If you own a restaurant and do not have a website yet (I am an optimist, you know?), you must live under a rock. In addition, if you do not manage what is being said about your establishment online then you might as well board it up, because your prospective customers are researching your restaurant in droves.
I read an article in the “Restaurant Startup & Growth” magazine (Dec. ’07) that pointed to an interesting nationwide poll of consumers by AIS Media. No, I am not fool enough to miss the fact that AIS is a website design company (among other things), so we have to take the results with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, the poll found that 89% of consumers research a restaurant on the web before visiting. Many of those people (about 57%) look at the restaurant’s website. So, what if you don’t have one? Your prospects will then sift through the rest of the info Google has provided them with for meaningful information. I’ve looked for many restaurants online to find them listed only in a directory on sites like CitySearch with just an address and phone number (gasp! Not even a map!). However, there is usually no meaningful information there to attract me to visit. Even worse is to find disparaging comments on forums, or by reviewers who search these directories. I’ll give you an example in a minute.
Thomas Harpointner, CEO of AIS, says that “Technology is changing the restaurant industry…In the past traditional advertising such as the newspaper or telephone book was the way most people selected a restaurant. Advertisements that stood out influenced consumer’s decisions. Today, the Internet is replacing or becoming additional exposure to traditional advertising and marketing.” He adds that “It is critical that a Web site reflect the restaurant in its look and feel, be easy to navigate, have a simple way for a consumer to contact the restaurant, and have mapping directions to the restaurant,” and that the website “should reflect the dynamics of the restaurant, as well as the audience that it is targeting.” If you don’t have a website promoting your restaurant to your demographic you are totally missing an opportunity with a large portion of the population.
Now, without a website, your potential customer will look for whatever else is available. This poll found that 33% of respondents looked for online reviews to base their restaurant decisions. Have you researched you restaurant online to see what your patrons are saying? One dissatisfied customer can post a bad review online that can be read by people around the world. San Antonio, where I live, is a great tourist destination. People plan ahead when traveling to include hotels, sites, and restaurants. If you don’t know what people are saying about you online you could very well be losing your customer base and future business without even knowing it.
Let me give you an example. I Googled some information about a popular Mexican establishment here in San Antonio and found a pretty extensive list of reviews. The CitySearch site allows user reviews of this restaurant and posts mixed thoughts about the place. If you will just take a moment to follow the link, you will notice that the business has responded to these reviews in a very courteous and appropriate manner, and goes so far as to invite the disappointed customers back for a second try. This is a restaurant that understands and manages its presence on the web. Anyone reading these reviews will clearly see that the restaurant cares about how people feel about the place. If I did not know about this place and read these reviews, the business’ responses might incline me to disregard the bad reviews and try them out anyway.
This restaurant also has their own website at which they promote their strengths right on the front page: 1)they have been around forever, and 2) a link to a positive endorsement from American Airlines.
If your restaurant does not have a website, and if you are not actively managing what people say about you online, your establishment will suffer, or worse, even fail. It is a form of advertising that you are simply neglecting, and technology will completely pass you by. I will now take this time to unabashedly promote a website designer who is also a graphic artist. He knows what works and what doesn’t and is very easy to speak with, and can help you design a website that will appeal to your demographic. Check out his site and look at some of his work.