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Lame Restaurant Websites [moved from Ontario board]

  • j

Many high-end restaurants nowadays have a website extolling the glories of their joints. So perhaps a learned Chowhound could explain to me why menus are often presented on the site, but many times without prices listed for the menu items. It leaves the potential diner with not enough info to decide if he wants to try the place.
Case in point: Il Mulino, a high-end Italian resto on Eglinton Ave. just west of Bathurst, which has much positive mention on Chowhound. Looking a few weeks ago for a new place for an anniversary celebration, I tap into its website, and there's the menu all right, but no prices mentioned. This despite the fact that the joint's substantial wine list comes with all prices listed in detail. But not a peep about menu food prices. Perhaps management thinks it can seduce us into giving the place a shot, loving it despite this gap in info -- and becoming regulars ever after. But my instinct is that, if you won't come clean on menu prices, I'll just try another place. Which I did.
It's only slightly more annoying than restaurants whose website menu bears only a passing resemblance to the menu you get when you sit down at the place. (I'm thinking specifically about an acceptable middle Eastern spot on north Bathurst St.) And that's only slightly more annoying that waiters who recite the daily specials without mentioning prices as well. It used to be that specials were usually priced in the same range as the dishes on the regular menu. But not any more. Many, many specials are substantially higher than the regular menu prices, and woe unto you who opt for the specials without inquiring about prices, for you will find a rude surprise when you get the bill.
But these last two are but niggling complaints. My main beef is resto websites without menu prices. I don't see the advantage to the restaurant, and it's certainly no help to the potential diner. Perhaps someone wiser than I - possibly from the industry itself - could enlighten me as to why.

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  1. At least the websites you describe tell what the restaurant has to offer. I reserve my strongest objections for the websites which are little more than billboards, with an address, phone number, and perhaps some pretty pictures. (Other businesses do this too: reserve a domain name, create a web "presence" on which most of the links are "under development". Useless.)

    2 Replies
    1. re: JanetG

      Add to that the horrific music that so many seem to feel is needed and images that take too long to load. Nothing like trying to check out a place for dinner while at work and suddenly...wham...you and your coworkers are being serenaded with cheezy music.
      I am definitely in the "just the (useful) facts" camp with both of you.

      1. (This thread should probably be moved to "Not about food" or some other more general thread.)

        I think it's a simple fact that most restaurant owners are insanely busy, and regularly maintaining and updating a web site is just not practical for them, especially if they are not particularly web savvy. Some of the bigger ones can probably afford to hire someone to do this updating, but most smaller places probably can't.

        In most restaurants the menus change pretty frequently, depending on what ingredients are in season or are available, and I imagine the prices on raw ingredients change a lot, too.

        I could foresee a situation where the restaurant posts a price in an online menu that becomes out of date, and then a diner in the restaurant protests and demands the online price claiming "false advertising". With this in mind, it makes sense to not put any prices online and, as JanetG says, leave the menus there to provide an indication of the types of food the restaurant offers. If you're curious about price range, there are other sources like Toronto Life who provide a general "$$$" ranking system to help you out.

        But I agree, many businesses (restaurants included) have not kept up with the expectations of web users and are missing the boat by having skimpy, outdated, or non-existent web sites. I'm one of those people who likely won't bother with a business unless I can find some info about them online first.

        1. I can deal with menus being different, and as others have pointed out, prices change, dishes change, so restaurateurs who don't have the time or skill to regularly update a site, no prices makes sense.

          As someone who regularly has to contact restaurants regarding reviews or articles, the one thing that drives me crazy is restaurants who have sites on places like MenuPalace who don't check/empty their email inboxes. The number of places that miss out on coverage on TasteTO because we can't send them their review via email is mind-boggling.

          2 Replies
          1. re: SherylKirby

            So TasteTO requires the restaurant to "approve" the review before you post it? is that not a "advertisment" rather then a "review"?

            1. re: OnDaGo

              Nope, not at all. Have you not seen some of our more scathing commentary? ;) Reviews are always anonymous and unbiased. And if it were an advertisement, I'd be making money of some sort, which *really* isn't happening yet.

              But we do notify places after the fact so they know they got coverage, especially if it's favourable. If they don't have a working email, I can't send them a link to the piece.

          2. Websites cost money to constantly update. Give the nature of some restaurants that use high end ingredients, I'm sure that prices fluctuate more often than they would care to update a website with. That's my reasoning.

            4 Replies
            1. re: chiujason

              Bad websites cost money to update contently.. if built right a restuarant website can include tools so that the restaurant can update menu, pages etc with no technical knowledge any time they want. If the person providing the website does not offer this then they are too interested in "maintenance money" and I would run fast...

              1. re: OnDaGo

                OnDaGo: Excellent points you make....the small things can matter. There must be some relevance of an excellent web-site that is up to date with prices to the type of management running the restaurant. It would be interesting to see the relationship between the quality of a website and the quality of the restaurant. Would I be too wrong to suspect at least that an excellent website is likely connected to an above-average restaurant....much like washroom tidyness/cleanliness can be an indication of something.

                1. re: OnDaGo

                  Agree.. I absolutely hate it when restaurant website menus don't have prices. Considering that the internet is one of the biggest marketing tools, they should spend the money or take the time to use it if they bother to have a website, especially the expensive restaurants who should easily be able to afford it. For restaurants that have constantly changing menus, they could put a "sample menu" (including prices!!!), just to give a rough idea of their food. Even that would be really helpful for a potential customer.

                  1. re: OnDaGo

                    It's foolish not to keep an updated menu available on the website, as it's a source of additional customers.
                    If my (AARP eligible) friend, a sixth grade teacher, can update the "homework sheets" on his class website, designed for an audience of 30 eleven year olds and the people who love them, almost daily, a restaurant should be able to do this.

                2. The "costs money to update website" excuse doesn't ring true to me, because paper-based menus are usually fancily formatted and printed, and also cost $$$ to update. Perhaps it's a fear of competition. E.g. I'm surfing at home, and found that the same dish costs $30 at resto A and $40 at B, I may just forget about B. If the prices aren't available on line and I actually go there, it's unlikely that I'll leave when I see the prices.

                  1. I find that some higher end restaurants don't have $$ listed on the their menus in the restaurant (ie, Canoe, and the now defunct Zoom, where Beerbistro is now). I think that's why they don't list them on website. I think it's a snobby idea that if you can afford the place, you don't need to know the price. I'm not saying I agree with it, but that's where I think it comes from. I don't think it's likely you'll find a mid-low range restaurant without prices listed.
                    I've never had a waiter recite prices when listing specials.
                    I hate websites with "Flash" in general. Simple is good.

                    1. I will challenge the notion that maintaining a website is expensive and time consuming. One can get a domain for less than $10.00/yr these days. One can get adequate webhosting for $5-15/mo. Most webhosts also offer simple point and click wizards for setting up a half-way decent website as part of the hosting package.

                      Updating a menu is no more difficult than writing words on a page and if you have a set menu, you only have to fiddle with the website when you change the pricing. If your menu is changing every single day, then place a sample menu with a note that entrees run from $x to $y dollars.

                      1. As has already been alluded to on this subject...many restaurants have websites constructed but do not maintain them...they are either too busy, the cost is to high, or the whole matter is too cumbersome. As a personal rule, I only take a restaurant website for basic information, then call the restaurant if I have a current question...As for posting their prices...they do change, and as a result makes keeping a website up to date even more trying...Most chefs and/or restaurant owners are not techies...

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: gutreactions

                          I'm on the fence with this one. I too would like to know what price range I'm looking at before going to a restaurant so I like the idea of a smaple menu with prices, but the downside is the people that will come in and hastle the servers and management about prices online being different than what is on the menu. Or wanting a dish they saw on the website that is not on the menu...it happens trust me! I think a smaple menu, clearly marked as a sample menu might be the best solution.