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Why ARE Restaurant Web sites so bad?

December 27th, 2010 · 76 Comments

On Twitter, my friends Shani and Erie are engaged in a bit of time-honored kvetching about the legendary and general awfulness of restaurant Web sites. Who thinks it’s good idea to blast annoying music at people going to your site? Why do they so often rely on Flash, which doesn’t really add anything to the experience, when half the time people are looking up the site on mobile devices to get basic information? Why this bizarre preference for menus in PDF format?

The really strange thing to me isn’t that restaurants would make these mistakes initially. These are, after all, mostly small brick-and-mortar businesses whose Web presence is pretty peripheral to what they do. The truly baffling thing is that people have been complaining about these exact same things for years; they’re universally acknowledged to be errors by anyone with a lick of design sense. But you find them replicated even on the sites of fancypants restaurants that have obviously thrown at least a moderate amount of cash into site design recently. Is it just that nobody tells them, that the folks in charge of commissioning these things are somehow still unaware that the superficially glitzy bells and whistles are actually annoying obstacles to usability? Or is there some deeper reason they’re purposefully sticking with bad design?

Update: I guess it’s lazy to pose the question without at least trying to cook up a few hypotheses. One possibility is that there’s an unfortunate feedback loop in effect. Lots of restaurant sites made these mistakes initially. The people commissioning the sites are probably general managers who don’t have a lot of time to spare thinking about Web design, and so they rely on a heuristic of seeing what other sites are doing and expecting their designers to come up with something similar. The designers may know better, but they realize that precisely because the site is peripheral, they’re going to be able to charge based on the superficial glitziness of the site’s appearance, not its actual usability—and indeed, given the suboptimal equilibrium, they’d likely have to burn time and energy explaining to the client why a more functional, better-designed site didn’t look like all the others.

Another possibility is that there’s an attempt at signalling going on. All you’re realistically going to need from a restaurant Web site is a few pages worth of basically static information, and maybe some reservation functionality, which is probably outsourced to OpenTable anyway. People probably aren’t going to be interacting with the site for more than a couple minutes. That means there’s limited ability to cue the user via the site that this is a higher-end joint, if that’s what you’re trying to do. (Design still works surprisingly well as a status marker, I’ve noticed—compare even a relatively kludgy major publication site with something like WorldNetDaily.) So you end up with a sort of Veblenesque “conspicuous consumption” on the splash page—lots of sound and graphics that actually detract from the functionality of the site, but broadcast that you’ve got money to burn on your Web presence. The people who just want directions or a reservation will end up using Google Maps and OpenTable anyway, so semiotics trump usability.

That’s a guess, anyway. It’d be interesting to talk to someone who actually makes these decisions at (or does Web design for) a higher-end restaurant to see what the actual thought process looks like.

Update II: Apropos of the aforementioned kvetches, consider this catalog of things never said about restaurant websites.

Tags: Uncategorized



76 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Hyena // Dec 27, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    I’d wager that PDF menus exist because graphic designers send PDFs to their clients for printing/review.

    The rest is because the website is peripheral, so they don’t think much about it. When they dothink about it, they think in terms of other websites which are mostly for things that aren’t restaurants.

    They then demand that from their designers.

  • 2 Julian Sanchez // Dec 27, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    Actually, I wonder if it isn’t the reverse: That there’s a form of equilibrium that kicks in because so many restaurants did initially make these same mistakes. Managers who don’t want to devote much thought to the site rely on the heuristic of looking at what other restaurant sites do, and figure that as long as the designer is giving them something that looks pretty similar to the competition, everything’s kosher. Then, even designers who know better realize they can charge more for something that looks glitzy-but-nonfunctional—and indeed, that going with better design probably means expending time & energy explaining why their site doesn’t look as slick as all the other restaurant sites.

  • 3 Gary // Dec 27, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    It could also be momentum. When the vast majority of restaurants have a similar style of website, it will be what the restaurant owners expect when they commission a site, and will feel like they’re not getting a good product if it looks like anything else.

  • 4 Julian Sanchez // Dec 27, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    GMTA, apparently.

  • 5 Gary // Dec 27, 2010 at 4:56 pm


  • 6 Sigivald // Dec 27, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    What Hyena said; either the menu’s a PDF because the designer returned it in PDF, or because the POS system exports to PDF.

    Better than a Word file, at least.

    Getting it into HTML would require either more code to generate it and translate, or actual maintenance every time it changed…

  • 7 Talleyrand // Dec 27, 2010 at 5:10 pm

    I think that so far you have been attributing too much strategic thinking to the actors involved here, plus you leave the initial ‘mistakes’ untheorized. The interaction between the restaurant manager and the web designer is plausibly characterized more by ignorance (or more charitably, valuation of form over function for its own sake) than anything else. The manager does not realize that functional websites are better – he likely is not thinking about download times and is unduly impressed by graphics and techno-wizardry. If the web designer showed up with a text-based site – the most functional in terms of information transfer – the manager is going to reject it or ask for a more beautiful or impressive design. The web designer, as a computery person with above average levels of aspergers, is incapable of explaining anything about the point of functionality or doesn’t care and just wants to do what the customer (the manager) wants, or wants to indulge and show off his skills.

    There might be some path-dependent imitation processes going on, but these also rely on manager ignorance for sustaining them and also rely on ignorance to get them started.

    The costly signaling argument is bogus. No one is thinking, on either end, that a swanky website means a better restaurant because it cost more, so therefore they must be a successful restaurant that can afford more web design.

  • 8 Jayvie Canono // Dec 27, 2010 at 5:17 pm

    The feedback loop of vultures preying on wolves that Julian describes is one thing.

    Another perspective is that, no matter the kind of establishment—glitzy of chintzy—a restaurant is a petty tyranny headed by a control freak. I doubt you’d find a designer who’s done design work for a restauranteur who’ll come out and say: “They listened to my recommendations and signed off on it,” no. A restaurant owner is likeliest lampooned in Clients From Hell, or the inspiration for the memorable Oatmeal comic.

  • 9 bjza // Dec 27, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    I actually had the PDF thing happen to me last month – for a local newspaper no less. My proposal outlined the things we’d all expect from a online news source, but when they called me in to meet with the big guy, his idea amounted to a pretty front page with a prominent link to the print version as a downloadable PDF – which is what their current website already was (minus the pretty). They’d had complaints about the website, so their solution was to pay someone to make it better while keeping it exactly the same. When you’re a professional creative type, it can be really hard to turn down a paycheck over standards and bad specifications.

    On the other side, some designers are trained for other media (print or video). As a result they don’t keep up to date with standards and may have never thought about UI considerations beyond eye movements. They learn one IDE and stick with it, never unlearning the bad habits it might encourage.

  • 10 Jayvie Canono // Dec 27, 2010 at 5:33 pm

    @bjza: “When you’re a professional creative type, it can be really hard to turn down a paycheck over standards and bad specifications.” <– Everyone needs to eat, but I have to say that this approach is anything but "professional." Designers and consultants aren't technicians, we're not the hired help because the client doesn't know how to operate the software. There are ways to elevate the experience for client and provider alike. A professional knows when to say no to a client.

  • 11 Julian Sanchez // Dec 27, 2010 at 5:36 pm

    I didn’t think your explanation sounded all that different from what I was trying to say in the first half of the update. And I don’t think it’s totally distinct from the signaling hypothesis really… You look at a Flash-based site for a high-end restaurant, they’re pretty clearly trying to create a certain vibe or aura quite apart from the utilitarian function the site serves… It’s not like this is exactly a novel concept in marketing–we all understand that businesses do this in myriad ways in the offline context all the time. I don’t know why it’s unusual to suggest the same thing would be replicated online.

  • 12 Ben // Dec 27, 2010 at 5:37 pm

    Restaurant people are in a business that is not as internet intensive as office work, so annoying websites are probably not a daily scourge. Thus they are less likely to develop a fairly sophisticated opinion on what bad web design is.

  • 13 Chuchundra // Dec 27, 2010 at 5:41 pm

    Restaurants are probably some of the worst-run businesses in existence. I don’t think you can overlook that when you’re pondering this particular conundrum.

  • 14 Death to PDF Menus | Shani O. Hilton // Dec 27, 2010 at 6:25 pm

    […] seeing me and our friend Erie complain about terrible restaurant website design, Julian Sanchez suggests a few hypotheses as to why it’s so very bad: [T]here’s an attempt at signalling going on. All you’re […]

  • 15 David // Dec 27, 2010 at 8:18 pm

    This post was better better before the Update. Some things really are better just to complain about. At least until after New Year’s. D

  • 16 Noah Fect // Dec 27, 2010 at 10:44 pm

    What’s wrong with .PDFs? I can archive them locally and refer to them offline, and they maintain familiarity with the menu that I’ll eventually be presented when I sit down in the restaurant.

    Flash, yes — kill it with fire. Nothing wrong with .PDFs, though, on any modern mobile device.

  • 17 Mal // Dec 27, 2010 at 11:14 pm

    It’s a big financial burden for a restaurant to hire an agency and develop a proper website. At least a few months worth of rent.

  • 18 Julian Sanchez // Dec 27, 2010 at 11:14 pm

    They’re not always searchable, and not everyone is browsing from a smartphone. Also, just mildly annoying to have to download the extra file. (Also, I don’t actually download or archive menus… I guess they’re less annoying if you do.)

  • 19 Julian Sanchez // Dec 27, 2010 at 11:16 pm

    But that’s just the thing! Usually a dirt simple site with maybe with a Tumblr #include for updates, would be better than what they actually do.

  • 20 Anthony // Dec 27, 2010 at 11:19 pm

    I definitely think that much of the general public believes a site complete with tons of animation, music and flashy design signifies quality and transfers that to their feelings on the restaurant (assuming they can actually view the site).

    I also agree with Chuchundra, that many restaurants are poorly run. From my first hand experience working at multiple restaurants the people in charge are not very business or tech savvy, and probably wouldn’t even know what Flash means. This is probably also why most restaurants go out of business in less than a year.

  • 21 Conrad Twizzle // Dec 27, 2010 at 11:22 pm

    Honestly, I feel your pain. It’s why I’m currently developing : http://www.onebigmenu.com/

    check it out, and let me know what you think 😀

  • 22 tim // Dec 27, 2010 at 11:31 pm

    The biggest offenders are restaurants or investment groups WITH money not independently owned or smaller restaurant groups with no money.

    Smaller or independently owned restaurants simply don’t have the budget so they throw up something with a few basic links. Those sites are infinitely more useful than sites that spent some coin paying someone to write up a bad flash app.

    I tried to look up the hours of a restaurant I planned on going to on my phone just the other week. It sit there for five minutes before I gave up and looked up another restaurant.

  • 23 Jay // Dec 27, 2010 at 11:42 pm

    (Disclosure: I’m a developer with over a decade of experience building web applications and I do not even talk about the web business with bar/restaurant industry people, for many reasons)

    Restaurant operators have a very simple business process that has been honed over generations since times immemorial and the websites, albeit a good thing to have, are not germain to their business and rarely will they have the desire to learn or someone on staff who has the experience.

    Thus, they cannot be expected to hire a real web team to implement and execute a top-notch web presence for them and more often than not, they rely on the type of developer who rarely goes beyond low-hanging fruit, which is what retail entertainment venues are in the web industry.

    Also, they’re able to rely on third party websites that will freely list their location, hours and menu choices, not to mention reviews, so there is no impetus to compete via the web since they can gain the same exposure as their neighbors without any cost or effort.

    That being said, not every single one of them is a luddite, and once in awhile you’ll come across someone who does appreciate the craft and is willing to give it a go, in this case one Ali Baba from Morgantown, WV: http://alibabaexpress.com/

    which is what a restaurant website ought to be, imho

  • 24 Why ARE Restaurant Web sites so bad? | Infinite Software // Dec 28, 2010 at 12:00 am

    […] Why ARE Restaurant Web sites so bad?. […]

  • 25 Joleta // Dec 28, 2010 at 12:10 am

    Regarding the Ali Baba restaurant site: Why did they think that putting the restaurant’s address and phone number in tiny type in the footer was a good idea. Aren’t these two critical pieces of information you would go to a restaurant web site for? Well, at least it was there on the home page. Can’t tell you how many web sites require you to click the About Us to find out where the business is located.

  • 26 Rrr // Dec 28, 2010 at 1:31 am

    The cooks t know HTML is my guess.

    I like hamburgers myself.

    I’m going to make myself a sandwich now.

  • 27 pwb // Dec 28, 2010 at 2:32 am

    It makes sense that a restaurant web site is heavy on the multimedia because there really isn’t that much you can do with a restaurant web site. So the audio probably creeps in and since the visuals are probably pretty neat, no one objects. That’s what happened to us, at least.

  • 28 Ben // Dec 28, 2010 at 2:36 am

    Did this tumblr bring about the original twitter discussion: http://neversaidaboutrestaurantwebsites.tumblr.com/

  • 29 Bruce Hauman // Dec 28, 2010 at 2:47 am

    I am the developer/owner of Restaurantzite.com and this is the problem I am trying to solve.

    I think the statement that restaurant owners are luddites is true for the majority but this is changing over time. They are also extremely busy and overtasked.

    Restaurant owners prefer personal relationships with the people who provide their services. They are visited by an army of salespeople in person at their door. So they mostly end up going for the first person they know, who presents an economical solution.

    I would say that this is the case for many small independent businesses. Restaurants, however, are the ones who’s websites we visit the most. They all suffer from lack of funds and information.

    Try this: pick a small business sector (carpentry, massage therapy) and then look in the yellow pages to get a list of businesses which is not based on their web presence. Then look up their web pages one at a time. What do you think you will find?

  • 30 braaad // Dec 28, 2010 at 3:59 am

    I’m an independent graphic designer, and I recently designed this site for a restaurant in Guatemala: http://www.casaescobar.com.gt. I’d like to use this site to help respond to a few of the technical questions raised here:

    The client supplied me all his menus as PDFs. This is because the print designer, who designed the menus way before I came along, delivered high resolution PDFs to the client. In my experience, this is why so many restaurants have PDFs of their menus. Basically no one wants to transcribe and re-layout the menu for the web. But hey, I felt like going the extra mile so instead of tacking up a couple of PDFs and calling it a day, I scanned all the menus and put ’em through an online OCR app. Then I spent 2-3 hours correcting them. After making a half-decent copydeck I then hired a professional copywriter to both translate and proofread all the text. Whew! Obviously the best case scenario from a design standpoint is to be able to do the restaurant’s entire branding from start to finish.

    My client wanted Flash. Or in his words, he wanted “movement.” He showed me several other restaurant websites that he admired- all done in Flash. After some deliberation I decided Flash was not the best solution for him- mostly because he wanted control over the content via some sort of CMS and also because while iPhone/Pad users are a minority in Central America, those are usually the sort of people you want spending money at your restaurant 😉 Anyway, I ended up using jQuery animations to give him the sense of movement he was after. As for the CMS, the site is built on WordPress.

    In the end it’s up to the designer to provide the best solutions for the client. They trust you to provide them with the absolute best you can give them. Even if they think they just want a blingy brochure site- it’s up to you to raise the bar and raise their expectations.

  • 31 Don Rathbun // Dec 28, 2010 at 9:01 am

    Good insights. As a web developer, the reason I set up restaurant menus as pdf is the labor involved in properly coding a menu in html is not a good use of resources. If I list out short descriptions of the food available, and provide a price range, then almost everyone except a takeout caller will have enough info to decide on a visit. Is it 7 dollars or 19 dollars for the special platter?

    Detailed pdf menus allow the manager or admin to manage it in word, change as needed, and pdf and upload to publish. Not as nice as an html menu, but absolutely accessible to most current mobile devices, and saves hours of proofing.

    Totally agree on the insight that managers see glitz, and want the same, thus the flash. Takes time to splain why flash is not the solution, but pulling out an iphone and showing them the flash site works pretty well.

  • 32 sam // Dec 28, 2010 at 11:09 am

    “there’s limited ability to cue the user via the site that this is a higher-end joint, if that’s what you’re trying to do.”

    I just want to add and update something Andy Rooney said years ago on a show he did on restaurants. If you go to a restaurant web site, and there’s a graphic of a menu with red tassels, you can just plan on adding $20+ to the price of a meal.

  • 33 Linkdump for December 28th at found_drama // Dec 28, 2010 at 12:02 pm

    […] Why ARE Restaurant Web sites so bad? Interesting discussion (especially in the comments) about why the restaurant business seems particularly plagued by poorly-designed, overly-flashy, nearly unusable websites.  What's a surprise to me though it that hardly anyone seems to mention the cost factor–most restaurants have such slim margins that it doesn't necessarily make sense (at least not to the owners/managers) to put a lot of investment into creating a web presence.  Those of us that are expecting them to have websites are probably forgetting how much maintenance a restaurant website might need–sure you post your hours and those don't change (except for all those holidays) and you post your menu and that doesn't change (except those daily specials and how the menu rotates every couple of months to keep things fresh…) (tagged: blog ui design ) […]

  • 34 Alex // Dec 28, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    I agree that most restaurant sites are horrible, but I wanted to highlight two local (to me) ones that I really like: http://theredhouse.com/ and http://www.henriettastable.com/. The former was recently redesigned and is very functional.

  • 35 Ian Lotinsky (SandwichBoard) // Dec 28, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    SandwichBoard does restaurant web sites (http://www.sandwichboard.com/).

    We’ve found that the owners and managers who “don’t get it” are the ones who think that the web site experience should be the same as the restaurant experience: background music, a menu that looks identical to the physical one, and a picture of every dish.

    The ones who do “get it” entrust their web site to designers and usability experts who make it their goal to turn web site visitors into patrons.

  • 36 PJ Doland // Dec 28, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    The PDF menu issue is just laziness on the part of restaurateurs, who don’t want to bother updating their sites whenever they make a menu change. Uploading a PDF is by far the easiest way for them to keep this information current, and the users suffer.

    The useless Flash website is endemic to a few other types of businesses, in particular. See if you can spot a pattern:

    1. Musicians
    2. High Fashion & Jewelry
    3. Restaurants
    4. Architects

  • 37 Amanda Brandon // Dec 28, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    I completely agree with you on the lack of sophistication in restaurant websites. But, in addition to bad design, it seems to me that restaurants aren’t getting the proper training in updating the site.

    I think that is the core issue. Lack of education in what it takes to maintain a web presence. And proper delegation. Most restaurateurs and caterers can’t afford a fancy agency, but the web marketing experience needs to be a priority on their marketing plan.

    As for PDFs on websites, I think this is a personal preference. Most smartphones are capable of handling them. However, I agree that restaurants need to consider the mobile user and add the mobile version of their site to the priorities list.

  • 38 totallymeat // Dec 28, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    I recently redesigned a restaurant’s website and decided to have PDF menus due to the fact that it changes daily. The owners of the restaurant barely have time in their schedule to write and print out two sets of menus each day (lunch and dinner), so much so that their previous website did not even list actual menus, but merely representative dishes. The solution was to allow them to simply upload a PDF of the Word document, tag the menu type, then sort them by date. Customers get a glimpse of the previous weeks’ menus without adding additional work to the restaurant owners.

  • 39 Bret Phillips // Dec 28, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    Any bad restaurant websites are the fault of the designer.

    Part of your job as a developer or designer is to educate your customer.

    If your customer, a restaurant or not, asks for something that looks terrible, flows poorly, and is general annoying(automatic music player), it is your duty to explain to them why they shouldn’t want that and what they can do to make it better.

    So I blame their designers/developers, not the restaurants themselves.


  • 40 Mike // Dec 28, 2010 at 12:52 pm

    I’ll tell you exactly why:

    Restaurants LOVE to trade/barter their services for any vendor willing to take it. It makes “buying” services very very cheap for them.

    There are a ton of under skilled web developers/family members/cousins that are willing to build a site for trade.

    The resulting site is poorly done, and the web designer’s belly is full. Everyone’s happy, right?

    The busy owner/manager can then tend to putting out daily fires as is typical of a small restaurant.

    Want to see good restaurant sites? In general, look for companies that start restaurant concepts as opposed to a single instance of a restaurant.

  • 41 Ricco // Dec 28, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    I think if creative people running restaurants took the time and thought up concepts most wouldn’t be so bad. I think the problem is largely a case of not so experienced (either with web design or the food business) developers going out soliciting clients. Then some jump into it with barely a clue.
    Then they’re not educated buyers that have had time to research, compare, and really think things through.

    As a customer, I’d tend to expect that a restaurant that spends the money for frequent web updates is probably charging too much for the food.

  • 42 Custom Web Designs | Basecamp's Blog // Dec 28, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    […] Why ARE Restaurant Web sites so bad? (juliansanchez.com) […]

  • 43 Vern // Dec 28, 2010 at 3:52 pm

    I don’t work with restaurants that much, but I do with a wide cross section of businesses. In general, the industries that are more “content centric” have better Web sites – media, travel, government and non-profits, retailers (with provisos).

    The other industries, like manufacturing, believe their success is due to their actual product or service relative to it’s cost. If you’re buying steel pipe, it’s all about the cost per foot and whatever strength you need. The surrounding content or Web site is about as important to that way of thinking as the color of the flatbed truck that delivers it to the work site.

    What may make this seem odd, is that Restaurants are a sort of cross between manufacturing (food for a fee) and Entertainment (ambiance, service, reupation, etc.). The Entertainment industry is hugely dependent on content so you’d think the Entertainment part of a Restaurant business would cause the sites to at least be above average.

    But of course, admitting that patrons come for the Entertainment, not the food is not something many chef’s will want to do, even less so at the higher end. I suspect the few that do, like Hard Rock Cafe, or Rainforest Cafe, have the better Web sites.

    This effect in turn might further reinforce the tendency of the “better” restaurants to conspicuously NOT have a very good site. Same idea as any store who doesn’t mention price very prominently. If you have to ask (or check our Web site) don’t bother coming.

  • 44 Vern // Dec 28, 2010 at 3:59 pm

    A similar dynamic happens btw on any business attempting to cater to an exclusive clientele – certain law firms, hotels even. The Web is inherently an equalizer open to all. Businesses that want to project a “high touch” level of service (i.e. human rather than automated), will tend to want to cut back on the Web site functionally. They’ll throw up a flash or a pdf that tells you how great the human service will be, but anything more functionally useful and it would start to feel like “self service” which is the last thing any high end business wants to convey.

    In short, there’s no way to put a high priced personal assistant on the Web site for YOU personally when you visit – though folks are working on it.

  • 45 Superflat // Dec 28, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    I can definitively answer a few of your questions.

    First, menus are in PDF format because many restaurants already have their current menu in PDF, making it relatively easy to upload. This is especially true in restaurants who regularly change their menu. Many chefs/restaurant owners are intimidated by the thought of updating HTML text.

    Regarding the Flash… yes, it is an attempt to invoke the atmosphere of the place and yes, it’s annoying. You’ll notice, however, that MANY restaurants have responded to this by creating single HTML webpages that show a snapshot of a Google map, a menu, hours, and contact. This is especially common among trendy, “hipster” or rustic restaurants.

    The Flash thing seems to be far more common among either traditionally ritzy affairs (like you might find at a high-end hotel) and restaurants that appeal to the clubbing crowd (the sorts of people who order champagne service).

  • 46 Jay // Dec 28, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    A quick look at world-renowned restauranteurs will tell you many things about these guys: they design food experience and not user experience for the web.With these kinds of egos involved, why would they care about something they’ll never master? If an army of like-minded fruit pickers can walk through the door and sell them cheap services, they’ll take it, especially if it’s not threatening. Of the five listed below, Gordon Ramsay is the only one who displays some knowledge. Everything else is a mess, but it doesn’t matter because the web is not core to their business. It’s good to have a site, but not a must-have. I’m willing to bet that the least-employed reason their customers are using for visiting their restaurants is because of the website.


    Brad, I’m sorry, but you half-assed it. Using jQuery and a CMS are a great start, but you still used the traditional restaurant UI. That being said, now I know where to dine in Guatemala City, even if I have to show my cab driver a printout of your weird third-party map plugin.

    One glaring problem I see is that these sites are outside-in to the business. If you’re able to make the technology inside-out, there would be many improvements. Good luck selling that though.

  • 47 MBH // Dec 28, 2010 at 5:08 pm

    Ask yourself why the illustrators design the Introducing book series the way they do.

    Most people register a commodity on the visual and verbal levels. Food and ideas are very hard to present with text.

  • 48 MBH // Dec 28, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    You may find this paradigmatic of a non-functional blog, but I recently wrote What it Means to Function about the multiple levels of comprehension. I have aspergers so I think this post is a counterpoint to Talleyrand’s argument.

  • 49 Dave Barnes // Dec 28, 2010 at 5:28 pm

    As someone who built a restaurant website ( http://zcuisineonline.com/ ) and was the webmaster for 6 years, I can say that all of you are correct.
    * trade-out
    * don’t care about it
    * don’t want to even think about it
    * want to look cool

  • 50 JayWilk // Dec 28, 2010 at 5:37 pm

    I find it funny that the examples people are giving here of “good” websites (for example http://alibabaexpress.com/) have so many fundamental mistakes. A professional web designer would never embed phone and address fields in graphics. It makes them impossible to copy and paste and/or to click and dial on a smart-phone – which aside from viewing a menu – is why most people visit a restaurant site. A little common sense would be nice.

  • 51 Matt McCandless // Dec 28, 2010 at 5:41 pm

    I’m not much into restaurants and their business practices but I have enjoyed some of the posts and speaking of relevance. I was pulling out my wallet when… Boom! There it was right on my kindle display:

    “Julian Sanchez”
    No items found

    What the eff you see kay! How am I supposed to give you money if you’re not even open for business.

    Thanks for the posts. I guess, until you get with the times, I’ll have to keep using that dilapidated piece of antiquity some like to call the computer.

  • 52 t1 // Dec 28, 2010 at 6:37 pm

    Nobody makes dining decisions based on websites, that’s why.

    Except for delivery/take-out sites that need interactive sites to receive orders.

  • 53 Justin // Dec 28, 2010 at 10:59 pm

    People sure as hell make decisions based on not being able to load a website on their phone. Restaurants lose a lot of semi-impulsive visits that way.

  • 54 K.C.G. // Dec 29, 2010 at 12:21 am

    And that’s really what restaurants should focus on, as much as they can.

    I don’t get the PDF complaint, because converting any standard publishing oriented format to HTML is going to be quite a task — whereas with the right software, you can print *any* document to PDF. Any restaurant with a menu that updates regularly will not want to bother with HTML conversion.

    I get the Flash complaint on the other hand, especially on mobiles. An ideal restaurant will have a mobile-friendly section (with the type of information Superflat mentioned.) Mobile users don’t want fluff, they just want the facts.

  • 55 Joe // Dec 29, 2010 at 12:30 am

    I would love it if more restaurant websites loaded as quickly and simply as this: http://www.shelovesny.com/resy.html

    Pure text with some contrast against the background color, content loaded instantly with no add-ins or multimedia, perhaps with a few photos (no flashy menus or click-throughs) so I can get a sense of how big the place is and its decor, and call it a day.

  • 56 C // Dec 29, 2010 at 12:45 am

    I routinely make dining decisions based on websites, impulsive *and* researched. I want the menu, quickly and easily, on a mobile device. Make that hard, and I’m on to the next restaurant.

    One reason is I often book for groups where one or more members has a dietary restriction — I need to be able to scan the menu to see what the options are.

  • 57 steven schwartz // Dec 29, 2010 at 2:49 am

    Let us not forget the painful to visit Hotel websites, they make me want to sleep in airports or homeless shelters.

  • 58 Julian Sanchez // Dec 29, 2010 at 6:26 am

    Afterthought: OpenTable could make a few extra bucks by fleshing out its restaurant pages a bit and trying to be MySpace for the culinary sector. Nice clean templates for those who just want the basics, simple customization for places that feel compelled to be distinctive…

  • 59 EW // Dec 29, 2010 at 11:41 am

    As a restaurant operator with websites that I am less than enthused about, I feel your pain.
    I believe in clean and simple sites that give visitors necessary info (hours, location, reservation policy) and a feel for the restaurant through description and photos (busy, casual, fine dining, simple, sophisticated).

    In defense of pdf menus…changing a menu at a restaurant is a huge project. There are so many moving parts in a menu update that the guest never sees. Unfortunately, restaurants do not have tech savvy Managers nor do they operate with very high margins in which they can afford expensive web developers. Being able to take the final, laid out version and upload as a pdf ensures accuracy of the content.

  • 60 Pre-Marketing 12/29 – gpkendall.com // Dec 29, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    […] Julian Sanchez wonders why restaurant websites are so bad: “Who thinks it’s good idea to blast annoying music at people going to your site? Why […]

  • 61 Mark // Dec 29, 2010 at 10:36 pm

    I personally prefer menus in PDF format for several reasons. They obviously are easier to read than some of the fancy designer ones created by website programmers. There also easy to export and print the matter what kind of device you’re using. Also from the restaurant point of view in most cases they can just upload a new PDF file without having to involve a programmer when they make any changes so it saves them money also. I certainly don’t see any reason not to use PDF for menus.

  • 62 Tony Marciante // Dec 30, 2010 at 3:19 pm

    Lots to say here from me as a Chef/ Restaurant Owner / techie type who owns 60 + domains and 20+ active websites.

    I’m far from the usual Chef/owner, and my own restaurant site is on a template service now before I convert to a wordpress based site..but..

    Most resturant “to do” lists are a mile long, and contantly interrupted..and most restaurant people are NOT very web savvy, design savvy, or do they really want to deal with any of it. Christ, I’ve seen large restaurant corporations who just got a decent web design in last 5 years… $400M companies…

    There is a whole revolution that restaurant web sites need to go through , most are very ancient, aren’t socially friendly, and don’t “get” that the internet is TRULY their front door now.

    BEing able to update the site is both important, and probably a stretch for most operators..keeping it easy is key, and I used to not have pdfs of my menus on my site , but had to when I got someone complaining that they couldn’t download my menus.. I think html for a web menu might prove way out of the range of an operator to manage…

    Hopefully this makes sense, and my goals for 2011 are to empower/ teach and lead restaurant folks to “get” this technology thing. :)

  • 63 Barry // Jan 3, 2011 at 10:55 am

    Conrad Twizzle:

    “Honestly, I feel your pain. It’s why I’m currently developing : http://www.onebigmenu.com/

    check it out, and let me know what you think ”

    Went there, clicked on a restaurant, waited 10 seconds (on a high-speed connection) for something to happen, and came back.

  • 64 Duke City Food » A Woeful Website: What to do? // Jan 4, 2011 at 8:30 pm

    […] Do you still go? Do you call them and ask them to update their site? Do you email them and threaten to boycott? Post a list of all offending restaurant sites to try to get them to sharpen up, or post a list of GOOD sites as motivation? Embark on a campaign of blogging about the problem? […]

  • 65 Andrea Lin // Jan 4, 2011 at 8:31 pm

    Fabulous discussion – I found your post doing research for my own rant:

    I like the idea of publicly airing/listing bad sites with the implication of a threatened boycott.

  • 66 Usability vs. Providing an Experience | the Human Factors Blog // Jan 10, 2011 at 8:45 am

    […] Why ARE restaurant sites so bad? […]

  • 67 Buff Ross // Jan 12, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    I am a web designer usually for Museums but in a former life a professional cook. I just finished my first restaurant site. in doing a peer review before the process, found all of the flaws that you described.

    I convinced them to try a different approach. All menus change daily and are archived and, thankfully, not PDFs. The only flash is embedded deeper in the site and serves an actual purpose. Thankfully the restaurant itself is committed to highlighting the producers of the ingredients and the site does this as well. Great discussion.


  • 68 Episode 17: You Are What You Tweet | The Overlay Show // Feb 23, 2011 at 6:13 pm

    […] Why Are Restaurant Sites So Bad? […]

  • 69 Wheaton Restaurant Website Guide | Good Eatin' In Wheaton // May 9, 2011 at 10:27 am

    […] TBD wrote about the issue recently; here is an amusing Tumblr (funny because it’s true), and here are some theories about why such badness […]

  • 70 Phillip Evanesce // May 14, 2011 at 4:10 pm

    I never mind constructive criticism, although I get really impatient with people who don’t think before dumping all over a system.

    The reason for PDFs is pretty clear to anyone who designs sites for restaurants. Most restaurants don’t employee site admins, who cam regularly update html pages. With PDFs, the chef or manager can update the menu in Word, save it as a PDF, and then upload it to the server very easily. The web developer can also set a password for only the folder that contains the menu PDFs, eliminating the risk that the restaurant manager or chef might accidentally alter one of the web files or folders within the root folder and breaking the site.

    When I see comments like “the restaurant people need to learn some html”, I pray that those people aren’t being hired to design restaurant websites. Coders tend to have the least amount of common sense when it comes to understand how to make websites functional for non-IT_savvy clients.

  • 71 三便宝 // Jul 27, 2011 at 3:34 am

    When I see comments like “the restaurant people need to learn some html”, I pray that those people aren’t being hired to design restaurant websites. Coders tend to have the least amount of common sense when it comes to understand how to make websites functional for non-IT_savvy clients.

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  • 74 FOHBOH | Is Your Website An Ugly Duckling? // Jun 29, 2013 at 8:43 pm

    […] entire article is centered around the question: Why ARE restaurant web sites so bad? You can read the article here, but Sanchez raises a good pont — how come restaurant often […]

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