The Jillian Bolger Column - Restaurant Websites

JILLIAN BOLGER wonders why so many restaurants’ websites let them down.

Remember the last time you went online to google a restaurant? Do you recall what information you were looking for? Maybe you wanted to learn more about somewhere new or to check the address, opening hours or make a booking. Perhaps you wanted to browse the menus to decide if the food would appeal to everyone, or whether it was within budget.

If these seem like straightforward reasons to visit a restaurant’s website then you’d have to wonder why so many establishments can’t get the basics right. If there’s one thing worse than having no website (and plenty of places still don’t), it’s having a poorly designed one with out-dated information and terrible photos.

In essence, a website is a shop window, whether it’s for a doctor, butcher or café. It conveys a sense of who you are, how you operate and connects you to would-be customers, as well as providing useful information. If a restaurant is going to make an effort with its décor, and branding then it makes sense to extend that effort to the internet.

How many times have you stared blankly at a restaurant’s home page, wondering where on earth it’s located? Sure, you’ve scrolled to the bottom, looking for the address in vain, before clicking the Contact button, certain it’s going to be revealed here. Congratulations, you’ve now found the email address and phone number but you still don’t know how to get to where you’re going.

So, if the address isn’t deemed important enough to be on the restaurant’s home page or listed in the Contact tab, where on earth do you suppose it’s hidden? Ah – in the About Us section. Of course! So obvious, really. Except it’s not.

Next to hidden addresses it’s ridiculous how many places forget to tell you when they open and close. And those that do include their hours frequently bury them behind random tabs. Some cram their sites with so many videos, links and marketing gimmicks that the pertinent information is frustratingly elusive. I can’t be the only one who doesn’t want pop-up windows, Muzak or a short film about the chef’s ethos. I’m here to get information, not play treasure hunt.

And how many websites cheekily feature recommendations pulled from ridiculously old restaurant reviews? One well-known Dublin restaurant’s website still highlights a quote from a favourable review that ran in The Sunday Tribune. For those of you who don’t recall, The Tribune folded in 2011.

Even the good restaurants have problems – namely keeping their websites updated. Not having a mobile-friendly website is a failing too. There are few things more annoying than scrolling across wide pages on a phone screen when all you want to do is see if they take bookings. And what’s the deal with PDF menus? Do we really need to download a document to our phone just to see what you’re serving for lunch?

I get that setting up and running a restaurant is expensive and there may be no money left for a web designer. Then there’s the problem of staff finding time to update the content and menus. But websites and social media are a necessary evil for today’s trade and restaurants need to treat them as key assets.

I may not have time to click on all the bells and whistles some places add to their websites, but I’m unlikely to complain if they don’t get between me and my quest for acquiring basic information.

In an ideal world all restaurant websites would be like Etto’s – pared back and minimalist yet telling customers everything they need to know on the home page. If a small place like this can get it so right then there’s no excuse for anyone else.

This article first appeared in Food & Wine Magazine and is reproduced with their kind permission.



Jillian Bolger is an award-winning editor and journalist specialising in food and travel writing. A member of the Irish Food Writers’ Guild and former editor of Food & Wine magazine (1999-2003,) she writes for The Irish Independent, Image, Food & Wine Magazine, Image Interiors and The Herald and is editor of Irish Brides magazine. She has worked with Georgina Campbell’s since 2008 years and is the Dublin Editor. Jillian has won several awards for her travel writing and holds an honours degree in the Arts. Her love of travel has seen her live in Australia, Sri Lanka, the USA and Germany. She lives in Dublin with her husband and three young children. Follow her on Twitter at @JillianBolger

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