Restaurants, Websites, and Ecommerce: Why You Probably Are Doing It Wrong

Burnout and Exhausted Restaurant Owner With Mobile Phone

Restaurant Owners Do Not Specialize In Ecommerce and Web Designers Do Not Specialize In Food Service

As fellow business owners, we are probably a bit used to doing a bit of everything ourselves. There's a lot of good in that. It's one of the successful personality traits of entrepreneurs that got us where we are in the first place. We're innovative, risk-taking, resilient, always solving problems, adapting, learning, and trying to stay ahead of the trends with ever-shifting consumer behaviors and technologies. Furthermore, we have to have a broad knowledge of many domains and deep expertise in a few areas.

However, at the same time, we need to learn when to let go. Yup, I've had to do it myself plenty of times (ouch goes my ego) when I finally had the courage to realize that some of those same traits are holding my own business back. Eventually, we reach that juncture of "this is beyond my scope" and "I cannot possibly learn everything."

We can get in the way of our own progress and success. Not letting go can actually become problematic in more ways than one. When we don't learn when to let go at the appropriate time it's a bad time-wasting decision business owners make. We have all had our share of costly but avoidable mistakes.

The more experienced me now says I need to know the 101 but not the 501 because my focus is on running a successful business and not becoming an expert of all impossible things I need to learn. Take a breath. Learning to let go is good for you and business.

Know Where You Can Do The Most Good In Your Business

Let's remember why we got into business in the first place. Part of the original intent was that we're really good at in the area where we have skill and experience. That's specialization and it's one of the keys to profitability and efficiency. If we're restaurant owners it was probably more what you know about running a successful foodservice business combined with a passion for serving customers tasty meals and leading awesome teams than it was about building a successful restaurant website.

See: How you know your website is a success

For the same reasons, it's why most foodservice owners probably aren't very good at making their own websites very successful and having them work for their business. Web Designers aren't generally going to be very good at running successful restaurants.

You'll do your business a lot of good if you stop thinking about your company's website as a sidewalk chalkboard that you put up and update once in a while. Websites should be treated rather as a living breathing sales, marketing, and data-driven team that acquires new customers retains old ones and plays a successful role in your business's overall strategy. 

picture of a cricket

What's Wrong With Your DIY Restaurant's Website (Crickets)

That being said I've seen plenty of restaurants with (sorry) terrible and frustrating websites. Most I can tell are designed the DIY way likely to save cost upfront. Others are designed for showing off a pretty display but are not the robust data-driven, sales converting, marketing machines they should be.

See: 15 Must Have Features For Ecommerce Sites

I've seen some marketing from certain providers that can give you the idea that making and running a beautiful and sales crushing website within a few days seem so very simple. You get the impression that customers will come charging through the virtual gates of your award-winning website like it's Black Friday every hour.

But what happened? Are you just hearing chirps?

If you think that you can create without years of training and experience this type of website that really improves your business's bottom line and growth strategy you'd be mistaken. Let's say you hand me a scalpel and ask me to cut. I am not a surgeon. So you probably don't want me performing your surgery. We might think it's easy to be the eCommerce Director of the most successful online retailer :)

Unfortunately, this I believe is very common thanks to brilliant marketing and promotion of the DIY website. They also offer incredibly affordable monthly rates, and easy to use drag and drop tools that anyone can learn how to piece together a cool website with a little playing around.

Stuck? Book A Free 30 Minute Consultation

SaaS e-commerce and website hosting services such as WIX and Squarespace are really good and useful services depending on the short term goals, the aim of the business, and the immediate budget. I see a lot of restaurants using these services. If that's you, I hope you're investing time in learning how to make your creation actually work to make sales and leverage your online data for your restaurant business. Please do not just throw up a website and just sit there.

See: Why You Might Not Want To Use Wix

I say that from the customer's perspective because these days we just demand so much more from the functionality and ease of use of business websites even a restaurant. In general, I want to be able to find everything that I am looking for on my mobile phone within 30 to 60 secs on a website. If you're selling food I probably came there to order online not find your address and hours. I have Google for that.

So, what are restaurants doing wrong with their websites?

1. For starters is just not having a website.

I guess some still don't think it's important today.

2. Using Facebook or Google Sites as the only business page.

I guess some still don't think it's important but kind of do?

3. Bad on mobile or lack thereof.

Your website doesn't work on mobile or it's not mobile optimized. It's 2020 and your website traffic is at least 50 - 60% mobile traffic, although it's probably higher for restaurants, and it will continue to be higher and higher YoY. If you don't have a mobile-capable site that's an immediate bounce or I'll just use Uber Eats. Also, you're killing your websites SEO and search ranking which is something to consider for organic rankings and for advertising quality scores if you run online advertising.

4. DIY Websites.

WIX and Squaresquare based restaurants can look really good and they're super simple to use as a novice. Just mostly dragging and dropping and you've got a pretty good looking website that works on mobile. Seems great right? But the point of a website is not making it just to look good in as much as it is about doing its job. Hopefully, your most immediate goal is accomplishing sales and growing your audience and retaining existing customers. You're going to need a team or at least an expert for that who's dedicated those goals.

Do you have a goal for your website? You should.

an old scroll with a read seal, an ink well and a feather pen5. The Bottomless Scrolling Pit

You've done the work and you've got your products and food menu items listed online... on one enormously long page. I see a lot of infinite scroll type designs. It's not a fun experience for users. Customers will easily drop off on the more they have to scroll. Maybe one reason certain items aren't selling as well as you'd expect? Reading a menu in person is easy and staff can also assist them. Navigating and scrolling through endless items on a single page is frustrating and I'll quit like everyone else.

6. User Experience (UX): Customer Navigation and Journey 

You need to step back and think about things from the customer's perspective. Think about the customer journey and experience even if you're a restaurant with a small menu. It should be dead simple for them to find what they're looking for in 3-5 seconds or less without hassle. They came to your site for a reason. Make it easy for them before they get frustrated, confused, and leave hopefully not for your competitor. This is going to be a key component of making your website successful.

7. The professional website from 3 or 10 years ago.

You've already made a good investment years ago trying to get ahead of the curve. Wasn't that enough for today? Maybe your website looks good on the surface but it's just a shell and it doesn't do its job.

It's likely not up to date with the changes in technology, coding languages, how search engines crawl websites and SEO tactics. 

Does your website have structured data like JSON-LD?

Are AMP results showing on Google for your business?

Maybe you still got a PDF menu and customers can't order online. And guess what? Customers are more demanding than ever. This is especially true online and expect so much more from your website and your business than years ago. If the page loads slowly because it's clunky or out of date they're gone. There's a lot to stay on top of, maintain, and update with a website so invest and budget for it regularly.

See: Find out how you stack up to new industry benchmarks for mobile page speed

8. The online ordering killer.

Online ordering is should be a foundation of your website even if you're a restaurant. Online ordering for restaurants has increased by 300% from 2014. Let's say it probably just increased a lot faster more recently. Customers just can't order online because you don't offer it.

I hope this one is going to be obvious for almost any store or restaurant these days. The trend won't stop and if anything it'll only accelerate faster. The good news is that you don't have to have a dedicated person to solely man the phones anymore once you implement online ordering. Multiple customers can order all at once and very efficiently. This amounts to saving your staff time and giving customers frictionless and robust experience.female chef with chalkboard pdf menu download

9. PDF Menus. Yeah, PDF menus still.

 They are really outdated and they're bad for business.

10. Laundry List: More Ideas I Can Keep Going on About

  • No in-store, local, or curbside pickup options online
  • No local delivery options available online
  • No online gift cards that are easy to purchase and redeem for customers
  • No online merchandise for customers to purchase
  • No upselling, cross-selling, and providing recommendations online to customers. When done right customers prefer it.
  • Can't book a table or reserve a table online
  • Poor SEO tactics
  • No Links To Social Media Accounts
  • Not Utilizing Social Media Feeds and photos
  • Not integrating customer reviews or giving customers a chance to leave reviews
  • No Abandon Cart Recovery or Exit Intent Messages
  • No use of Newsletters or Sign Up Forms or CTAs
  • No Newsletters or Subscriptions at all
  • No User Accounts For Customers
  • No Loyalty or Membership Systems
  • Using 2, 3, or even 4 different websites and service providers together. Customers don't want to be bounced around to from your homepage to Doordash to Toast. It's full of customer friction.
  • Not using paid marketing like PPC.
  • Not using remarketing tactics
  • Not taking advantage of email marketing when it's the highest ROI for digital advertising 
  • Not remarketing to your best customers with personalized offers
  • Not utilizing analytics tools like Google Analytics
  • I think that's enough laundry for now

    Bottom Line: Behind The Trends and Untapped Potential For Restaurants Doing It Wrong

    Things are just ever-increasingly becoming digital and web traffic grows YoY. Websites should be a major part of your general business strategy. Invest in and utilize your website to help your business stay relevant and profitable for today and the future. Get a good team behind it. Done right, the ROI will make it very worthwhile to start and you'll see even better returns when it gains more traction. 

    Make your website work as part of your branding strategy, growth, and scaling plan. Use it to stay inline with consumer trends. Use your site to implement technologies in food delivery services. Expand customer reach and support. Improve customer experience and loyalty. Drive conversions online, offline, and offsite for your restaurant from your website. You can adapt your restaurant's systems to accommodate your website game plan, vice versa, or better yet make a killer holistic omnichannel solution.

    See: 2020/2021 List of Restaurant Trends

    From an e-commerce perspective, I see a lot of potential for untapped profits in the items covered above for restaurants. There are plenty more ideas here we could also list or arguments we can make against going at the website development alone. Hopefully, in examining what restaurants are doing wrong with their websites we have some key takeaways that owners can take action on. Speak with your existing web service provider and ask them to implement some strategies. A solid e-commerce sales and marketing game plan will serve your business 24/7.

    Torey Littlefield

    Torey Littlefield is a business consultant and founder at E-IGNITED, a digital development and consulting company that specializes in the planning, design, and implementation of e-commerce strategies for new and existing SMBs. For more than 10 years Torey has worked with a variety of businesses in helping them more forward and achieve their e-commerce goals. He works with store development, digital marketing, omni and multichannel strategy through leading marketplaces and platforms such as Amazon and Shopify. He is also the owner of Never Enough Books in Easthampton, MA. He enjoys getting out traveling and learning about crossboarder e-commerce particulary in APAC.

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