Tuesday, May 31, 2011

How to run a successful Indian restaurant (Part Three: Website)

This is the third part in a series on how to run a successful Indian restaurant. The three parts address:

  1. Look and feel: the ambience of a restaurant
  2. Seating and staff: providing great service
  3. Website: most of your customers will find you online

These are written from the perspective of the consumer: what works and what does not. Nothing here is Earth-shattering or difficult to implement, but having seen many restaurants that do it incorrectly, I thought a set of tips to restaurant owners might help.

Rule #1: No Flash.
No compromises: you need zero Flash.

In case you don't know, Flash is the fancy animation thing that you see as an intro on many restaurant websites. The alternative is words and pictures. You want words and pictures, not movies and music.


Flash doesn't play on cell phones, which is half of your online audience. People are more likely to look up prospective restaurants while shopping in a mall, while at a friend's place, or on the drive. Also, flash websites are bigger, and slower to load. Your page needs to load in less than one second. If you have flash, that won't be true for most of your users, and users on mobile won't be able to see anything on your page.

Your customers don't want a video extravaganza: they want words. No flash.

Rule #2: No music
This is a corollary of rule 1. Customers don't visit restaurant websites to be entertained. Page load times increase quickly with music. Forget the music.

So, what's left: words!

Rule #3: Name, Address, Telephone and Hours
When I am hungry, I want four things from a restaurant: who they are, where they are, are they open, and how can I talk to a human (order in advance, or book a table). This needs to go on the main page. You could have these four things on a webpage, and nothing else, and it will be better than most restaurant websites out there.

If you're an overachiever from a good engineering college, read on. But at this point, you're done, and can stop. Congratulations! Leave me a note, and I'll come by for dinner.

Rule #4: Small, movable map
A link to a Google Maps is a great idea.  Don't take a picture from Google, include the full movable map as an embed. See how on the previous link you can move and pan the map? Customers love that.

Rule #5: Text menu
Resist the urge to put a full PDF of your menu. Very few customers will read these like a book: most likely they are looking for a specific dish and its price. PDFs are difficult to read on phones and slow connections. Words are what you want: Name of dish, description, and price.

Extra credit: Links to online reviews
In case you've already got all the above, customers love links to online review sites like Yelp. It saves new customers the hassle of looking at Yelp themselves.