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Why restaurant websites are generally terrible
August 10, 2011 11:20 AM   Subscribe


 
We kinda just did this, although in fairness, they are really, really bad.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 11:24 AM on August 10, 2011


My favorite. And by "favorite," I mean "horrible to use." Try to find hours. Or how many locations they have. Do they accept reservations? You can try to find a phone number and ask....
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:32 AM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


The National's site was designed by Eng San Kho, of Love and War, who also created what I consider the platonic ideal of a restaurant site—the page for Jimmy, a rooftop bar at the James Hotel in Soho. The site is aggressively minimalist. At the top is a slideshow (not in Flash) of large photographs. Underneath, in easy-to-read text, you'll find everything you're looking for: address, email, phone number, hours. The site works on any device, and it loads up in half a second.

Jimmy's menu is in PDF. Thumbs down.
posted by jng at 11:33 AM on August 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


This is a good restaurant website. It's also a really, really good restaurant.
posted by rtha at 11:36 AM on August 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


There's a sushi place nearby that was open late that I used to regularly order pick-up from. Then one day they decided that it would be a great idea to remove all the prices from their online menu. Haven't ordered since.
posted by telstar at 11:37 AM on August 10, 2011


Why do journalists ask questions in their headlines which their articles then fail to answer? This article's lead nearly screams "Read on to see the results of my research into the secret of shitty restaurant web sites" while the ensuing paragraphs are actually just a columnist saying "I, too, am annoyed by this longstanding problem, and I talked to some people about it, but they all told me the same things you already thought were the problem."
posted by RogerB at 11:37 AM on August 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why do journalists ask questions in their headlines which their articles then fail to answer?

The people who write headlines and stories are almost always different people.
posted by grouse at 11:39 AM on August 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


This guy is a bit of an dolt... The statement "Your client is someone in their 50s who runs a restaurant but is not very in tune with technology. What's going to impress them more: Something with music and moving images, something that looks very fancy to someone who doesn't know about optimizing the Web for consumer use..." is wrong in so many ways... the client is in their "50s", therefore is a tech idiot, they "run a restaurant" therefore they have no taste...

fools spouting generalities generally shouldn't be listened to... (pretend I didn't say that, in such a general way)
posted by tomswift at 11:41 AM on August 10, 2011


The article nails this one save for one small caveat: there is no relationship between swank restaurant and website quality (well, perhaps a little; the mid-to-low range of casual atmosphere tend toward decent yet simple sites, in my experience, YMMV). There are the few restaurants (and bars that serve food) with decent-enough websites that are well-designed, simple, with most information any potential patron may want to access (i.e., hours, menu, special accommodations). The rest, however, are varying degrees of awful.

You have - as the article says - an owner that visits websites and is impressed by the shiny stuff available on the internet and may indeed spend a large amount of time online but doesn't give much thought to design or usefulness. In my limited experience, the non-fine-dining joints usually say something like "Oh, I know a guy that can put something together," they hire a kid with outdated experience and that's that. Restaurants live in the real world, not on the internet, and that's the disconnect - there's not much outside thinking, given the web is still seen as an international tool rather than a local one, and that's a shame.
posted by neewom at 11:42 AM on August 10, 2011


Same reason bands have crappy websites. Because everyone thinks they can do it better.

There needs to be a Facebook for businesses.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:42 AM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


My favorite. And by "favorite," I mean "horrible to use." Try to find hours. Or how many locations they have. Do they accept reservations? You can try to find a phone number and ask....

I haven't even tried because, no joke, that site has been loading for about three minutes now. And it's still going.
posted by eyeballkid at 11:43 AM on August 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


The people who write headlines and stories are almost always different people.

Not as much anymore. That was typically the case in newspapers, where the writers were likely to be gone when the story got laid out, and therefore editors would write the headline, because it often needed to be a certain letter count to fit the space allotted.

Nowadays, with online publishing, article writers are generally the ones who write their headlines. I don't know that this is the case with Slate, but Farhad Manjoo is staff writer there, and I would be very surprised if he didn't plug his own text, including headline, into whatever publishing platform they use, and then the editor gives it a once over before making it live.

As to why restaurants have such crappy webpages, I suspect it's because they look at other restaurant websites when thinking about their own.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:44 AM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I like this piece very much. It seems that many local businesses -- restaurants included -- still have a 1998 sensibility about websites, with no clue as to what people visiting it might be visiting it for; you know, like back in the days when a visit to a national chain's website involved low-res gifs of waving flags and links to the mission statement and a message from the president, but no way to find out the location or hours or phone number of that store downtown.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:47 AM on August 10, 2011


GenjiandProust: My favorite. And by "favorite," I mean "horrible to use." Try to find hours. Or how many locations they have. Do they accept reservations? You can try to find a phone number and ask....

I feel like I'm missing something because I was able to find their location, hours, and phone number with one click. I also like that they give kitchen hours. That being said, I hate that it keeps shifting side to side because my browser window isn't as wide as they think it should be...

I do like how the linked article mentions how bad restaurant sites drive people to use third-party services like Yelp. I rarely, if ever, visit a restaurant's website before their Yelp page and always send links to Yelp when my friends and I are emailing about places to go.
posted by youngergirl44 at 11:53 AM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


it is mind-boggling to me that every website in the world doesn't have a simple, easy-to-navigate mobile website. Immediately viewable hours, ddress (as text!), and phone number (again, as text!). Maybe menus, but only if your stuff changes all the time (or if it never, ever changes).

Grrr.
posted by peachfuzz at 11:53 AM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


My favorite. And by "favorite," I mean "horrible to use." Try to find hours. Or how many locations they have. Do they accept reservations? You can try to find a phone number and ask....

Seriously? It took about ten seconds. First try: About Us. Second try: Contact -- hours, link to a Google Map and a phone number there. Sure it's flash-driven and ugly for that, but the info isn't that difficult to locate.
posted by cog_nate at 11:55 AM on August 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


>Jimmy's menu is in PDF. Thumbs down.

I genuinely interested in this critique - is a .pdf hard to read on a cel phone? Something else?
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 11:55 AM on August 10, 2011


I haven't even tried because, no joke, that site has been loading for about three minutes now. And it's still going.

They do give you an animated beer glass to watch...
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:57 AM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not to derail, but if you're a local newspaper, put the damn name of your city, state, country, etc., on the home page, and preferably on every page.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 11:58 AM on August 10, 2011 [19 favorites]


is a .pdf hard to read on a cel phone? - on mine, yes. (Android G2)
posted by epersonae at 12:02 PM on August 10, 2011


tl;dr: Restaurant owners don't know web design or how to hire a decent designer, so they throw money at poseurs.
posted by Splunge at 12:02 PM on August 10, 2011


Seriously? It took about ten seconds.

Ah, crud. They have added a navigation bar at the bottom since the last time I used it. Still, they have two locations, both of which direct you to this page if you search for them, and finding the second location is... well, it's still eluding me. Of course, the vertigo I get every time I move my mouse isn't helping things....
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:02 PM on August 10, 2011


It sounds like there's a serious need for a restaurant-focused, easy to use CMS for managing things like menus and reservations.
posted by tommasz at 12:02 PM on August 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


What I want from a restaurant website.
posted by tr33hggr at 12:02 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Whoops. Again.
posted by tr33hggr at 12:03 PM on August 10, 2011


All that and I see it was posted in the other thread. /hangs head in shame, sulks away
posted by tr33hggr at 12:04 PM on August 10, 2011


While we're on the topic of bitching about restaurants, why don't more of the ones that deliver have an online ordering system? I sat on hold with the local pizza place and then waited while he entered in my credit card number incorrectly, so I had to repeat it, and then finally pay with my husband's card. It'd be extra special super nice for places where the phone person doesn't speak English that well.
posted by desjardins at 12:05 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


not_that_epiphanius: is a .pdf hard to read on a cel phone?

Not hard to read, necessarily, but large/slow to download depending on your phone and carrier. I have no problem with them on my Evo Shift and Sprint, but would rather die than try it on my SO's iPhone and AT&T. Another annoyance is having to open another application to view the PDF instead of having it display in the browser I was already using.
posted by youngergirl44 at 12:06 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


My restaurant's (that I work for, not that I own nor make any decisions for) website is a microcosm of how our restaurant is run: A mishmash of disparate, confusing elements, thrown together and making no sense whatsoever to any outsider but still managing to get just enough information across to enable you to have a nice drink and meal. I have no idea how any of it works, or who is in charge of it, but I fear if I look at it too closely, it'll all fall apart.

So yes, I suspect websites are, as their base, a reflection of the restaurant that the customer doesn't normally see. They remind me of standing at the slide, running expo, when there's a 45 minute wait at the peak of the rush and three different people are shouting at me and none of them is aware of the others.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 12:12 PM on August 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


I wish I could come up with a way to get someone to pay me to both copyedit and streamline restaurant web pages. The number of times that I see glaring typos that could be fixed almost instantaneously is huge, and the number of times when they give me the absolute wrong set of information (I'm trying to remember the restaurant that I just went to about a month ago, where only after getting there did I find out that the menus online were two years old and they didn't have any vegetarian entrees anymore).

Like, should I be cold calling these folks and telling them that their websites are fucked and that while I can't make a flash-bang widget fest (my web design skillz top out at nested tables), I can reduce their fuckery by a general 60 percent because I know how people use websites to find information?

"You should give me money to tell you that people want to know your hours and location within one click, and your menu within two clicks. Everything else is noise, even if it's sometimes pleasing noise. Also, make sure if you have a bio on your site, it's for a chef that still works there."
posted by klangklangston at 12:13 PM on August 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


The PDF menus are prevalent because the restaurant owners already have it in that format to print it out, and the inexperienced web guy they hired can't justify *making it again* for an online version. The owners also approach the site as though it were an *advertisement* and not a *reference* which is why the hours and location can get sidelined in favour of smiling photos of people eating and gushing descriptions of how "tantalizing" their food is.
posted by RobotHero at 12:17 PM on August 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


My aunt asked me for advice when she wanted a website built for her Pizza delivery business. It was simple, I told her:

- Address, hours, telephone number. all front and center. at least on the home page, or ideally on every page.
- HTML menu.
- home page should either be the specials, or the menu. No ridiculous animations or the life story that caused you to open up this special snowflake restaurant (this can go on a subpage).

It doesn't seem terrribly difficult.
posted by utsutsu at 12:18 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Seriously? It took about ten seconds. First try: About Us. Second try: Contact -- hours, link to a Google Map and a phone number there. Sure it's flash-driven and ugly for that, but the info isn't that difficult to locate.

I use Firefox on a reasonably fast Mac on a reasonable fast Internet connection. Everything is configured correctly, and virtually trouble-free.

But when I tried to visit the Town Hall Brewery site linked above on my machine, I was treated to a slowly filling glass of beer for over three minutes, an image of a table and a spinning beachball for over a minute, and then Flash crashed, leaving me with nothing more in the browser than a little frowny face.

GenjiandProust was right, that site rivals the Timecube in lack of usability.
posted by eschatfische at 12:22 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


It sounds like there's a serious need for a restaurant-focused, easy to use CMS for managing things like menus and reservations.

There's always OpenTable (discussed previously) and MenuPages (mentioned the last time we discussed this).
posted by antifuse at 12:24 PM on August 10, 2011


http://neversaidaboutrestaurantwebsites.tumblr.com/
I laughed till I cried.
posted by 8dot3 at 12:26 PM on August 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


not_that_epiphanius: is a .pdf hard to read on a cel phone?

Not hard to read, necessarily, but large/slow to download depending on your phone and carrier.


Just as a side note, I've noticed that Microsoft Office apps that have the ability to create PDFs (2007 and later, I think) create files 10x larger than I get with PDFCreator. While I'm sure there must be a way to tune them to be smaller, I would imagine the average restaurant doesn't know that.
posted by tommasz at 12:27 PM on August 10, 2011


Nobody knows the difference between web and print resolutions.
posted by desjardins at 12:29 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


(Which is why my dad sends me 3 mb vacation pictures in sixteen separate emails)
posted by desjardins at 12:30 PM on August 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


I kind of hope no one does anything about this because it's one of our favorite things to make fun of in the llama household and we cling to our fleeting moments of superiority. We are simple folk.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:32 PM on August 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


"When you visit many terrible restaurant websites in succession, it becomes obvious that they're not bad because of neglect or lack of funds—these food purveyors appear to have spent a great deal of money and time to uglify their pages. Indeed, there seems to be an inverse relationship between a restaurant's food and its site. The swankier the place, the worse the page."

This all seems to be true for Las Vegas resort/casino websites, as well.
posted by mmrtnt at 12:33 PM on August 10, 2011


Think restaurant sites are bad? Try most any architect's site.
posted by webhund at 12:34 PM on August 10, 2011


I'd like to find whoever is ultimately responsible for the encouragement of the use of flash by website designers and kick them in the junk. If your main page says, Sorry, you need Flash and Javascript enabled to view our site! when a visitor clicks on your link while having flash blocked and javascript disabled in their browser like all sensible people do, your extremely expensive website fucking sucks.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:40 PM on August 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm happy if a restaurant has a website. Moving to a non-big-city in the Midwest from the East Coast was like moving back 10 years in Internet Time.

I was used to being able to get fresh, hot, delicious delivery of any sort of food I wanted without having to talk to a human (other than an appreciative grunt to the delivery person), and suddenly I have to use the Yellow Pages (the actual physical dead-tree Yellow Pages) to figure out how to obtain dinner.
posted by BrashTech at 12:51 PM on August 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've been looking at a lot of independent hotel/motel websites as I plan my vacation, and they are shockingly poor, too. Lots of flash, lots of Quicktime panoramas. Few maps of where the hotel actually IS (in rural areas, mailing addresses don't mean much to Google).
posted by desjardins at 1:03 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I immediately did a double-take upon reading that story's opener—the example he uses, Hubert Keller's site, was my first example in the recent AskMe about restaurant websites. This wouldn't be the first time I've wondered: Does Farhad Manjoo read MetaFilter?
posted by limeonaire at 1:08 PM on August 10, 2011


Civil_Disobedient: "There needs to be a Facebook for businesses."

You think Facebook is GOOD design? Ugh.

My wife and I went to this place for our anniversary. She found it and sent me the link. I decided I liked it based on the website alone. It's even better than the "best" site linked to in the article - the menu is HTML.

(Oh yeah, and the food was great too.)
posted by caution live frogs at 1:15 PM on August 10, 2011


Think restaurant sites are bad? Try most any architect's site.

I'll go a step further: Most websites for small businesses are terrible. Most websites in general are terrible.
posted by odinsdream at 1:15 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why are restaurant websites so horrifically bad?

Why do restaurants need websites?
posted by straight at 1:34 PM on August 10, 2011


Why do restaurants need websites?

Are you seriously asking?
posted by antifuse at 1:40 PM on August 10, 2011


Why do restaurants need websites?

Because if I don't know what I'm ordering going in I'll spend the first fifteen minutes paralyzed by choice and thoughts of Food I Might Want To Eat.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:41 PM on August 10, 2011


Why are restaurant websites so horrifically bad?
...
Why do restaurants need websites?
...
Are you seriously asking?

I think that was a rhetorical response meaning that because restaurants need websites, then clearly they also need to be horrifically bad.
posted by jabberjaw at 1:47 PM on August 10, 2011


straight: Why do restaurants need websites?

Because I'm in the mood for pasta, my boyfriend is in the mood for steak, we have a vegetarian *and* a practicing Muslim in our group, another friend who's unemployed, and probably won't be able to meet for dinner until 9pm (even later if we have to go home and change into something nicer). Before we show up, I need to know, in great detail: What's on your menu? How much does it cost? Do you have a dress code? How late is your kitchen open? Do we need reservations for larger groups?
posted by youngergirl44 at 1:49 PM on August 10, 2011 [7 favorites]


Next up : Why are band websites so horriffically bad?

or

FUCK YOUR IMMERSIVE MULTIMEDIA EXPERIENCE AND YOUR DUMBASS COUSIN WHO MADE YOUR WEBSITE, I WANT TOUR DATES AND A FEW SAMPLE MP3S AND THAT'S IT, FUCKBAGS!
posted by Afroblanco at 1:52 PM on August 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


Why do restaurants need websites?

Because I like planning ahead for nice meals while on vacation, and like to be able to have an idea of where to go and what to eat BEFORE I get into town, instead of trying to figure it out after? Seriously?

As long as we're on the topic of restaurant websites: If your restaurant has a website, PLEASE make sure the damned menu is actually up to date. Some years back, some friends and I intended to meet up in Ann Arbor for dinner prior to a GRRM signing. None of us live there, but we visit regularly, so we looked at a bunch of restaurant websites to pick one we hadn't yet been to. We decided we wanted tapas, and Cafe Felix won the decision because they had a more extensive menu AND boasted house made sangria.

When we got there, we found that the menu was severely abbreviated, and they had discontinued the sangria. When we asked our server why the menu online was so drastically different from the actual menu, he shrugged and unapologetically told us that they didn't really care about the website. We've never gone back.
posted by MissySedai at 1:55 PM on August 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


My favorite. And by "favorite," I mean "horrible to use."

*checks site* Oh, bleagh. yeah, I concur.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:03 PM on August 10, 2011


Obligatory McSweeney's link. It's already linked in a comment in one of the many "previously" links, but I think it's worth linking directly.
posted by John Cohen at 2:35 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Because if I don't know what I'm ordering going in I'll spend the first fifteen minutes paralyzed by choice and thoughts of Food I Might Want To Eat.

Not that I don't think restaurant websites are a good idea ( more information is always better ), but to me this is completely wrong: Studying the menu is part of the whole dining out thing. How can you know what you want in advance? What are the others having? What about shared dishes and drinks? You can't expect everyone to get their own bottle of wine, some discussion is in order. This is important stuff, taking fifteen minutes to sort it all out is completely reasonable.
posted by Dr Dracator at 2:39 PM on August 10, 2011


Next up : Why are band websites so horriffically bad? -- Afroblanco

Oh jesus god, what fuckuppery! My highest paying web gig (not saying much) was as back-up support for a regional coffee-folk act that took itself far too seriously. It wasn't a web site so much as a choose your own adventure animation wankfest. All flash with mystery meat navigation and "scripted" paths through the content.

I tried for months to get them to scrap that crapheap and go with something that loaded in a reasonable amount of time (this was back before broadband saturation--such as it is even today) and presented information about dates and venues with links to sample tracks (instead of playing them randomly as the user browsed the site). Unfortunately they were so in love with or at least invested in their creation that my pleading was dismissed with a "but [NAME] just loves this website. Besides it's such a great immersive experience, don't you think?"

-gag-

They asked me to renew at the end of the contract. It was good money but the headache and pain of wading through that botched abortion of ActionScript (v1.0, natch) was not worth it.

Hadn't thought about that experience in a long time. Just took a look and, yes, still in love with Flash and auto-play music tracks. At least [NAME] has some HTML wrapping with useful information now.
posted by Fezboy! at 2:42 PM on August 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


I find PDFs hard to read on cell phones, because the PDF is usually optimized to look good at the size of a piece of paper and my phone is the size of a phone.
posted by madcaptenor at 2:53 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I actually wrote up a blog post about 8 simple tips for making a restaurant web site that doesn't suck because it infuriates me that I can never find your hours or phone number or non-PDF menu. When I needed to whip up a quick web site for a friend's restaurant, I kept it ACHINGLY simple, but classy.

It's literally three pages. Home page. Menu. Happy Hour menu. Hours and phone number and address on every page. Plain text. That's it. Didn't even do photos, since we haven't had any amazing ones taken yet, but I'd have to come up with a simple way of putting that as well.

In the end, it comes down to recognizing that most people hitting your website aren't debating the merit of your site's design to determine if they want to eat. They're looking to call you for a carry out order, from their phone. Or to check that you're still open. Or to see what you serve and how much it costs. And if you make it a more-than-one click endeavor to do that, or impossible on a mobile device, you've fucked up.
posted by disillusioned at 2:56 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wonder how much of the traffic on Yelp and similar third party sites is from people looking for basic information about things like hours, prices, directions, and other things restaurant sites either obscure or don't bother including.

There was or maybe still is even a site for hosting crappy cellphone pictures of restaurant menus. It's kind of horrifying when there's a whole industry that's so lacking in basic customer service that potential customers regularly have to depend on other customers to provide such basic information.
posted by ernielundquist at 3:26 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


This explains my theory about fashion websites as well (designers and companies, not blogs, department stores, or Polyvore).

They have money, money must be thrown, usually in the wrong direction.
posted by bad grammar at 4:06 PM on August 10, 2011


A PDF menu is better than an image of a menu, scanned or photographed or otherwise.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 5:20 PM on August 10, 2011


i own a restaurant. i work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. it's hot, noisy, stressful ballbusting work. a website would be so detached from reality it would be meaningless.
posted by kitchenrat at 6:57 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


One of my gripes about restaurant websites that have online ordering: invariably the ordering "system" uses Flash or Sliverlight or some other crap like that and they never work on my Mac. Then when I go to the restaurant to pick up the order, the employee there tells me again (for the umpteenth time) that I should really use the online ordering setup instead of calling it in.
posted by readyfreddy at 8:24 PM on August 10, 2011


You think Facebook is GOOD design? Ugh.

Facebook is a utilitarian design, which is what restaurants need, because there's really only 4 pieces of data you need to know about any restaurant:
  1. The hours
  2. The location
  3. The menu
  4. Contact info
That's it. Every single solitary restaurant, it's the same four pieces of info. You don't need anything else besides those four things. You don't need photos of the place, or some Google-mashup built-in map that can email you driving directions in Swahili. Just who, where, when and why.

The problem is what it's always been: somebody needs to keep it updated.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:36 AM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Civil_Disobedient: "The problem is what it's always been: somebody needs to keep it updated"

How many of them have a CMS that can generate a printable menu with content that also serves up the website? probably not enough.
posted by bleary at 5:57 AM on August 11, 2011


i own a restaurant. i work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. it's hot, noisy, stressful ballbusting work. a website would be so detached from reality it would be meaningless.

Wait, what?
posted by antifuse at 6:07 AM on August 11, 2011


Restaurant web sites are intended to impress investors, not for ordinary customers getting dinner.
posted by miyabo at 3:13 PM on August 11, 2011


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