Because chain restaurants are for pussies.

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Posted Monday, February 14, 2011

A co-worker's Facebook post led me to "The Oatmeal" cartoon entitled, "What I want from a restaurant website." It's perfect --a cartoon I think should be in every fledgling restaurateur's "how-to" manual.

It got me thinking about some of the truly awful restaurant websites in the Cincinnati area. I'm convinced half of them were designed by a prepubescent family member. Seriously, restaurant owners: your 12-year-old nephew isn't the talented web designer his mother thinks he is. The other half were likely slapped together by the owners themselves, using shitty software tools and armed with a foggy understanding of what their customers are looking for.

Restaurateurs: your website is a direct reflection of your business --it's one of the first things a person sees to decide if they want to eat at your establishment. Why on Earth would you want to cut corners on such a crucial marketing tool?

The following is but a small sampling of sites I visited recently --if you have others, please post them in the comments below:

The Worst Restaurant Websites

BagPipes Irish Pub


I know they just opened, and we should do all we can to support new restaurants, especially Downtown. But there's simply no excuse for not having any kind of online presence. As of this writing, there's no website, no Twitter page, no Facebook page. When I stopped by to pick up a carry-out menu, they told me they were "being printed." WTF?

To their credit, there were large ads appearing in both CityBeat and Metromix last week, but c'mon guys --this is the 21st Century. The age of print media is dying fast, a fact not lost on even The Enquirer.

SITE RATING: What site? F


They have an obnoxiously large Flash animation on their website. The first thing you see is a large, white window with a briefly animated puff of smoke. On slower computers, the animation seems to freeze entirely. Is it done? Am I supposed to go somewhere? After 10 seconds of sitting around, waiting for something to happen, I finally scroll to see, well below the fold, a virtually hidden "enter smoQ" link. Repeat after me: intro pages are stupid. Intro pages are stupid. Why should anyone have to endure boring animation so they can "enter" the next page containing useful information?

Once I'm finally at the "real" homepage, I'm hit with some obnoxious music automatically pumped through my speakers. I don't want music shoved down my throat. I want to know what kind of food you have, where you're located and what your hours are. Period.

If smoQ owners would simply remove the above two horrible elements, their website would actually be decent overall. Once you get past the confounding Flash intro page and disable the music, you'll find straightforward navigation; both an online and a print version of the menu; and a phone number with hours of operation (though it would be better if they repeated this information in the "about" section). But that opening Flash page destroys everything.


Soup Du Jour

The first clue that little time, money and thought went into the site: the owners didn't even pay the extra cash to get rid of the cheesy GoDaddy banner at the top of the page.

The site is a jumbled mess: three or four different fonts of various sizes are used here, one of which is the dreaded "Comic Sans." If you don't know why Comic Sans is bad, look again to one of The Oatmeal's famous cartoon skits. The site navigation is hard to find, obscured by the BIG BLUE LINK TO THE KIDS' MENU. The link to their fall/winter menu has a confusing filename: "summermenu.pdf." Huh?


Mellow Mushroom

This new pizza chain obviously spent a lot of money on visual wizardry --it's got a hip-looking design. But the site designers failed to consider basic navigation. The "menu" section lacks a clear visual cue to reach the menu. When you get there, see how long it takes to figure out where the actual menu is. It's also an all-Flash website, which means:

  1. You can't view the Flash version from a smart phone or iPad
  2. You can't copy and paste any information, like phone number, hours, directions, etc.
  3. If you have a desktop computer, you have to wait for every Flash movie to load, which could take a while depending on your connection and the age of your computer.
All-flash sites always seem like a great idea on paper, because they give art designers so much more control over the look. But from a basic user-experience standpoint, they are seriously lacking.


Joe's Diner on Sycamore

Nice photo of a couple classic cars, but otherwise, it's not very helpful. It lacks a menu but offers plenty of GoDaddy advertisements.


Greek To Me Prassino

This website hosts information for two restaurants, Greek to Me in Erlanger and Greek To Me Prassino in Covington. Annoying, auto-playing Greek music fills the air. You can stop the music, but if you navigate to another page, it just starts back up again. No hours for either restaurant are available. Menus are difficult to read at screen resolutions like 1024x768 and 1280x1024.

The opening page implies that by clicking on one of the restaurant links, you'll be taken to that restaurant's exclusive section. Instead, you're taken to a page that contains navigation for both restaurants. So why have the first page at all? Active navigation sections contain barely discernible yellow text on a gold background.


Facebook Restaurant Pages

There are a large number of restaurant owners who simply buy a website domain name and then redirect it to their Facebook page (example: Pho Lang Thang). This is all well and good, until Facebook goes the way of the Dodo. Oh, I know, that will never happen, right? Just remember that placing your restaurant's online presence exclusively in the realm of Facebook doesn't ensure your information will be easy to find. And if you're going to make a Facebook page, make sure it's in fact a page and not an account in which I must add you as a "friend" just to get to your menu. Rest assured, I won't bother.

The Best Restaurant Websites

It's only fair that I highlight some of the more effective Cincinnati restaurant websites I've seen lately:


It's simple and all the information is there, though I'd like to be able to copy/paste the address and phone number info. I realize it's hyperlinked to a map page, but give me the power to do what I want with the information.


La Poste Eatery

There are no bells or whistles here and I'm not particularly fond of the color scheme, but the site is well organized. While the menus are PDF files, they are kept small for a quick download.


Take the Cake

I figured I'd be annoyed by the site's horizontal scrolling technique, but it actually works and, if you have some extra time, it's kind of fun to scroll through. There is a fixed navigation at the bottom, with all the information I'd ever want from a restaurant, all quickly accessible.



It needs a little TLC in the design department (black text on a dark red background is difficult to read), but overall the site is another example of how simplicity empowers patrons to quickly access essential restaurant details. Regularly updated menu pages; hours of operation; phone number; and address info are all a click away.



Emanu hosts a simple site, with an easy-to-find menu, contact and hours of operation. I just wish they had a more SEO-friendly and memorable domain name. When in doubt, spell it out.



Just remember: your restaurant website shouldn't be an afterthought. Don't cut corners, get the essential information out there in an easy-to-find and easy-to-read format, and forget all the flashy gimmicks.

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