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Restaurant Websites - At this point they should pretty much be mandatory [moved from General Topics]

This day in age the vast majority of the US public has internet access. For whatever reason there seem to be plenty of restaurants that still don't understand that they need to have a website, and it needs to have certain basic information such as: phone number, hours of operation, and perhaps most important of all a current menu with prices.

I always Google a place before visiting for the first time, or if I'm not sure where to go I just do a search for the type of cuisine I'm looking for and wait to see what pops up in my area. I am many more times likely to go somewhere that I know will be open and where I can see the menu and decide what I might like beforehand as opposed to just driving out and testing my luck, and I don't think I'm alone here.

It's 2012, websites are available for next to nothing, there is no excuse not to have one. Even one of those insipid Facebook fan pages is better than nothing, as long as the menu and the basic information is posted. A gourmet hot dog joint in my town has the Facebook fan site, but no hours listed, and no menu, just a bunch of photos of people attending some event there, which tells a potential diner exactly nothing.

No matter if you have three Michelin stars, or run a mom and pop take out joint, there is no excuse not to have your phone number, hours, and current menu with prices available on the web.

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  1. If your universe is limited to web links, you will miss some good stuff. For you, the web is as essential to life as air. For many ethnic mom and pops, they don't know what you are talking about. And they are not hearing you now. Yesterday's foodie used a machete; tomorrow's only a keyboard? Let's not surrender today.

    21 Replies
    1. re: Veggo

      I may be missing out on some experiences (I do visit places without websites, but as I mentioned, it's less likely if I don't know the place exists) but those restaurants are losing a lot of business.

      Chowhound is a great resource, but it's more useful inside of major cities where it has more active members. There are plenty of great places to eat in my town, and I've mentioned them in the locations board, but I'm sure there are many others I've missed because Ft. Myers doesn't have the same representation on Chowhound as does NYC, Chicago, Miami, etc. Without foodie friends making recommendations, an active community here to bring places onto the radar, or the restaurants themselves being proactive enough to put up a simple website to let potential diners know they exist and what they serve, there's no way to really explore the possibilities other than driving down random backroads and taking blind chances on whatever you stumble upon.

      A lot of mom and pop chinese places print out tens of thousands of fliers and have them dropped door to door. For far less than the cost of that they could set up a website and reach more people.

      I don't buy that small ethnic restaurants don't understand the internet. Aside from luddite octogenarians and paranoid survivalists living in the backwoods of Wyoming people by and large understand and use the internet.

      1. re: TuteTibiImperes

        It is clear that you are young and have not yet traveled the world. There are wonderful experiences in store for you, where your computer is extra baggage.

          1. re: Veggo

            Ouch! Just Tute may or may not be young and may or may not have travelled extensively doesn't make his opinion any less valid.

            I interpret the point of the original post to be that websites on the internet are taking the place of looking up a restaurant in the yellow pages, calling the restaurant to find out their hours, and getting directions to the location. Having this information readily available at minimal effort to the consumer is an easy way to help customers make dining decisions. Not having this information readily available on a website may not deter all would-be diners, but may steer some towards a second choice where the information is available via website.

            True, wonderful experiences await for those who go with their gut and try a place on a whim, just as there are frustrating experiences who decide to try a place on a whim only to find out they don't open till noon and it's 11:30 right now.

            1. re: goldy12

              You youngsters need a little ink in your passports from third world countries....you'll see what I mean. I'm not sniping, I'm wishing you good eats. Tech toys are great for knowing your 'hood day to day, but your life's most memorable eating adventures will be elsewhere. Trust this geezer just once?

              1. re: Veggo

                In the original post I was thinking more in lines of places in the US, Canada, UK, etc, 1st world generally wealthy nations where internet access is mostly universal. I wouldn't expect to find a menu online for some hole in the wall in Bangkok, Chengdu or Oaxaca.

                I'm all for taking chances and exploring while traveling and on vacation, but I will likely do some reading on some must visit places as well. If the locals are gaga over a place then I'm sure to give it a shot while traveling, website or no, but I don't see wanting more places to make their presence and offerings known via a website as being at odds with that.

                1. re: TuteTibiImperes

                  Internet access is nearly universal in France, too -- a wealthy, industrialized, developed nation by anyone's definition -- but I'd sure hate to limit my dining choices to places that have a webpage.

                  We'd be hungry a lot.

                2. re: Veggo

                  Not only do I trust a fellow geezer but the idea that websites are the answer is confusing anyway. Websites are passe, apps/google maps/social networking sites like Twitter & FB, etc. in a handheld "toy" are where it seems to be at.

                  The cost of a web server is low today (I pay 4.95/month) but the time/energy/cost to hire if you don't know web-editing is ongoing and high. For folks focused on the food, running the day to day business a web site or online social networking (twitter/FB) to reach a customer base is not a one size fits all answer. And many restaurant folks who started out with a website have since taken it down because word of mouth both on and off the Net is better advertising.

                  However, information on a restaurant can be had thru any number of searches without a formal website if that remains your preference for information.

            2. re: TuteTibiImperes

              "...driving down random backroads and taking blind chances on whatever you stumble upon."

              and this is a bad thing because why?

              1. re: sunshine842

                I don't think it's a bad thing and indeed, I've stumbled upon some great eating experiences that way....I've also had some god-awful ones. There seems to be this idea that the more off-the-radar and hole-in-the-wall the better, but that's really just a romantic notion.

                1. re: sunshine842

                  Because it wastes precious gasoline and is harmful to the environment to drive aimlessly on end.

                  Playing devil's advocate, but there was a point in my life where I enjoyed a good country drive.

                2. re: TuteTibiImperes

                  Tute, it is not enough to have a website to be found by potential diners, you have to get your website 'found' by meta crawlers, know key words to use, etc. so your ranking is high enough to show up in searches. This is a much more complex tool that many resto's don't know how to do, and many companies pay for this, and regular updates to keep your ranking up there... I don't think some of the funky 'mom & pop" joints, or sister/brother ethnic places I so enjoy have done this - they are too busy serving their customers!
                  That is why places like chowhound can be such a help - to have us find those that are not so easily found just with a Bing search...
                  Especially in many other countries, internet use is not nearly so widespread yet, so you would find searches to leave many stones unturned to your detriment, if you only ate at places that show up in the ether.

                  1. re: TuteTibiImperes

                    >>> there's no way to really explore the possibilities other than driving down random backroads and taking blind chances on whatever you stumble upon

                    OK, rant about this site's restaurant database aside. this is easy because you live in the US.

                    Even on an active board like the SF Bay Area, I get a lot of leads from yelp. Forget about what yelpers often banal reviews. At a minimum it will give you info that a restaurant exists. So these are the restaurant in FT Meyers, FL

                    http://www.yelp.com/search?find_desc=...

                    There are 485 currently if you restrict the search to that city. Then you can scroll thru and see what looks interesting.

                    If I'm really interested, I'll post an inquiry on Chowhound to see if there is any opinion from posters here.

                    I can't say how good yelp is in linking to menus in your area, but you can get a feel if you want to look further.

                    Add to that local restaurant sites ... especially delivery sites ... that may have menus.

                    Some of these sites are duds. They list every restaurant with an option for a menu link and then say 'menu not available'. Hate that

                    A few in your area

                    Allmenus

                    http://www.allmenus.com/fl/fort-myers/

                    Take out tonight

                    http://www.takeouttonight.com/menus/f...

                    DiningGuide.com

                    http://fort.myers.diningguide.com/

                    There are more, but if you really want to see menus, they are out there. As some have said, it might just be a blogger who snapped the menu.

                    When I was more active in updating the Chow restaurant database before getting blown off, I learned a lot about tracking down menus.

                    You might say ... sure, San Francisco that is easy.

                    Well, I did the same thing in Guatemala ... and that wasn't one of the easier exercises.

                    However, it was to my benefit. I learned about lots of great eats in never would have without a little cyber research.

                    1. re: rworange

                      The problem with a lot of the aggregater sites is that the information is often non-existant (just as you mentioned, 'click here for menu' then nothing), incorrect, or out of date. Yelp is nice, but it lists every place in town, but the number that have useful reviews, details, or menus is a very small portion of the whole.

                      If I'm thinking about trying 'Jorge's Taqueria' for example (doesn't exist, just an example) and I do a google search for 'Jorge's Taqueria Fort Myers' it's frustrating to go through page after page from menupix, metromix, etc, who have nothing to offer me but unwanted ads when all Jorge needs to do is take a couple hours one day to set up a website and maybe half an hour a month after that to keep it current to let myself and other potential diners know what he's offering, for how much, and how late it's available.

                      1. re: TuteTibiImperes

                        Yeah, that ain't gonna happen, so the only one frustrated is you.

                        Also, as others have pointed out, if they are not search savy you will still go through all the same crap ... I detest menupix.

                        I've updated gazillions of restaurant records on this site. When I update i fill in ALL the info available. So Joe Smoe's BBQ is a site that is slapped but the search strategy is ignored. You are still wading through pages on google until you come to that site. Really, there are joints that don't show up until page 20 of search results. I always thought that Google should automatically push to the top the actual business. It ain't the way it works.

                        That's what pisses me off so much about the restaurant database on this site. It was the best option to store all that info and then things were screwed up and that data doesn't appear in Google searches except for rare circumstances.

                        1. re: rworange

                          In my experience if I google the restaurant name and the city it's in the official page is one of the first results as long as it exists, so I'm thinking SEO might not be that big of a factor. It might not show up the first day, but give the google-bot a bit of time and it should. The restaurant owner being a bit proactive and linking the site to the location data on google maps and on any Yelp review would of course help too.

                          A facebook fan site is free, a dedicated domain website can be had for under $10 per month. Even if putting the info out there only brings in one extra diner per week (which seems like an absurdly low barrier to cross) it will result in extra profit for very little work.

                          To set up a restaurant in the US you need to have a business license, get financing and insurance from somewhere, pass health inspections, and jump through plenty of other hoops. Compared to a lot of what else that goes into running an eatery setting up a website is a cakewalk.

                          1. re: TuteTibiImperes

                            Could be the reason you are not finding websites is that they are on page 15 of the search and you are under the impression they will be on page one. Having updated way over 1, 000 restaraunt records on this site, I know from my exprience that what you are saying is not always true.

                            LIke I said, business opportunity should you choose to take it.

                            Everybody has their own abilities. The guy who can navigate the things necessary to set up a business may be internet illiterate ... or just doesn't give a damn because the clientel doesn't give a damn.

                            I don't think a website is the be all you think.

                            From my experience, often the online menu doesn't have everything on the actual menu. A smart restaurant won't post prices which can change, so you have the potential to piss off a customer if you forget to update the website.

                            Then there is the place that posts that sexy menu when it opens and doesn't sell the unique dishes, so when you show up the menu has been whittled down to the crowd-pleasers.

                            Anyway, preaching to Chowhounds isn't going to change anything. Talk to the restaurants that don't have a web presence and ask why.

                            1. re: rworange

                              I don't have a lot of experience with the Chowhound restaurant database, but when it occasionally popped up I wasn't sure of the purpose. Third party information is useful when it comes to reviews, but it doesn't replace information from the source about the basics such as business hours, contact information, what's offered and for how much.

                              Sure, a poorly maintained website with out of date information would piss people off. A poorly maintained dining room with dirty tables and floors will also piss people off. Just because doing something halfassed could hurt business doesn't mean that it isn't worth doing well as a way to help business.

                              I'm not saying having an informative web presence is a be all and end all, but if the information is relevant and kept up to date it can only help. As a society we are moving towards more reliance on the internet as a source of information. Today's 20 and 30 somethings are far more tech saavy than their boomer parents, and today's kids and tweens will be even more technology-literate and dependent than the current gen-x/y'ers.

                              Many people don't use phonebooks or yellowpages anymore, and plenty of people don't even have landline telephones anymore. When making plans it's not uncommon for many people to just pull out their iPhone and type what kind of food they want or what type of bar they are looking for into google-maps and seeing what little red pins show up around them. Those little pins that have more information available at a click are going to get more business than those that don't.

                          2. re: rworange

                            Position in Google searches is a big problem for restaurants and other food businesses in the Chicago area because we have a ridiculous number of directory sites with very dubious information in all too many cases. Yelp reviews sometimes pop up many pages of search results before the business' own site. Failure to put a business' site high in the results is a major defect in Google's algorithms.

                    2. re: Veggo

                      There was a thread on the Manhattan Board awhile back and Le Veau d'Or (an old warhorse) was discussed. I resolved to go back after some years absence because it fits my particular bill. One point in its favor was that it does not have a website...although that will certainly change.

                    3. I hear yeah Tute. I get really frustrated when there isn't a website. We don't get the chance to go out that often and when we do, I want my to know what options I have. I don't like to fly by the seat of my pants when I want my money to go far. Not to mention, I watch what I eat and get really ticked if I end up having to choke down some garbage food b/c this was all we could find open after driving around thinking places were open that aren't.

                      Now, when it comes to traveling that's a whole other ball of wax. Although I like to be organized/prepared for most anything in my life, I'm a lot more lax on the funds and don't mind spending money here and there with the "oh well" if wasn't that great or it's not open let's move on. Who cares, I'm on holidays but, at home it's completely different.

                      Totally do not understand why flyers are still being scattered everywhere. What a waste.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: livetocook

                        Because when it's lunchtime at work I'm not heading to the Internet to decide where to go, I'm looking in the menu drawer.

                        In my (somewhat smallish) circle of friends and family, I'm the only one who uses the Internet to research dining options. They all think I'm "clever" or have some special skills. They are always impressed with what I come up with. And they all think they themselves couldn't do the same thing. Ages range from mid 20s to 70s and everything in between. Just because you and I use the Internet regularly and thoughtfully does not mean the majority of folks do.

                        Locally, our newspaper is the most widely used source of restaurant information, along with word of mouth. The Internet is a fabulous tool but it's not the only way to get people in the door. That said, I do like when I can find more about a place online, particularly when I'm traveling.

                        1. re: lisavf

                          "Because when it's lunchtime at work I'm not heading to the Internet to decide where to go, I'm looking in the menu drawer. "

                          Really?? I just go online :P

                      2. And it's not enough to just have a website it needs to be maintained. Too many don't have the interest or sense to regularly up date the information. One of the more famous restaurants here even forgot to pay their renewal fee so the website is now available to their competition.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: mexivilla

                          What the hell did you people do before the web?

                          1. re: ericthered

                            we used the phone book or yellow pages.

                            The www is part of life today, I want websites too with an address, phone number, directions and map. I want an easy website to navigate, menu and prices and pictures and sometimes the ability to make a reservation online.

                            1. re: smartie

                              lol. Speaking of phone books. hubby and I finally decided, the next time they are dropped off at the door let's put them in the basement and see if we open it up and use it before the next set arrives. (We used to throw the old one away and put the new in it's spot and I always wondered, 'did we even crack this open?")

                              Nope.....And that was 3 yrs ago.

                        2. If it was only that simple - put up a site and people will come.

                          There are plenty of threads on here of people complaining about bad sites or outdate sites or sites that have old menus (god forbid a restaurant should change their menu seasonally) or sites that have outdated prices, etc, etc, etc. And then there is SEO (search engine optimization) that you have to worry about if you really are thinking your site is to draw in new customers . . . . . Creating a site might be easy these days (at least a cheap site) but having it be useful and relevant isn't.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: thimes

                            Whenever you update your menu, whether it be seasonally, monthly, weekly, or daily, presumably you are also printing your new menu's to hand out to customers who come in the door. While you are doing that just update the information on your website, it will take all of ten extra minutes. You don't even have to know basic HTML coding, just use a WYSIWYG editor and call it a day.

                            Yes, there are bad sites, but most of those are people trying to do too much. KISS is in full effect here, all we need are hours, contact info, and a menu with prices. If you want to get really fancy maybe add some photos of your dishes, your space, a couple recipes or some detail about the history of some of the dishes, but none of that is required.

                            Flash, music, animated gifs and anything else that's (bad) style over substance does nothing positive, so skip it.

                            Each individual restaurant can decide if they want to pay for SEO or not, but even if you don't use that kind of a service more people will see your website without SEO than people would see it if you didn't have a website. Add the link to your Yelp page and Google Maps link and you'll automatically catch a lot of people that way.

                            1. re: TuteTibiImperes

                              As someone who works closely with IT folks I hear you. But the vast majority of current restaurant owners wouldn't even know what WYSIWYG meant and you would have lost them right there. And most of them have likely bitten off more than they can chew (haha) and are barely keeping up with cooks, waiters, investors, vendors, loan officers, etc . . . .

                              I think it would at least be great to have a one page site with name, address, phone number, hours, and general atmosphere/genre description. I think once you go beyond that it becomes to much for most in the industry. This will change, I think, as younger generations start entering the field. (Well the biting off more than you can chew wont but understanding site construction will).

                              1. re: thimes

                                That would suggest to me that the restaurant owner has either no business plan or a bad business plan. Putting up a functional and informative and accurate website is neither costly nor time consuming. It also isn't rocket science as every webhosting client I know has plenty of "website tonight" software packages that comes with the monthly hosting fee (along with plenty of tutorials).

                                As for more than one page, you have a point. However, you can buy a nice, effective scanner for $50.00 and then print out your menu as it changes and scan it as a PDF, upload it in seconds and there you have it: functional, informative and accurate.

                                Many restaurant owners are their own worst enemies in this endeavor because they have convinced themselves that putting up a website is akin to learning nuclear physics, so they would rather ignore a great benefit rather than challenge their own beliefs.

                          2. I don't even need to see a full website - a facebook page with contact and location information, plus a menu uploaded to the photo album makes all the necessary information available, it's easy to update daily, and free. One of my new favorite places changes the menu daily (breakfast and lunch on weekdays, dinner once a week, brunch on weekends). They write the menu on a chalk board everyday anyway, so they just take a picture of the finished board, and post it to facebook.

                            ETA: I just pulled my notes from a course I took on using the internet for social/medical research. As of 2007, ~75% of American adults have internet access at home or work, and about 60% use it on a regular basis (at least once every two weeks). So it isn't overwhelmingly dominant yet, but it's getting there. A restaurant can't survive on internet presence alone, but it is going to become more and more of a handicap to not have a presence at all. It also varies greatly by community and target population - the little restaurant down the street from my grandmother's house doesn't need a website - they are the only restaurant in town, and there aren't many out of towners except those visiting family who already know about the restaurant. On the other hand, I live in a sprawling metropolitan area, with a decidedly young and tech-savvy population. Not having some kind of web presence is almost unheard of here.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: mpjmph

                              " I just pulled my notes from a course I took on using the internet for social/medical research. As of 2007, ~75% of American adults have internet access at home or work, and about 60% use it on a regular basis (at least once every two weeks). So it isn't overwhelmingly dominant yet, but it's getting there. "

                              I don't think that this is very accurate seeing that it is from 2007. In the tech world that is decades ago. I only got my first cell phone in 2007 and any more I totally freak if my iPhone needs to be recharged and I don't have a charger or access to a plug.

                              1. re: dmjordan

                                The 2007 data are the most recent available, as of October. The course was taught by one of the most renowned survey designers in the country. The speed at which new technologies are created, and existing ones are adopted are two totally different things. By the time adoption of a new technology reaches 60-75%, growth is going to slow because only the laggards are left and many of them will never adopt. I'm sure internet coverage and use has increased since 2007, but not to the point that other means of information transfer are obsolete.

                              2. re: mpjmph

                                Sadly, there are far too many restaurant owners who haven't a clue about using social media, much less putting up a website.

                                1. re: mpjmph

                                  Except people are sharing what they know with each other all the time. So I might not know a place for great bbq but my neighbor will or my son and I'll learn from them. We are not alone on some remote island. Communication is all around us. As long as you have eyes, ears and a voice you'll be included in the restaurant news you need/want.