Photo courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives (Flickr)

Photo courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives (Flickr)

Gather round, kids, because I’m going to tell you how it all went down in the olden days. It was the early 90’s, before the internet came of age as a consumer’s medium, and information was often retrieved via a paper-based network of books, magazines, and newspapers. If you wanted someone’s phone number, you went to the phonebook. If you were looking for a type of product or service, without knowing who provided the type you’re looking for, you went to The Yellow Pages. Businesses paid to be listed in the Yellow Pages; if they paid more they could have a small ad in place of a listing. If they paid even more, they got an even bigger ad. And for all the money, you could take up an entire page. For restaurants, this was an opportunity to stand out and convert potential customers. Even though the phonebook seems as old as Gutenberg’s first printed bible, looking at old yellow pages ads is instructive for knowing what information a website ought to include.

IMG_5596Looking at this ad for Bob Lee’s Islander, you can even see how some aspects of web design are informed by the old print medium. The name is writ large across the top, along with an eye catching image. This is followed by a tagline or quick descriptor, so that inside the space of a second or so, someone reading knows two important things:

1. The name of the restaurant
2.What kind of food that restaurant serves

The same is true for a restaurant website. You can’t assume visitors were looking for you specifically, and these first two bits of info are crucial to letting people know about your existence. These are basic details, and by “basic” I mean “really important.” Think about how much you already know about Bob Lee’s just by looking at the image, name, and tagline.  The tiki heads, the palm trees, the font, the promise of a “polynesian paradise”—they all describe the food, the kinds of cocktails, the decor, and the atmosphere without ever saying a word about any of those things. Which brings me to the third thing your website absolutely needs:

3. A designer

True, the website gives you way more real estate to explain who you are, but nobody wants to read a website when they’re looking for dinner. You do *not* need an origin story or some fluff about your passion for whatever. That’s not to say you can’t do something like that on another page in the site, but your front page needs to instantly convey what you’re all about. If you don’t know how to do that, it’s worth hiring someone who can. You can elaborate on that first impression with some quick-to-read copy in the body, but—again—a long story isn’t appropriate here. Look at the ad copy for Bob Lee’s: it gives a quick intro to the place which further cements the image we already had. The food isn’t just a meal, it’s a “delicacy.” The drinks are “exotic,” the atmosphere “mysterious and romantic.” You sold me, Bob. Where do I get a little slice of this paradise myself? Am I too late? The footer of the ad contains more data that’s absolutely vital.

4. The address
5. The phone number.

6. The hours of operation.

This is great stuff to have in the footer of your website, across all pages, just like in this ad. But this even better to have up top. Make sure you’re not relying on images to convey all this—especially the phone number. By keeping the phone number as text on the page, smartphone users need only tap on it to call you. With your address in text, you make it easy for them to tap or copy/paste it into a maps app for directions. These are the little things that go a long way to filling your seats.

Restaurants that took out full page ads in the Yellow Pages often did so with one goal in mind: putting their menu in the hands of as many people as possible. The full page ads often included essentially the same information as the quarter page one, with the remaining space filled up by:

7. The menu.

Your website has the space for a full page ad’s worth of information and more—use it! Your food is the central attraction, and this is where you want your words to be. Make sure, too, that your menu is featured in the site’s main navigation. No matter which page a person is on, they should never be more than one tap or click away from the menu. And while you can rest assured that most people who land on your menu are going to read it, don’t let it be the only tool you use to sell your food. There’s one more thing to make sure is on your website:

Photo by Melanie Gregg

Photo by Melanie Gregg

8. Photos of your food.

Not just photos of your food, but beautiful photos of your food. This is tougher than it sounds and may be another task you’d want to delegate to a pro. But if you’re comfortable with a camera and want to give it a shot, make sure you check out some helpful tips on the subject.

Now, conventional wisdom has it that you should include reviews on your website, but I don’t think this is a golden rule. For some restaurants—think upscale fine dining—it makes sense. For a vast majority, though, it really doesn’t, mostly because pizza joints and sandwich shops generally don’t get reviewed. But what about Yelp? you’re asking. What about it? It’s great that the CPA who fancies himself a foodie had a good experience at your restaurant. But the barber down the street gave you one star because you oversalted the amuse-bouche. If you want to quote Yelpers, you’ve got to take both of them seriously.