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Food for Thought

New ideas and advice to help you improve the operation, turnover, and connectivity of your dining sites.

Restaurant websites: your new shop window

David Charlton

February 9 2017,
David Charlton

Your website is essential real estate for your hospitality business. Take a moment to review best practice online.

LR - Restaurant websites - your new shop window 1.png

Websites are crucial for casual dining businesses. According to recent research by Zonal, nearly two out of three customers will visit your website before visiting or booking.

It’s a shame, then, that so many pub and restaurant websites are under-developed. There’s a running joke in the web design industry about hospitality businesses that simply recreate their menu and stick it on screen with a phone number and/or email address. That may be fine for takeaways, but it’s not going to drive many customers through your door to sit down to eat..

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t provide the menu - knowing what’s available and what it costs is a pretty crucial bit of information for any prospective customer, so make it available alongside drinks lists, cocktail lists, wine lists or anything else your customers will expect.

But websites can do much more.

The first and most obvious thing your website can do is show the full dining experience. Not just the food, although of course mouthwatering photos sell the sizzle much more than words do, but the ambience too. Some restaurants are packed and sociable, others subtly lit and private, still others themed. Few of us see dining out as mere refuelling: we want to go somewhere that not only delivers great food, but a great dining experience as well.

If you operate a booking system, online booking with live availability is increasingly important, and the system should be able to accommodate special requests such as details of an important occasion, special dietary needs or any other unusual requirements. Beware of pain points, such as demanding customers to sign up for your newsletter before being able to see information or book a table: just like with online shopping, the more obstacles between initial interest and making a booking are opportunities to lose your customer.

Zonal’s research into customers’ expectations found three key reasons for online booking: 30% rated ease of use as the most important factor; 20% dealing direct with the business rather than a third party; and 19% because they trust the site.

There’s a caveat to that, though, which is that customers rated third party booking services even more highly for ease of use - and some of those services offer various incentives for people to book through them rather than go direct. That means the restaurant’s website needs to have a unique selling point, a reason to visit it rather than go through a third party operator. It also needs to be tested, tested and then tested some more to ensure that it works properly on any device and for people using assistive technologies such as screen readers. Smartphones and tablets now account for the majority of online traffic, and that trend will only continue: a website that works on computers but not on phones is a website that won’t do much business.

Making the web work harder

There are four other possibilities you might want to consider. Selling vouchers via your website is a great way of maximising income, especially at very busy times such as Christmas, and loyalty schemes can help you fill tables when demand softens, such as in January: the cost of emailing even a large customer base is effectively zero, so it doesn’t take much to get an exceptionally high return on your investment.

Zonal’s research found that just 1 in 4 customers were members of any restaurant’s loyalty scheme, but those that do ate out more frequently (54% eating out every week compared to 43%), were more likely to be satisfied customers, were more likely to revisit the same site or brand and were more likely to recommend the restaurant to others. Loyalty schemes also enable you to craft personalised marketing offers for birthdays and other special occasions, and if you store customers’ preferences you can use the data to tempt them with exciting cross-selling or upselling opportunities.

For some restaurants, websites also enable them to speed up the actual ordering process by enabling customers to pre-order via an ecommerce component. And some restaurants enable customers to pay for their order too. Such sites and systems must be optimised for mobile devices, however: people don’t generally come packing PCs or Macs when they come to dine, so any interaction or ecommerce will be conducted on smartphones. As you can imagine, millennials are the most confident about using such technology, while older customers are still a little less keen As Apple Pay and Android

Pay spread, however, consumer confidence in mobile payments will grow.

There are generational differences, though. While just one-quarter of 18 to 34-year-olds prefers interacting with a person to pay their bill, 63% of over-55s prefer people. But the differences aren’t always what you expect. Contrary to received wisdom, older customers were more likely to trust mobile payments than younger ones, more likely to understand the concept and more likely to be aware that mobile payment systems exist.

Points to remember:

  • Mobile devices - smartphones and tablets - account for the majority of internet use so your website needs to be mobile responsive
  • Only 1 in 4 customers are members of restaurant loyalty schemes, but such schemes increase visit frequency and customer loyalty
  • Websites can do more than just list the menu. They can promote the dining experience.
  • Online booking with live availability is increasingly common, and expected
  • In some cases websites can be used to order and pay for meals, although the technology is not widely known among consumers.

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