Why your restaurant website shouldn’t use a menu PDF as the menu

Any smart restaurant owner understands that you don’t put obstacles in the way of potential diners and repeat customers. In this day of easy-to-find information about restaurants on apps, websites and social media, it’s critical that your restaurant not anger potential customers with hard-to-access information like menus.

You know what’s frustrating? Being in a car with a friend and asking that friend (or family member) to look up information about a restaurant’s menu. They try to access your restaurant’s menu on the mobile device, only to find that the only way to view the menu is to look at the PDF of your physical menu. Most people’s devices, these days, will open a PDF file, but the PDF version of your menu is not optimized for mobile devices. The driver’s friend then struggles with pinching the menu to enlarge it, maybe has to move the image around to read dish titles, descriptions and prices. The font may be hard to read on a device. You and your friend end up going to a restaurant that you are more familiar with.

Or, take the example of an older person, viewing your restaurant website at home via a desktop / laptop browser. They may not be familiar with how to find your restaurant information on social media, bu they know how to put a restaurant name into a search engine. They get to your website, click on “Menu” and then get a message about needing to install a “PDF viewer”. They may not know how to install new software and browser add-ons. They may have been told by their kids not to install new software without help. So, they end up skipping your restaurant for a familiar option.

What’s the right thing to do?

The menu part of your website should rely on the style of the site for presentation of text and graphics. The menu text should be highlightable, that is, you should be able to use your mouse and cursor to highlight the text as if your were going to copy and paste it somewhere. This not only enables your customers and future customers to easily view the menu information on multiple devices, but also enables access to your menu for people with special needs, such as the visually impaired. Avoiding the use of your print menu PDF as THE ONLY version of the menu on your website also ensures that the menu information is mobile-friendly (responsive design).

Can we still put the PDF file of our print menu on our site?

Yes. You can still add a link to the PDF version of your physical menu anywhere in the body of your menu page(s). Many restaurants have menus that are tied to their branding. They’ve spent money on designers to create the physical menu(s).

13 Essentials for Successful Restaurant Websites

One of the critical things today for restaurant success is a quality website that presents the restaurant’s brand and is easy to use by customers. An effective restaurant website puts the best foot forward for the business, is helpful to customers and turns customers into repeat customers and evangelists for your business. Too many restaurants rely on having just a Facebook page or a website that is too wrapped up in its own design to be useful for your customers.

What are the essential design components of an effective restaurant website. In rough order of importance, starting with the most important:

  1. Display Hours, Address and Phone Number Prominently Featured – Unlike many websites out there, the goal of a restaurant website is not to keep the visitor lingering and spending time on the website. You want to turn every visitor into a customer, who makes a decision to visit your restaurant in person or place an order. Most of your customers are seeking quick information about your restaurant’s hours, address, phone number, menu options and prices. We put this critical decision info at the top of the website (except for menu information). A customer who is visiting your website is either a returning customer or somebody who has already decided to patronize your restaurant. Some restaurant web designer hide contact information, hours and phone number at the bottom of a home page. Often in the footer, or even on a secondary page. Don’t put obstacles in the way of customers who want to spend money at your restaurant.
  2. Mobile Friendly – It’s critical that your restaurant website look awesome on mobile devices. Over 50% of Internet users view websites on mobile devices. The numbers are probably much higher for people looking for restaurant information. A mobile friendly design should look and function like an app, not look like a miniature version of your site. Your customers should not need to pinch and expand to zoom in on your website.
  3. Menus – Customers visiting your website should not expect to be presented with a PDF of your physical menu as their first contact with the menus. Menus should be pages on your site or a section of text and pictures. Customers don’t like having to wait for a PDF file to open. Many tablets and mobile devices are poorly configured to display PDF files. Sure, it’s awesome that you’ve spent money on a nice menu design. You can always set up the menu PDF as an optional link at the bottom of your menu page or pages.
  4. Highlight special features of your menu – Do you have gluten free, vegetarian, vegan or other special options on your menu? Highlight these on your website menus. You can also create separate pages for these options on your website, where you explain in detail why these options are available.
  5. Phone Number should initiate phone call – The phone number listed prominently at the top of your website should start a phone call for any customer touching the number on their mobile device. Commonly, a customer looking up info on your restaurant is going to be somebody in their car, often with family or friends. “Call the number for the restaurant!” “Siri. Call Big City American Cafe.” Your website designer can set this up easily.
  6. Actual Website and not just social media page – There are so many restaurants out there that don’t have websites and only have a page on Facebook. Even worse are places that have nothing and are only represented online by a Google or Yelp listing. Branding your business effectively is Marketing 101. Your restaurant has to have its own website so you can market your brand on your terms. Your customers also want a website where they can expect answers to any of their questions. Facebook also doesn’t show all of your posts to all of your customers. An actual website is an important way of having more control over your interactions with customers.
  7. Pictures! A restaurant is a visual experience. There is the food. The decor. The staff. Special events. The neighborhood. All of these things lend themselves to making a restaurant website visually fresh and exciting. With the widespread availability of excellent cameras on smart phones, you and your staff should be constantly taking pictures for the website. Food photography can be trickier, but you’d be surprised at some of the excellent pictures you can get with a little practice, good lighting and an eye for presentation.
  8. Testimonials and Reviews – Share the words of your customer fans and local critics. Testimonials are a sign you are doing things right and give word-of-mouth more authenticity.
  9. Mailing List – A smart restaurant owner is always looking to turn customers into repeat customers and regulars. You should be looking to sign them up to a mailing list so you can mail them a regular newsletter, special offers, and news about special events. Your website is a perfect place to get customers to sign up for a mailing list. You should also have sign-ups in your restaurants, even with cards on tables. We recommend either Mailchimp or Constant Contact for mailing list cultivation and management.
  10. Reservation Services – Set up a third party reservation system like Bookatable to generate reservations, especially for large groups. Many of these services are free or affordable and integrate easily with your website.
  11. Show Off Your Personality – One of the drawbacks with a Facebook page is that your page looks like everything else, even with pictures. A website gives you a chance to show off your restaurant, food, staff, cooks and neighborhood. A restaurant website helps you brand your online presence and facilitates your digital marketing. Your website should also have a design that reflects the style of your cuisine and not be some boilerplate theme offered by some discount hosting.
  12. Specials and Offers – Your website should present your specials and offers. This give you more room to explain an offer. You can also create individual landing pages for offers where you can track how people are learning about your business.
  13. Analytics – This is a fancy way of saying keeping track of who visits your website. You are probably familiar with using customer feedback cards in the restaurant to collect information about your customers. Your website should be set up with Google Analytics so that you can gather information about customers AND people who were interested but haven’t decided to visit yet. Analytics can give you information about where people are visiting from, which might suggest a part of your city where traditional advertising should be targeted. You can find out which devices customers are using. Which pages they visit the most. How many people are clicking on your special offers pages.

Having a website is essential for restaurant success and we hope this helps you do it even better.

Photographer: Ali Yahya

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How Do You Feel About the New Google News Look?

We are a but undecided after our initial encounter with the new design for Google News. In our design world, you try not to break things that have made your website, app or service successful. As news media people, we liked how Google News would provide access to articles on any given search query from thousands of sources, often grouping them by the most current cluster of stories.

Other folks are starting to chime in, like Josh Constine over at Techcrunch:

Google’s brave new friendless feed

Our longstanding beef with Google News is its arbitrary decisions about which news services to not include in their indexing and results, which penalize independent media. Like it or not, Google serves as a gatekeeper to the Internet. Most Internet users find content via Google’s search services. When Google decides that a news service or publication doesn’t qualify for inclusion, it is exercising de facto censorship over that content.

One of the news services we volunteer with happens to be one of the oldest online news services (online for 23 years). It has been included in Google News in the past, then was delisted and re-instated after appeal. Three years ago, after a website re-design, Google News dropped the service and has refused our appeals. While Google may be penalizing the site for being a mixture of news aggregation and original stories, being shut out by Google News (and Facebook’s censorship) make it difficult for the site to find readers who will fund more original journalism, which is our goal.

Facebook’s Broken ‘Most Recent’: Bug or Feature?

How to find out if Facebook is down or not?

  • Facebook may be down in your region or country, because of server problems, weather or network issues. One way to find out if there is a bigger issue, is to go to Twitter and search on the #Facebook or #FacebookDown.
  • Go to Down for Everyone or Just Me and enter “Facebook.com” in the box.

If you are a frequent user of Facebook, like we are, you may have discovered Facebook’s “broken” feature Most Recent. We use Facebook primarily as a curated news feature for our many projects, so this broken option has turned into a big annoyance. When we refresh our news feed, we want to see the most recent stories published by pages and shared by our friends. Facebook insists that we keep looking at the same thing, over and over again. Featured posts, based on their mysterious algorithm.

What is the Most Recent option in Facebook? It’s an option you can find in the upper left column next to your news feed. You can chose whether your feed displays Top Stories or Most Recent. Both of these options rely on Facebook’s algorithms for promoting and featuring content from pages you like, events, and posts from other friends and family.

The issue is that when you choose Most Recent, it doesn’t stay sticky. If you refresh your browser, it goes back to Top Stories. We know that this can’t be a browser issue or AJAX, Javascript or Flash issue, because this is an option that Facebook should be remembering. Because we’ve found that even if you switch browsers or even devices, your choice to view Most Recent doesn’t stay sticky.

We’ve done some research on this problem, searched for articles and blog posts about the problem and have been left scratching our heads. It’s unlikely that a bug like this would go unnoticed by a billion dollar company that runs a tight ship when it comes to UX and interfaces, so why doesn’t this option work? There are plenty of How To tutorials out there that explain how to use this feature, but the only official explanation from Facebook we’ve found is via an article published by Time magazine:

We don’t buy this. Facebook must have an internal reason for allowing such a prominent function of their service misfunction in such an annoying way. We have theories:

1. Facebook’s big emphasis over the last two years has been on featuring content from friends and family in users’ news feeds. It has even informed publishers and page owners that their content is a lower priority in feeds. Facebook has said that it wants to increase engagement between users, which they think is increased by more interaction between users. This may be aimed at a large segment of Facebook users, who infrequently use the service and rarely interact with other users. This may be related to our Theory #2.

The lowering of publisher and page content in user feeds also has another purpose: prompt page owners and publishers to buy advertising to bump their content higher in user news feeds. This is the primary form of monetization that Facebook is developing to build value for what is essentially a free service.

2. Facebook has been very noisy about its goal of becoming a dominant video platform. This is why it has been adding animated GIFs for commenting options, increasing the prominence of videos in feeds, integrating services like Snapchat and others, and much more. Facebook is like the other big media corporations in that its goal is to become THE Internet for most people. It wants your eyeballs to be parked as much as possible in their walled garden. Facebook has been developing original content as part of this push, which is very expensive. But it also needs more of those casual users, your Aunt Bettys, to use the service more. This is one reason behind changing the news feed algorithm to prioritize content, sharing and updates from friends and family. Facebook needs Aunt Betty to engage more time with the feed if it wants to normalize itself as the next generation video juggernaut.

3. In a weird way, the unstickiness of the Most Recent feed and changes to the UX of the update ticker (what your friends are doing in live time), seems designed to discourage heavy users. Are those of us constantly refreshing our feeds creating a power drain on Facebook’s infrastructure? Probably not, but it is a remote possibility.

4. This problem is even worse on the Facebook app for iPhone. The default setting for the Facebook app is Top Stories and the feed includes even less content that you haven’t seen. Facebook even had the Most Recent feed hidden in their menu options until the recent update that turned additional feeds, services and options into little circles. Most Recent is easier to find, but it is still de-emphasized, which underscores the overall mystery with this feature bug.

For a social media service used by billions around the world, the service is noticeably frugal when it comes to giving users and kind of options or customization. From a UX and design standpoint, it is good that they maintain a consistent look and avoid the design chaos that was the hallmark of the horrible Myspace platform. But if you offer you users a prominent option, why isn’t it sticky?