaurants. Many people seek the advice of other diners in online social situations such as forums and social networks. Negative criticism in these situations can be very damaging to restaurants if left unchallenged. It is thus important for a website to be aware or online comments in order to successfully manage its reputation.social media

The first step towards successful reputation management is through the use of a comments section made available on the website itself. Monitoring of these comments is easy through automated notifications, meaning you don’t have to spend all day staring at the comments section of your site. Thank users for any positive comments and ensure them that you are looking forward to seeing them again soon. Address any negative comments, asking the users why they were unsatisfied with their experience (be it as a result of the food, the service, the ambiance, etc.), but be sure never to aggressively defend your restaurant and start a public dispute. Instead, in the case of negative comments, assure the users responsible for them that you are taking their comments seriously and will make every effort to improve the customer experience as a result.

The comments section on your restaurant’s website is perhaps the most important, but this doesn’t mean that comments elsewhere on the web should be ignored. It is necessary to identify and address comments made on other forums and social platforms so as to ensure your reputation is not being tarnished without your knowledge. Again, this could be altogether time-consuming if attempted manually. Fortunately, there are numerous social monitoring programs and apps available to make this task easier. It may not always be necessary to address any or all of the negative comments made on these platforms, but it is a good idea to share the positive comments on your own social media, which brings us to our next point.

6. Social Media Integration
With hundreds of millions of global users, social media is an excellent way to reach new customers online. Moreover, the ability to target users with specific likes and interests makes social platforms incredibly useful marketing tools. Many businesses realise this, and have social media pages as a result. However, having a seemingly autonomous social page is not realising the true ability of social media.

Restaurants should not only have social media pages, but integrate them into their websites. This creates a digital bridge that goes between the website and the social pages. Having social links on your website’s pages will allow customers to share your news regarding menu updates, specials, and important events. Social shares mean exposure, which means new people discovering your website and talking about it in a public medium.

Social media integration also works the other way, meaning that you will be able to isolate the positive customer critiques on their social pages and share those on your restaurant’s website. This way, when interested diners find their way to your page, they will be greeted with a myriad of glowing customer reviews which, again, can be extremely influential.

7. Search Engine Optimisation
Search Engine Optimisation, or SEO, is the process whereby the individual pages of a website are created or modified to be most visible to search engine crawlers. Crawlers are essentially robots that read websites for search engines and tell them exactly how good, or relevant, they are. Pages that are considered to be valuable and relevant are then placed higher up in the results when a user conducts a search. Restaurant pages that are considered pertinent for a search for ‘great restaurants in London’, for example, will then fill the top of the order of search results.

There are a great deal of factors which search engine crawlers consider when scrutinising web pages, but one of the most important is written content. A phrase in the written content which identically matches a user’s search query (like the example above) will go a long way in having that content’s page rank highly in the search results.

The problem here is that many restaurants don’t want to just describe their food, their culture, and their ambiance to prospective visitors – they want to show them. Visuals, unfortunately, are unable to be read by search engine crawlers, who only read text. However, there is a way to minimise the amount of visible text on your website in favour of alluring imagery and still be able to rank effectively in the search engine results pages. This can be done through the use of well-written, descriptive headings and image optimisation.

Part II: How to Create a Great Restaurant Website

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In Part I we detailed the essential features of a great website. These are the features necessary to draw in online customers, offer them a hassle-free booking experience, ensure their ultimate satisfaction, and use them to promote your restaurant further.

This is all well and good, but how do you go about bringing all of these necessary elements to your website? While it may seem a tall order, the reality is that technology has made it absolutely possible to accomplish all of the aforementioned tasks and still have more than enough time to devote to the running of your restaurant.

The following are some practical and easy ways to add some of the features mentioned in Part I to your restaurant’s website:

1. Online Bookings
Equipping your website with the ability to take online bookings is certainly important, but leaving the entirety of your online booking campaign to your website alone might cause you to miss out on a great deal of business. There is a broad customer base online that uses other methods to find restaurants and book tables. Registering on external sites may cost a little extra, but the profits your restaurant stands to bring in this way far outweigh the added expenditure.

Here are a few online booking avenues worth exploring:

OpenTable
OpenTable is a restaurant booking website which gives online customers information and booking access to top restaurants. In addition, it provides its visitors with special discounts, points, and refined searches.

This is an excellent way to increase your restaurant’s online booking frequency. And, it also helps your restaurant reach the rising number of mobile users, given that OpenTable is available as an app for iOS and Android.

OpenTable does require a monthly service fee, but the site is quite confident that the first three tables it books for your restaurant each month will be sufficient to cover this extra cost. Furthermore, the monthly fee covers the touch-screen system necessary for booking management, the OpenTable software, unlimited upgrades of this software, and customer support.

Bookatable
Bookatable is another booking website and app, also giving customers information about restaurants and allowing them to book tables online. Its added benefits allow payment and bill-splitting to be done through the app itself, as well as specialised search functionality that identifies reasonable meals for £20, or under.

Like OpenTable, Bookatable makes use of an electronic reservation book which integrates online bookings with the restaurant floor, as well as gives access to a customisable calendar for bookings on your own website.

Uncover
Uncover is an app aimed at connecting enthusiastic diners with London’s notoriously difficult-to-book tables. Each day it recommends certain restaurants to its users, handles table booking, introduces users to lesser-known gems, and facilitates bill-splitting and payment at certain restaurants.

Uncover only works on iOS at present, but it is working on getting versions out for other devices. But, as things stand, appealing only to iPhone users is not such a terrible thing given that 2015 saw 42.5 percent of British smartphone users favouring iPhones.

As opposed to restaurants approaching this app for listing, it works the other way around. Uncover has created relationships with the top spots in London, and lists availability based on booking mistakes and cancellations. However, this means that if your restaurant is listed on Uncover it is counted among the trendiest and most sought-after establishments in London.

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2. Automated Email Marketing
Follow-up marketing is an excellent way to increase customer loyalty and ensure steady monthly revenue. However, as a restaurant owner or manager you certainly don’t have the time to send out follow-up and notification emails to all of your customers on a frequent basis. The best way to accomplish this is through automation.

Software, such as HubSpot, Contactually, and Agile CRM, is the best way to ensure you take full advantage of follow-up marketing without having to sacrifice all of your free time. Using these you can schedule automatic email responses to customers booking tables, messages to ensure customers had a pleasant experience at your restaurant, and messages to notify customers of upcoming menu specials and events. This software can also be set to send emails as a result of other triggers, such as return visits to your website, menu downloads, or blog subscription.

3. Social Monitoring
Monitoring the forums manually is far too time-consuming to be viable. However, it is important that you stay aware of customer reviews on forums and social media. Fortunately, there are programs which make this easy.

Programs, like Mention, Viralheat, and WhosTalkin, allow media monitoring – that is, they send you alerts every time someone talks about one of your keywords (which will be your restaurant). These programs often have billions of sources, so they are the best way to know if people are talking about your restaurant online.

Once alerted to conversations surrounding your restaurant, you’ll be able to share your positive reviews and try to convince your naysayers to give your restaurant another try, thereby showing your commitment to great customer service.

Bringing Online Diners to Your Restaurant

The goal of having a great website is to bring online users through your door and turn them into loyal customers. All the features mentioned in Part I are important because they have the specific purpose of reaching this goal. The entire online experience should be about creating a process so easy that users find themselves in your restaurant before they know it.serving from pc monitor

This might seem like a tall order but isn’t that one of the main objectives of any restaurant website? Moreover, with tools such as online ordering and online reservation, you can add a new revenue stream for your restaurant without increasing admin time or cost.

Use every resource available to ensure that your website not only looks great, but actively brings the many online food lovers through your restaurant’s doors. After all, with so many diners searching for restaurants online, it would be a shame to miss out on your piece of the pie.