By Greg McGuire
The short answer is yes, definitely. As long as you build a decent site, it can’t hurt your marketing efforts and has the potential to be a big help. Some of the things you can do with an internet presence for your restaurant:
Get to know your customers. A website is a great way to learn more about your customers. Take surveys of visitors to your site or ask them to sign up for an email list and then ask for some general information as they sign up. You can also include email and phone contact numbers, making you much more accessible to your customers.
Use the website as a promotion tool. Collecting customer information means you have a database of prospects you can market to directly. Tell your web visitors about promotions and deals and then measure response. Focus on what generates the most response and recycle the most successful campaigns back through your website.
Start a dialogue with your customers. An internet presence allows your customers to communicate directly with you quickly and easily, and allows you to respond just as quickly to their concerns and questions. Use this dialogue to make your customers feel engaged in your business and use it as a tool to improve your operation.
Build A Good Website
More and more restaurants are building websites to advertise their business online. As customers use the internet to find the information they need, it has become an imperative for the food service industry to go where the customers are looking. Building a website can vary in price and quality almost as much as restaurants vary in price and quality.
If you’re planning on building a website for your restaurant, or already have one up, make sure you follow a few basic best practices that will ensure those marketing dollars are being put to their best use.
Don’t try to do the whole thing by yourself. Your restaurant’s website is the first and sometimes only impression potential customers have of your business. People spend enough time online these days to know an amateur site when they see one. While it might seem like you’re getting away with getting a site up without having to pay for it, in the end you will pay because customers will notice.
Writing the content for your business’ site will probably end up taking up much more time than you think, so you might as well let someone who knows what they’re doing handle the design and building of your site.
Follow best practices for design. Even if you do hire a designer for your site, familiarize yourself with design best practices for a restaurant website:
Don’t get too flashy. Design elements like Flash players look great, but from a practical perspective, they don’t help get customers to your restaurant at all. When someone lands on your home page, they want information and they want it fast. Flash takes a long time to download and while it is pretty to look at, is not very informational.
Start with information first. Most customers who are looking up your restaurant on the internet want information, not to know how great you are. They’re looking for driving directions, a reservation phone number, and a menu. So give them what they want – in clear and concise format – at the top of the home page.
Make navigation easier than easy. A common trap is to create a complicated web of navigation buttons linking to what seems like incredibly useful information. The problem is, your customer usually just wants to know a few basic things about you before they head back to Facebook, so make navigating around your site so easy it seems almost stupid.
Update content regularly. Not only does regularly updated content make your site more visible to search engines, but regular customers appreciate new content on your site.
Make information on your site as printable as possible. Customers want to be able to print information about your restaurant like directions, phone numbers, and menus. Design pages with this information on it easy to print.
Connect your website to other websites. After all, the web is called the world wide web because it’s made up of a series of millions of sites like yours connected to each other. Many metropolitan areas have restaurant directories online that are free to join. Also start a reciprocal linking campaign with related websites and even other restaurants to help raise your site’s visibility.
Keep building your site. The internet can be a powerful marketing tool for your site, and it doesn’t all need to be built in a day. Different restaurants in different markets that cater to different customer demographics will have varying levels of success with a website. Start small and add to your site as you start seeing results. The possibilities are really endless with what you can to use your website as a marketing tool, and as time goes on that tool will only become more and more useful.
Greg McGuire blogs about the foodservice industry at The Back Burner, which is written by the employees of Tundra Specialties, a company specializing in restaurant supplies and food service equipment.