Restaurant Websites

What is the deal with restaurant websites? So many of them just get it so wrong…

Why? They focus too much on looks, and forget about usability.

When designing a website, the first thing you have to do is work out why you are doing it. So what is the goal of a restaurant website? To get you to come to the restaurant! The sole purpose in nearly all cases is to convince you to walk in their door.

So you are planning on going out to dinner. You visit a restaurant website. What are the key pieces of information you will be looking for? In no particular order:

  1. Where it is?
  2. When it is open?
  3. What is the atmosphere like?
  4. What food will it serve?

Food cost may or may not be a factor, depending on your target demographic.

Most websites dwell heavily on point 3, and don’t consider the rest. The pictures, colours, fonts, and layout are your visual clues to the atmosphere. A well-designed website will reflect in an instant whether it is the sort of place to have quiet dinner with mum or a place for a raucus night out with your friends. But that doesn’t mean you can’t answer the other three questions.

Then of course, there is accessibility. Visually impaired people are perfectly capable of browsing the web, and typically do so with the aid of a screen reader. However, screen readers cannot read any text embedded in images or Flash plug-ins. So any time you see a website predominantly in Flash, it is basically saying “Screw you visually impared people, you are unimportant to us”.

It also means you can’t copy and paste text, for example to copy the address into your favourite mapping website to get directions.

I’ve gone through about 30 Melbourne restaurant websites, to put together this list of some things that have been done wrong. It’s by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s sad that I came up with so many examples from such a small sample size:

  • Two Birds One Stone cafe – The website is all flash, and despite the abundance of empty space, it puts the link to the menu off the screen.
  • Ohmahs – Hooray! When I go to visit a restaurant website, I want to sit and wait for a stupid animation to finish before I can see the content. Remember, one second seems longer when I am impatiently waiting for a site to show content.
  • Rockwell and Sons – More flash. Can’t copy and paste that address to Google Maps (don’t bother trying to type it because it got replaced by a picture of pastries pretty quick). And what’s with that combination of text and background colour? It’s too hard to read!
  • Quaff – This one is truly terrible. Flashing pictures are distracting. You have to wait for a silly animation before you get to see the text. To see a menu you have to click through two links. The address and opening hours are tiny. And it’s all in flash! Sorry blind people, we don’t want you here!
  • Attica – Why use white text when the background is so pale? Unreadable! Finally some specific clouds for me to shout at.
  • Matteos – And of course, there is this one. The menu is a whole bunch of pictures that don’t tell you squat about what will happen if you click them. And if you have glasses and a large projector, you may just be able to read the tiny, pale-grey-on-white, text with the actual address.


One thought on “Restaurant Websites

  1. Food for thought says:

    You have provided a good selection of bad examples. To play Devil’s advocate for Rockwell and Sons for a moment:

    – It is size and choice of background texture that makes (some of) their website text hard to read, not colour choice.

    – One click on the prominently placed link, appropriately labelled ‘Location’ gets you to a ‘selectable’ address, and an interactive map that has their location conveniently displayed.
    – This map also allows you to click a link labelled ‘Directions’ that pre-populates their address in one company’s version of a mapping website ready for you to enter your own address.
    – Not only this, but the directions website opens in a new window/tab so as to utilise all of their Web2.0 mapping/direction features. It could have been contained in that little bubble, then you really would have had something to shout about 😉

    I’m surprised you didn’t grill them on their inability to choose between ‘And’, ‘AND’, ‘and’ or an ampersand in their name.

    I do agree with your argument though. Wait till you start using JavaScript/Flash blockers.

    Also of note: the food was good the last time I was there and it wasn’t their website layout that got me in the door.

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