I love a night out with great food, drinks, atmosphere, and service. I am  absolutely giddy when I can help a food or drink hot spot with anything to do with marketing. When we enjoy a great place and discover it has an outdated or non-mobile-friendly restaurant website, it makes me sad. We’re even sadder yet when they’re not full at their peak times.

If I like the food, ambiance, drinks chef, owner, or other team members, I probably had at least 10 ideas to get the word out before we even get the check.

We are fortunate to have many talented restaurateurs whom we can call friends. I am extremely empathetic to the huge costs and emotional investment associated with sustaining and growing any time of food related business.

Don’t overlook digital marketing – no business can afford it. If you are in the restaurant industry and don’t actively promote your brand, take action before you get left behind.

If you are in the restaurant industry and don't actively promote your brand, take action before you get left behind. Click To Tweet

I you haven’t already, consider online ordering. Confused about where to start? You have come to the right place! I’m going to share some research I’ve done recently.

The truth is that there are so many solutions, none of which are perfect, and the prices range from a couple hundred dollars per year to thousands plus a hefty percentage of ticket sales.

Please note: when I say “restaurant” throughout this article, I also mean bars, pubs, wine bars, coffee shops, sandwich shops, food trucks, and any other places that foodies are found.

Part 1: The Website

If you don’t have a great restaurant website, if it’s ugly, slow, or outdated – especially if it’s not mobile friendly – you absolutely need a new website …. now.

Here are some features that your restaurant website should have:

1. SSL Certificate.

Look at the top of your restaurant website – the URL (or the address in your browser) should start with “https://” and have a little green lock on it. This is important if you want online ordering, even in the future, but especially for Search Engine Optimization, or SEO. Google penalizes non-SSL websites.

2. SEO Optimization.

You want your brand at the top of the Google search box – that doesn’t magically happen. There are things you can control on your restaurant website to improve where you show up, and things that happen off site. If hiring a pro isn’t in the budget, search online for easy SEO tips.

3. A Call to Action Above the Fold.

The top of the screen when a visitor opens your restaurant website is called “above the fold.” Your potential customers need to know what you want them to do when they get there.

4. Map / Directions buttons.

5. Call Now” Button.

This should only be active on mobile devices.

6. Easy to Access and Link Menus.

They can be .pdf files that the visitor downloads – sometimes that is even better when you’d like them to print it out and pin it to the fridge or pass it around the office.

7. Consistently Changing Content.

This can be a blog and/or Instagram feed (if you are active on Instagram).

8. A Current Copyright Date.

It seems inconsequential, but if your copyright date is last year (or worse yet, four years ago), do you worry that visitors think you may not still be in business? I worry about things like that.

9. It MUST be Mobile Friendly.

I feel like I shouldn’t have to say it, but it’s so important that I just did.

10. You Eat First With Your Eyes – So A Restaurant Website Should be Attractive.

You know that people eat first with their eyes, so make sure your website properly reflects the brand. When we look at your restaurant website, we should feel like we’re there and can almos taste your food and drinks.You Eat First With Your Eyes - So A Restaurant Website Should be Attractive. Click To Tweet

11. Online Ordering and/or Reservations.

People expect to do most of the work online these days. If you have food to go, an online ordering system will not only increase sales, but should streamline your in house processes (once the system is up and there is a system in place to properly train employees).

If your restaurant takes reservations, an online reservation system can drastically improve your customer’s experience and impression.

Offering either shows diners that you really care about taking care of them – before they even step foot on the premises.

Offering online reservations shows customers that you really care about taking care of them - before they even step foot on the premises. Click To Tweet

12. Reviews and a Review Funnel System.

This is so very important. While reviews are often a sore in the side of restaurants, they are also the lifeblood gaining new customers.

People who have not tried you out yet will go to reviews and get “social proof.” Convince them, on their terms, that it is worth their time, money, and taste buds to give you a shot. Reviews have a huge role in SEO as well. A solid review funnel system will help a lot of the pain go away and provide more control of the reviews that show up on your website.

13. Professional Photos / Videos.

Imagine someone at her office looking up a new hot spot to try out, and your restaurant website came up. You want the food and drinks to look mouth watering. Pictures of people enjoying your food in a background where this new customer would be eating or drinking helps relieve doubts of the unknown. Professional images should entice her to come in and give you a try.

If you have friendly staff, get photos that really illustrate that. Get shots of a nice, friendly, trustworthy delivery person to put her mind at ease. Let images tell the story of how freaking amazing your space is before a new customer even arrives!

So what kind of a restaurant website is right for you?

Again, there are more choices than anyone could possible break down. Here I lay out some options that I see as being among the best. All are generally mobile friendly.

1. Rent-a-Site

For example: Squarespace.

This is where you pay monthly (or yearly) for a website that you get to keep for as long as you keep paying the company providing it to you. Usually you build it yourself (or ask someone to build it for you using the platform – often some tech savvy team member, family member, or a high school web-builder-wannabe).

While the sales pitch entices you with the “oh so easy and quick” to launch promises, the truth is – it’s quick if you are familiar with standard drag-and-drop builder portals and have all of your content put together already.

What I Like About These “Websites In a Box”

  1. You can put a site up quickly.
  2. A web-to-app feature is sometimes available where you get a restaurant website that converts to an app for your brand.
  3. Some offer an online ordering app with your restaurant website.
  4. They can sure be pretty! Someone recently told me that the sites we’ve built look like they could be SquareSpace websites. I didn’t know whether to be happy or sad – I mean, ours are so customized! So I asked. He clarified that he thought they were like SquareSpace because they’re so “fancy.” Ok, compliment. Thanks.
  5. They tend to keep the coding updated – no “monthly management” considerations.

What I Don’t Like About the Website Rental Programs

  1. You don’t own your restaurant website (at least the platforms I’ve researched). If you stop paying, you can’t just download all the content and move it somewhere else.
  2. The “back end” is often limited. People have come to me asking to add special features to these sites, but usually the features they offer are all you can do. This can be trouble if I want to integrate lead capture forms, customer service chat, special contact features, mobile “call now” buttons, or other features our clients love.
  3. They aren’t always designed to guide the customer to do what you want them to do.
  4. Although you can log in and build it, you don’t have a nagging developer (psst – like our team) reminding you to focus on benefits and to answer the clients problems with your solutions to get them more engaged.
  5. You can’t always add a blog.
  6. SEO is a question mark. Many of the modern monthly websites put focus on SEO, but search engines change all the time. I tend to be a control freak, and unless I can see and control what’s happening, it’s hard to tell how well SEO is addressed.
  7. Usually, if they offer a feature such as working as an app or online ordering, you usually only have a couple (or no) options for a given platform.
  8. Did I mention you don’t own the website? Yeah. I know. I just have such a problem with sinking money into assets you don’t get to pack up and take with you when you’re ready to grow and move on.

2. Custom Build

Here, I am assuming that are paying for hosting and have access to the files on your server. In other words, if you decided that you want to move to another website manager or server, you could take the files from your current server and move them to another.

  • Web Host / Server: We highly recommend SiteGround. Their prices are awesome, they allow free SSL’s for subdomains (BlueHost does not at the time of this article), and their service is unbelievably good – consistently. Service is probably my #1 consideration, but SiteGround hasn’t let us down yet! Affiliate link is used – we signed up as an affiliate after falling in love with their service.

Also check to make sure that you have ownership of your domain name. I’ve built websites since the mid-90’s, and I promise that – in the long run – you’ll be much happier 20 years down the road if you’re domain name is purchased separately from your website host. I don’t change web hosts often, but when I do, it can, on occasion, be tough (or expensive) to separate the server from the domain name.

  • Domain Name: we use NameCheap to register domain names. They’re a little less expensive than GoDaddy at the time this is being written, and the service is awesome. Affiliate links are used – but we really do love NameCheap.

WordPress (Editor’s Choice)

To be specific, I’m talking about a self-hosted WordPress restaurant website – not including a website that is hosted on WordPress.com.

Now, to be completely transparent, I have built up extreme favoritism towards WordPress (specifically using Premium Themes – meaning, a theme that you purchase and build the site on) for over 10 years. Many developers will call me crazy and tell you a million reasons why I’m completely wrong. That’s fine.

I started building on WordPress when I was developing websites for my friends. It was important to me that I could build something that I could hand to them to take care of – without any coding knowledge or having to take a lot of time to do it.

It is important to me that I could build something that I could hand to my friends to take care of - without any coding knowledge or having to take a lot of time to do it. Click To Tweet

Choose Your Restaurant Website Developer Carefully

Your restaurant website will be outdated again at some point – will you use the same developer forever? If so, great – you are among the rare entrepreneur fortunate enough to have found a developer who is reasonably price, communicates well, knows how to make a website that gets results, can design a gorgeous website, is easy to get a hold of, gets back to you, doesn’t “hem and haw” over any change, works well with other developers who specialize in related technologies for which collaboration is required. If that is your developer – please give me his (or her) name – I love developers like that!!

Keep in mind that companies who build websites sometimes change focus and stop building websites, leaving clients on their own. People who build websites sometimes go on to get jobs with big firms. Also, once you start the web build process, how you feel at the beginning of the project about a web developer might not be the same once the restaurant website is launched.

If you are “married” to your developer due to a custom theme and/or coding, then what?

Access to Your Website

I’ve helped friends whose websites did not allow for access to the “back end” – I couldn’t add plugins, change the child theme or CSS for customization, or, in some cases – I couldn’t even log into their sites.

There have also been times where a web development firm wrote custom code for which they were resentful to provide support for. This custom code is for functionality that could easily be replaced by a plugin – in which case, once it’s on your website, any developer (or your cousin Sally) can help you modify it at a later date.

The Case for Premium Themes

Another thing to think about is that if you had a “custom” build using a WordPress Theme (not a custom built theme), any developer can help you with updates and changes.

This is actually a big deal, as these considerations can cost an entrepreneur thousands of additional dollars – and in some cases, for no good reason. I’ve seen it happen over and over again.

How Much Does a WordPress Restaurant Website Cost?

Here are a couple of the many options available.

  1. Masterpiece website: You can hire a fancy firm (or OMH Agency) to build you an amazing masterpiece of a website. This can cost upwards of $7,000 or higher, and if you need anything in the future, cha-ching – you need to keep going back to the firm who built it. You may want to consider this if you are a franchise with complicated needs related to features (although you still may not need to, depending on your goals).
  2. PowerSite: OMH Agency has a web development option where you get the robust back end that we need to maximize marketing, scalability, and feature enhancements. Cost = $975. It also is built with great flow, the option to include a blog, a built in Instagram feed, “Call Now” static button on mobile, and links to your downloadable menus. Shameless plug? Maybe so – but we’re really excited to offer such a robust product with a quick turnaround and low price point – and you still own your own website.

Things I Love About WordPress

I’m going to use the word “us” below to refer to you OR your website manager, if you have one.

  1. You own your website and the assets on the site. You can move it if you want to.
  2. It has to be updated frequently, giving you (or your website manager) a chance to go through and make sure things are still looking right. This also is where we set up an uptime monitor that lets us know when your site is down. If you have a WordPress website – click here to go to a recent “DIY WordPress Website Management” blog post and video that shows you how to manage your own website each month, just like we would do it as of the time of publishing.
  3. There are seemingly endless plugins to allow your website to do almost anything.
  4. It integrates with almost any major POS.
  5. It integrates with a huge number of “website to app” systems.
  6. If you can’t afford to hire someone to make changes or updates, it is VERY easy to find training online.
  7. If anything is acting weird with your website, you can Google any error and usually fix it.
  8. Most website hosts are set up to help with WordPress issues.
  9. You can easily add blog posts.
  10. Email capture and campaigns are extremely easy to integrate – and there are many tools we can use to do it.
  11. Social media is easily integrated.

Whew – you are halfway there.

Here are 11 more things I like about using WordPress to develop websites:

  1. Even when you use a purchased theme, it can be customized – usually extensively.
  2. Design options are endless.
  3. It is very easy to connect your website to Google Analytics, and I LOVE the Yoast SEO plugin, which helps us keep each page better optimized for SEO.
  4. Setting up caching, schema, and other geeky (but important) SEO tactics is very simple.
  5. You can create A/B testing for pages and/or headlines.
  6. There are several methods to add remarketing and other ad snippets or pixels.
  7. If you want to do cool things like offering recipes, add videos to blog posts, or embedding podcasts with formatting to make it look better to (and on) Google.
  8. If you have a custom built theme, you can ask your designer to draw up a design and give it to the programmer to build to those specifications.
  9. WordPress themes allow for easy changes of fonts, colors, images, and visibility on various devices. Google Fonts are free – so if you have design guide specifications from your designer, ask him/her to provide Google Font alternatives for the fonts that were selected for your brand.
  10. Even the “big boys,” and many top marketers use WordPress, and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.
  11. A person builds your website whom you can contact for help.

There are more, but these are the top benefits of WordPress websites that I see.

The bottom line is that you can start simple and go very complicated. I literally feel like WordPress allows you to do whatever you want. Sometimes it costs more to get everything working together, properly, and looking good, but it can be done!

Weaknesses of WordPress

  1. WordPress, themes, and plugins are updated often and your site can break if you don’t keep them up to date – and it can break if you do. When that happens, you need a professional to put it back together again.
  2. Some themes and plugins don’t play well with each other. When this happens, it can be disappointing after spending time and money finding “just the right” solution, only to discover it isn’t compatible with your theme or another plugin. Over the years that I’ve been doing this, it doesn’t happen often – but it is frustrating when it does.
  3. When using a theme or a plugin, you can’t always get what you want. I’ve spent hundreds of hours researching themes and plugins, and have tried possibly dozens of themes and hundreds of pugins. Nothing is perfect – one solution might have 75% of the features you want, but another has 30%. Choices have to be made. Sometimes a programmer/coder is needed, but when that happens, it’s still done in a way that it can be changed in the future by any other coder.

Other Custom Build Options

There are other platforms that you can have developed out for your restaurant website, including

  • HTML website. There are themes that can be used, or it can be coded based on your design.
  • Other platforms like Magento and Drupal, where they can be hosted on your server

Bottom Line on Restaurant Websites

At the end of the day, weigh out what your goals are, the resources you have at hand, and your budget, and always keep the end in mind.

My biggest hope for you is that you have the best website possible, which any of the solutions can provide in some ways, but beyond that:

  • Represent your brand well
  • Be good to your customers
  • Make it easy for people to buy
  • Put potential customers at ease so they want to try you out
  • Set yourself up for trying and sustaining the best marketing strategies and tactics to grow your business

The truth is that your industry is a lot like mine: it changes fairly rapidly, and if you’re not growing your dying. If you aren’t doing what it takes, your competitors will. That’s a chance not worth taking.

PS: Here’s a selfish request: If you’re food is awesome and drinks are gorgeous, please tag @omhagency!! I love foodie pics.

If you're food is awesome and drinks are gorgeous, please tag @omhagency!! I thrive on foodie pics. Click To Tweet