The sordid love affair between restaurant websites and flash: would you two kids knock it off, already?

Agencies all over the world must be making a fortune designing overly fancy websites for restaurants, and I wish they’d knock it off.

I’ve never been in the restaurant business.  I also don’t know much about it, other than to have an appreciation for how difficult it must be: demanding hours, fickle customers, staffing challenges, perishable inventory, health inspections.  Given all those other challenges, you’d think that restaurants would want to do whatever they could to help visitors to their website quickly and painlessly find what they need to be convinced to make a booking. But this is so often just not the case, and is a reason restaurants are accelerating site disintermediation to places like MenuPages and OpenTable.

Despite not having worked directly in this business, I’m going to go on a crazy limb and predict what 95% of restaurant website visitors are looking for, probably even in this order:

1) the restaurant’s current menu
2) contact & general information: phone, location, hours of operation
3) a few photos to get a sense of the interior vibe and design of the place

Instead of making some or all of the above available front and center on the homepage, I’ve seen way too many restaurant websites with the following sequence of events:

1) a ‘loading’ bar as some huge animation sequence is served. Mind you, this is on fast broadband connections. I can only imagine what it must be like when connecting at slower speeds (and yes, plenty of people still do)
2) music begins
3) some big story appears about the chef’s philosophy and inspiration for the establishment
4) menus are 3 clicks deep and require a pdf download

The pdf thing alone is going to alienate a lot of customers. (they either won’t download the menu or won’t find it after they do)

Check out these sample offenders.  (it took me about 2 minutes to put together this list on the fly).  Keep in mind that these are all restaurants I actually like.  I’m just frustrated with their websites: Almond, Spice, Tao,Paris Commune, Singe Vert.  Here are some more examples from Matthew Stibbe, who shares my frustration.

On the other hand, Crispo, one of my neighborhood favorites, does it very well: a blazing-fast homepage that conveys basic information & the core of the restaurant’s vibe, on-screen menus a click away, and photo galleries and virtual tours on a separate tab.

Crispo's homepage is clean, fast, and helpful

Crispo's homepage is clean, fast, and helpful

There are a lot of compelling situations when fancy animation on the web adds value: virtual real estate tours, high end hotels, showcasing the interior of a car, demonstrating a complicated software product, maybe showing off a cruise line.  But the homepage of a restaurant site is not the right place & not the right time.  If restaurants feel their interiors are absolutely so compelling that they deserve an animated tour, put it one click deep on another page.

Back to one point: should restaurants really care if their potential customers prefer to turn to MenuPages or OpenTable rather than the restaurant’s own site?  Yes.  MenuPages, while incredibly helpful from a menu perspective, doesn’t convey the other elements & atmosphere of the restaurant that help define it as an experience.  (and yes, those elements CAN be expressed without resorting to flash on the homepage).  And OpenTable (which I absolutely love) is great for customers, but may end up costing the restaurant for a reservation that would have been free had the customer called the restaurant after visiting the restaurant’s own site.

For all the many restaurants out there that I love, please: keep your websites fast, straightforward, helpful, and free of homepage animation. By doing so you can save on agency fees, give your customers what they want, and avoid driving customers to 3rd party sites that either don’t convey your full brand experience or make you pay for bookings.

4 responses to “The sordid love affair between restaurant websites and flash: would you two kids knock it off, already?

  1. You’re so right but I thought it was just a problem with fancy European restaurants but it seems like everybody is getting in on the act (except Crispo).

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