Best practice for hospitality websites

Designing and developing a website for a cafe, bar, venue or restaurant should be simple, because there's a typical set of features and requirements. But it's amazing how many venues don't quite nail it. Too often, we have trouble finding menus, addresses or phone numbers. This problem is made worse when we're out on the town and relying on our phone to look up information. It's frustrating, and as everybody knows, first impressions count.

We've drawn from our personal experiences and industry experience building website for hospitality clients to compile a list of best practices for designing hospitality websites. Implement these points, and no one will have a hard time finding out who you are and what you're offering. This can only be a good thing.

User Experience

Be Responsive - Design for Mobile Phones

The big thing to consider is the devices your potential customers might be using. Most people are using their phones to find bars and restaurants on the go. A website which doesn't work on small screens is likely to be passed over, becoming another victim to bad first impressions. We always design for mobile first. Specifically:

  • Responsive layouts - so your site works on every sized screen
  • Contact info, opening hours and menu links should be featured at the top of the screen
  • Phone numbers should trigger a phone call when clicked
  • Addresses should trigger a google map when clicked

Some things are universal. Your contact details, address and opening hours should be clear and easily accessible. Phone numbers and maps should be clickable, to save people entering the information manually. Booking forms such as Dimmi are a great extension of this, permitting hassle-free reservations.

Predictability is good, make it easy for your customer.

User experience (UX) critical, and often, that means keeping it basic, even predictable. A unique and showy website is one thing, but if it's not easy to navigate and legible, your customers will go elsewhere. Worry about creating a unique experience at your venue, rather than online.

Don't use Flash - Ever. 

Flash doesn't work on phones. So don't use it - not ever. If you have a flash website or a website that uses flash you need to rebuild it using HTML and CSS. Animations used sparingly can be an effective way to engage and delight users; used excessively they can make your site slow and get in the way of giving your customers the basic information they need.

Create HTML Menus - not just PDFs

PDFs menus have similar problems to flash, being slow to load and plagued by compatibility issues. Plus search engines can't always read PDFs so all those great descriptions of your menu items won't help people find you.

Simple HTML menus should always be your first choice – they display right away, with no download required. If you really want to show customers your actual menu, PDFs can be added as well.

Great Content

Websites should never be a case of "set and forget". Any venue worth its salt should regularly update its site, advertising menu changes, new opening hours, special menu items, upcoming events, holiday shut-down periods, job opportunities and other noteworthy stuff. Apart from potentially increasing Google rank, this practice keeps regular visitors happy and shows them you're still operating.

Content Management

We like to set clients up with Craft, our favourite CMS, so they can quickly update pages as they need. Craft is also mobile friendly. So if you want to change a price, add a last minute special or keg change you can do it right from the bar or kitchen in a moment; no need to wait until you're back at the office.

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Copywriting

Proof read; if you do nothing else, check your spelling and prices. Ideally you will do more much more than that because customers love details. Tell them about your wines, the size of your dining room, the influences of your chefs, where today's fish special comes from and which model of sound equipment you have. Also, hire great copywriter to create engaging text for you or at least ask some friends and family to edit it for you; people are disorientated by poorly written content.

Photography

Content's not just about words, though. Your website should also look great. Part of this is in the design, but images also make a big impact. It's never worth skimping on photography. Ever – not even if your friend owns an expensive camera and offers to do it for free. Hire a professional and photograph your venue and menu extensively. Trust us, your customers will notice.

Promotion - be everywhere

A website shouldn't be a dead end. It should be one location in your online total online presence. Give your customers as many opportunities to find you online as possible.

Social Media - establish trust and build desire

Social media is the most obvious example here. Used well, it can be very effective at keeping your venue in customers' minds and making it even easier for new customers to hear about you. Used poorly, though, it makes your venue look sloppy and out-of-date.

Ultimately it's about establishing trust and building desire so only commit to social media if you're prepared to maintain it and try to post quality content. This might even entail giving a staff member 15 or 30 minutes a day to build and engage with your community.

To get the most out of your social media channels, integrate them with your website, it will help keep your site fresh with new dynamic content, and let customers know where else they can find you.

Not sure what to post about? How about:

  • Your great customers
  • Your great staff
  • Your great suppliers
  • You're great produce
  • Experiments in the kitchen and bar
  • This weeks events
  • Tonight's band
  • The specials and discounts
  • An exciting new beer or wine
  • Anything you happen across that might interest your customers

Our clients have had excellent success with the following platforms:

  1. Instagram: It's quick and easy to take a picture of your delicious fresh oysters, tonight's band or an espresso martini. With effective descriptions and hashtagging you can find real customers in your area and let them know what's happening right now.
  2. Facebook: this ubiquitous social platform has lots of flexibility, run promotions, collect reviews, gather feedback, hold competitions, advertise. If you are on one platform only - make it Facebook. 
  3. Twitter: Like instagram, but mostly text based, it's great for quick updates and finding your customers.
  4. YouTube: It can be time consuming to create and publish videos, but it's well worth the effort, and there are lots of excellent and affordable videography companies. Why not show of your chefs and bartenders in action or give a tour of your venue.

Directory Listings

Directories and testimonials are by far the simplest target, and one we encourage everyone to use. Your venue should be listed on Google places, so it shows up on maps and searches. Likewise, food and drink directories/publications such as Broadsheet, TimeOut, Urbanspoon and Yelp are always worth being a part of.

Positive comments from these sources should be published on your website, so as to amplify their impact.

Negative reviews should be responded to with a genuine intention to make unsatisfied customers happy, not just deleted, pretend they are face to face with you at your venue.

Email Newsletters & Blogs

A slightly easier option than social media is an email newsletter or blog, whereby subscribers are kept updated about what's going on. Again, this requires some commitment to producing interesting news that people will really want to read, but used well, it can be very effective for reminding your customers about you and generating new business. Also, google loves original content, so blogging is great for SEO.

Bring it all together

It's all simple stuff – and yet, as we said, so many hospitality websites fail to do everything properly, failing their potential customers in the process. Don't let it be you too.
If you're site uses flash, is hard to maintain, out of date or not mobile compatible Francis Bond can provide a free website audit and obligation free estimate to bring your hospitality website up to best practice.