Boosting Restaurant Revenue: Part 3 of 10 – Web 2.0

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The National Restaurant Association found that almost 40% of all restaurant customers will visit the restaurant’s website before they dine there for the first time.  Staggering.  And that poll is a couple of years old.  The importance of a website for boosting restaurant revenue is only increasing and certainly isn’t diminishing.

Boosting Restaurant Revenue: Part 3 of 10 – Web 2.0

While hundreds of thousands of restaurants around the world now have some form of online presence, many are still in the old Web 1.0 era of static brochure-ware sites.  A million dollars or more may have been spent on the beautiful new renovation or build-out, but 40% of the restaurants customers are making a go/don’t-go decision based on yesterday’s El Cheapo website. I’m often surprised how many entrepreneurs brag about how little they spent on their website or glow with pride (like a proud parent of their child’s finger painting now on the home refrigerator) that their nephew was able to build their site over the weekend for $50 and a six pack of beer (we like to call this “nephew marketing” – and please note; my comments aren’t meant to be derogatory to others but cautionary to you – this isn’t an area of your business that should be left to novices or relegated to the interns because it’s some less important and periphery marketing “project”). To be sure, effective restaurant websites and digital marketing aren’t about how much was spent.  The point is that an effective web strategy and embracing Web 2.0 shouldn’t be some afterthought or the type of thing one can put off because it’s not as understandable as other parts of the business or not a glaring red light on the executive dashboard.  The point is that if you and your organization are serious about competing in the restaurant industry of tomorrow, you either must know this stuff or bring on some people who do because it is not going away and it won’t get any easier to understand or less important going forward.

Your Website Should Be Your +1

Your website should be viewed as your “+1”.  Meaning – if you have one restaurant think of it as having a restaurant +1.  If you have 1000 restaurants, think of it as having 1000 +1.  The “+1” is your online location.  It can’t be an afterthought.  In fact, if you do happen to have 1,000 locations, your website is very likely the most important location of all of them you have (as it will host more media, investors, analysts, franchisees, industry influencers, etc than any single one of your other locations). You don’t have to spend on it what a restaurant unit costs (although some of the big chains spend that and more these days), but you do have to approach the design, construction, maintenance, and future planning of your online presence with the same level of detail you did with your physical locations. It makes no sense to serve a $48 Ribeye on a paper plate and give customers a plastic “spork” to eat it with.  Likewise, it makes no sense to spend money on traditional advertising at the expense of your website.  Dollar for dollar, digital marketing almost always packs more punch today than traditional yester-year advertising.

How to Engage in Web 2.0

Now how to engage in Web 2.0 is a big subject with lots of moving pieces.  I love discussing it and teaching the principles to others.  I won’t do it the disservice of trying to sum it all up in a paragraph.  I will be posting much more on this subject in the future to my blog and break this subject up into smaller more digestible pieces.  The call to action here though is just that you get thinking and researching and moving toward embracing the idea of “Web 2.0”  Many experts still argue about where it’s at and where it’s going, but you won’t find a single one that would suggest it’s going away.

A Few Must-Have Elements for Any Restaurant Website Include:

  • Social Media – Add your account links for Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.  It is advisable to put these in the footer or global content area of the site so web savvy visitors don’t have to search for them.  Also, it is often advisable (depending who is managing the account) to put a “feed” of your social media on your website too (streaming your Twitter updates, for example).  This helps cross-pollinate your accounts and engage with customers in prospective customers where they are already.
  • Full Address – A surprising number of restaurants list only the phone number or street address but doesn’t say which city or state.  By showing the full address, your website is more likely to get indexed in review sites, geo-search results, and various phone applications consumers use to find new restaurants.
  • Map & Directions – While many “smart phones” and mobile devices allow users to click an address on a webpage and pull up separate directions, some Internet browsers do not.  Therefore, to save visitors from re-typing your address into a separate mapping tool, set up your site so with just a few clicks they can see where you are located and get directions from where they are now.  One of the best tools for this is Google Maps integration.
  • Mobile Compliant – There are more mobile phone users in the world that PC users surfing the Internet.  It is essential that your menu can be viewed from popular mobile browsers.  Have a full mobile compliance test run on your website to be sure it works across the various browser types.  For instance, many websites still use Adobe Flash which isn’t supported by many Apple devices (rumor is Steve Jobs is blocking Adobe to weaken the company and do a takeover, so this may change soon – until it does though, be sure your site works on an iPhone and iPad as they are two of the fastest selling products in human history and can’t be ignored).
  • Media Room – Journalists considering your company for a feature story (maybe a profile on your hot new chef or one of those coveted trade magazine articles about your new franchise plans) will often go first to the website.  Make sure to have a publicist take a look at your online media room to be sure it meets all the necessary requirements (press kit, press releases, b-roll, high-res photography, bios, company history, etc).
  • Blog – You can cancel dependence on an outside web design firm by using free blogging software as the backbone of your site.  This won’t work for all sites, but you’d be surprised how much you can do yourself using a service like www.wordpress.com.  In fact, all of www.aaronallen.com is run on WordPress.  While  we have teams of designers, I am now able to just make my own posts and update/change content without any help.  You could do the same (quick price changes, adding new specials, improving copy, etc) and save that 24-48 hour delay that’s usually there with getting the IT department or outside design firm to make the little change for you.  You will want to have a professional do the initial design, but let them know you want it set up on a tool that allows you to make your own changes add blog posts.  Also, blogs are a great way to keep adding SEO content.
  • Data Capture – Your customers WANT to hear from you.  Help make it easy for them to stay in touch by offering a free newsletter sign-up form on your website.  Also do plenty of data capture off-line too (more on that in a future blog post).
  • Optimized Landing Pages – You don’t need to optimize every page of your site; just every page you want to be found easily.  The more content you put on your site – and the more frequently you do it – the more hooks you have floating in the Internet ocean of prospective customers, employees, journalists, analysts, investors, etc.  Please see Boosting Restaurant Revenue Part TWO titled SEO and Getting Found Online.
  • Menu – As stated above, the menu should be viewable from phone, but I wanted to add here another suggestion – make it easy to email a direct link to your menu.  Many times, friends will want to suggest a restaurant and show a menu to get others excited.  Some sites bury the menu in the site or have a URL address that is too long to either re-type or forward.  Consider a share tool to make it easy to email the link or post to social networking sites (like Twitter and Facebook).

A Few Optional Elements to Consider for Your Restaurant Website (These Vary by Brand/Concept), Include:

  • Video – Studies show that video produces much higher conversion rates than plain text or email alone.  If you have the budget to produce a professional video do  so and put a compressed (easy to load) copy on your site to help personalize the brand.  Don’t try this at home – often times amateur videos of food can do more harm than good.  There are plenty of online video companies out there these days that can do online videos for as little as $500 turnkey.
  • Restaurant Locator – For chains – beyond just offering a directional tool – consider a locator tool.  One note though, be sure not to restrict it to ONLY allowing the locator.  I have been frustrated to no end trying to order online with Papa John’s in markets where I didn’t readily know the zip code – they lock you out and restrict access all together.  It is too restrictive and is doing more to restrict buying than encourage it.
  • Financial – Public companies have strict financial reporting guidelines and many of them already have a robust financial section on their site for investors and analysts.  For private companies, this is still a good place to post your more favorable results.  Whether you’re looking for new investors, to be featured in a business news article, or looking to build a positive picture of the company, having a section on your site to communicate your results and plans is often a good idea.
  • FTP/ Support Login – For multi unit operators, we encourage that you have a private log-in section for your field managers.  Whether your system is corporate or franchised or both, there is always information to share and exchange.  Doing this digitally is the best approach.  Some companies do so via email but this can be dangerous.  Creating a log-in section, you can post information with more protections; such as restricting access, tracking file histories, allowing files to be seen but not distributed, or updating something like a 300 page operations manual in an instant rather than mailing out new printed versions every time there is a slight change needed.  This is also a great place to store your corporately approved and encouraged marketing materials for managers or franchises to pull down and produce locally.

Your restaurant website is the second most important piece of marketing collateral you have second only to your menu.  It must be viewed as an organic and evolving component of your brand rather than a static and abstract communications tool.  Again, think of it as your +1 and have it managed just like the unit-level is managed.  Someone has to keep up with it and stay on top of it like the restaurant restrooms; only this restroom is on full display and not just every customer but every prospective customer enters through the restroom first.

Additional Links and Resources

Here are some additional links and resources: First 5,000 days of the Internet A fascinating video illustrating just how fast technology and the Internet is evolving.  In this video you’ll have the first 5,000 days of the Internet summarized and the next 5,000 predicted all in fewer than 20 minutes.  Read more >>> Web 2.0 Definition The term “Web 2.0” is used a lot these days so I wanted to provide you with a link to the Wikipedia definition of it.  Here’s the Wikipedia definition.  Read more >>> Boosting Restaurant Revenue Series: PART ONE: RESTAURANT PUBLIC RELATIONS PART TWO: RESTAURANT SEO & GETTING FOUND ONLINE PART THREE:  RESTAURANT WEB 2.0 PART FOUR:  RESTAURANT MENU ENGINEERING

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