Why Restaurant Lighting Matters in 2019

Instagram. Social media. Is your restaurant fully optimized to enable your customers to show how much they love your food, restaurant, concept and staff? If your goal is to build a base of loyal, repeat customers, you want to do everything possible to encourage fans of your business to tell their friends and family and world about your restaurant. The best form of publicity has long been word-of-mouth recommendations. These days, sharing photos on social media platforms is the best form of organic, word-of-mouth advertising.

Is your restaurant’s physical space optimized for customers taking photos? Is your restaurant adequately lighted, or, is it dark to create some kind of “mood”? Are your windows open to outside during the day or are the windows shuttered or blacked out entirely? Are your tables, place settings, and dinnerware conducive to people taking pictures?

You are probably familiar with restaurants which have their windows blacked out and ones with no outdoor windows at all. Of course, a restaurant might be located inside a bigger building, like a mall, so outside lighting via windows isn’t available. For many years, restaurants blocked outside light to create a mood in the restaurant. But in this era, if you have windows and daylight hours, it’s important to put that natural light to work for you.

Falafel Platter, Meriwether Cafe, Leavenworth, Kansas. Photo by author.

Lighting inside your restaurant is critical too. While it’s expensive to remodel and install the latest lighting fixtures and systems, if you are remodeling, make sure you are keeping social media sharing in mind.

It’s not necessary to have bright lighting, as most cell phone cameras can take awesome pics without a flash and even in low light. But don’t make things darker (unless you have the romantic dinner thing going).

Lunch Buffet platter, Blue Nile Cafe, Kansas City, Missouri. Photo by author.

Social media friendly lighting in restaurants is also about colors, textures, patterns, and materials. Do the colors in your restaurant photograph well with your food, the plates, the table surfaces and backgrounds? Are the colors and decor presenting your concept in a photogenic way? Does the restaurant have interesting characteristics that people will find worth sharing on social media? Interesting pictures? Old signs? Traditional cultural objects?

Does your restaurant’s tables have interesting colors and textures that photograph well with your food? This may seem like a silly detail, but word-of-mouth sharing on social media is trusted more by potential diners than advertising or Yelp reviews. People trust what their friends and family are excited about. You want to cultivate fans, who become frequent diners, not somebody just trying your restaurant out one time for some cheap deal.

And have fun! Take your own pictures and share them!

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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