When you’re tired of cooking yourself and ready to get food that’s been prepared by somebody else, what’s your first move? You turn to the internet.
Whether that’s to head to the website of a restaurant you know you like, or to do some searches to find a new one to try, most people start the process of getting a meal from a restaurant online.
That was often true before COVID-19, but today pulling up a restaurant website to peruse the menu, check for takeout and delivery options, and place orders is an even bigger part of the typical process of “eating out.”
If you don’t have a website for your restaurant, trust that many of your potential customers will end up looking for an eatery that does.
10 Reasons Websites for Restaurants Are Important
A website is a restaurant’s main home online. It’s the place customers that already know you will check first when they want information about you. And it’s the main way new customers looking for options when they’re hungry will learn about you.
Having a restaurant website provides a number of undeniable benefits.
1. A website shows legitimacy.
For any type of business, many consumers see a website as a clear sign the business is established and trustworthy. Not having one can make you seem amateur or sketchy by contrast. A restaurant website that looks professional and provides accurate information demonstrates to potential customers that you’re running a reputable business.
And when it comes to food—where the stakes of eating bad food are high (food poisoning is no joke)—showing your audience you take running your restaurant seriously is important.
2. A website makes your restaurant easier to find.
When someone wakes up hungry and types “breakfast taco near me” into their phone or laptop, they’re only going to see results that have an online presence.
While a website isn’t technically required to show up in a Google search—a Google business listing is enough—having a website still plays a big role in how easily customers are able to find you online.
In deciding which businesses and websites should show up on page one in a search, your website authority is one of the things Google’s algorithms take into account. If you don’t have a website for your restaurant at all, you don’t have a way to build authority, which means you’ll show up less often in relevant searches. And the times you do show up, when people see there’s no website link in your Google listing, they may skip to an option that does have a site that makes it easy for them to learn more about the business and food they serve.
And since people who like your food don’t have anything to link to when recommending you, you’ll miss out on online promotional opportunities.
Say a local food blogger loves your breakfast tacos. If they’re able to link back to your website in a review, it both increases your website authority and gives their readers an easy way to check out your restaurant. Without that link, readers don’t have a clear, authoritative place to learn about your restaurant and are less likely to follow through and give you a try.
3. People can browse your menu.
Before committing to a specific restaurant, people want to know what they’re getting in for. What specific food options do you bring to the table? When your menu is right there online, you make it easy for potential customers to review their options and decide what looks good.
Making your menu available online is useful for everyone, but becomes especially important for any potential customers that have food allergies or are picky eaters. For example, someone who can’t eat gluten needs to know before they show up to your restaurant whether there’s anything on the menu they can actually eat.
If your menu isn’t available for them to look over in advance, you risk having to deal with unhappy customers that show up hungry and can’t eat (or don’t want) anything you have to offer. And you increase the likelihood that people you could feed don’t show up at all, because they can’t confirm your restaurant has anything they’d want.
Pro tip: Whatever format you load your menu in, make sure it works well on mobile! A lot of people make decisions about where to eat while on the go. They want to see what’s nearby when they’re hungry on their way home from work or finishing up errands. For these customers, being able to see what their menu options are on their phones can be a deciding factor in their decision about whether to order with you, or go with another area restaurant.
4. You can load mouth-watering images of your food.
Food appeals to more of our senses than just taste. While you can’t use your website to get people’s taste buds watering via the yummy smells of your cooking, you can show them how delectable your dishes look. Take advantage of the visual medium of websites to show off your tastiest looking entrees and appetizers.
Food that sounds good can become downright irresistible once people can get a glimpse of how it looks. Plus original images of your food are a good way to make a website experience stronger. They make the brand experience people get from your website more memorable, and give you more places to optimize your website for search engines.
5. Online ordering is now expected.
Now that most of your consumer base is sheltering in place, the main way people are frequenting restaurants is through online orders. If you don’t have a website, you aren’t giving housebound customers a way to order from you.
The best way to keep up business for the course of the pandemic is to make sure people have easy options to place takeout and delivery orders through your website.
Getting that set up now means that you can reap the benefits of the additional income stream online ordering provides once the danger passes. Creating your own system of taking online orders through a website can also save you from a dependency on third-party delivery services that often take too much off the top for restaurants to make any profit—especially if you start to employ your own delivery drivers.
A restaurant website is the first step toward providing the convenience of online ordering—something people require now, and will continue to appreciate when the option of dining at a restaurant becomes safe again.
6. You decide how your brand is portrayed.
You don’t have to have a website for your restaurant to have an online presence. Your restaurant can be listed on Yelp and Google without ever launching your own website. So it may be tempting to just stick with those easy options—customers can find you there, and you can save the time and cost it takes to build a website, right?
The problem is that you don’t have control over how you show up on those spaces. You’re limited in what information you can include. You’re not able to put forth the version of your brand you want people to encounter.
When you create your own restaurant website, the space belongs entirely to you. You choose the color scheme so it matches your overall branding. You talk about your restaurant in the terms you know matter most to your customers. And you can load the best photos of the food your customers love. Your website is where you can put your best online face forward for the world, and make the case to customers for why they should choose you.
7. You give people a heads up about your restaurant hours.
Have you ever made the trip to a restaurant you were looking forward to, only to find it closed? You were probably already hungry and had to figure out an alternative option in a rush—not a fun experience. With COVID-19 wreaking havoc on any regularity that once existed in restaurant schedules, the risk of this experience has increased.
You don’t want to disappoint customers that are already stressed out. A website is the best way to keep up-to-date information about your hours and what types of service you’re offering all in a central location.
If dine-in service isn’t available and customers need to put in an order online for pickup, you want to provide clear instructions where they know to look. If you’ll be open on a different schedule than usual, you want to give them a head’s up before they get their hopes up for a lunch they can’t have.
8. You can share safety procedures.
Your location, your menu, and your food photography are all contributing factors in deciding whether to choose your restaurant. But in the age of COVID-19, another big thing consumers are looking for is information on how you’re working to keep customers and employees safe.
A restaurant website gives you a chance to communicate to your audience that you’re taking concerns about the virus seriously, and that you’re thoughtfully implementing procedures to reduce risk as much as possible. As the restaurant owner, it also gives you a place to clearly outline any rules you expect customers to follow to keep others safe, such as wearing a mask or staying in their car for pickups and letting you bring orders to them.
Even if people love your food, if they’re scared you’re not taking proper precautions to keep them safe, they won’t have anything to do with your business. And if conscious consumers feel like you’re needlessly putting employees at risk, you’ll lose their business for the long term as well. Show people you care and are doing your due diligence to get this right.
9. You can add income streams.
A restaurant site will mostly exist to promote your food, but you don’t have to stop there. Any restaurant website with ecommerce functionality can be used to sell other items as well. You can promote gift cards on your website, and sell branded merchandise like t-shirts, mugs, and stickers.
You could even sell kits of everything a customer needs to make some of the items on your menu themselves. In some locales, cocktail kits have been a popular option (but you have to make sure that’s a legal option in your city before you go that route). That can be a good way to give people a taste of the experience they’d get dining in, even when it’s not an option.
10. You can enable and highlight customer reviews.
A lot of restaurants like to claim they offer the best pizza, tacos, or BBQ in their city, but most customers can see right through those claims—unless they’re backed up by customer reviews. If you allow customer reviews on your website and person after person talks up how delicious your pasta dishes or enchiladas are, every website visitor will see and pay attention.
Positive reviews are powerful. For restaurants, they’re one of the best tools you have to prove to people that you’re worth trying out. The first step to getting good reviews is making amazing cuisine. Presumably, you’ve already got that part down. The next step is making it as easy as possible for customers to share what they think about your food on your beautiful website, or on other popular review sites like Google and Yelp.
Once you’ve gotten raves from happy customers, you can highlight their words on your website where any new customers interested in giving you a try can see them. Hearing how much your other customers love your cuisine will help anyone on the fence go ahead and make that order.
Build Your Restaurant Website Today
In the best of times, running a restaurant successfully is hard. We’re clearly not in the best of times, and probably won’t be for a while. One of the most important things you can do right now to stay afloat is make sure you have an intuitive, useful, attractive restaurant website.
If restaurant website design sounds intimidating, don’t let it be. Building a website today is easier than it’s ever been. You can use an intuitive website builder that comes with pre-designed templates and offers drag-and-drop functionality that anyone can figure out. Yes, even you as a restaurant owner can master website design with our easy to use templates. You can get a basic website up in a matter of hours, and make your food more accessible to customers in the process.
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.