Don't you hate when you go to a restaurant website and immediately get stuck waiting for an intro to finish playing? Or when you finally get past the intro you cannot find the menu, contact information, hours or reservations? Or when you try to access their site via your phone, but there is no site because it's all flash? We do too.
A user wants to come to a restaurant website to find information easily and get a sense of the dining experience. We know that restaurant websites can be beautiful and more successful with the right information architecture and user-centered design.
A great example of a user-centered restaurant web design is Straits Restaurants Group - a popular and trendy dining destination with locations in San Francisco, Burlingame, San Jose, Houston, Atlanta and Santa Monica. They recognized their need for a new website and hired us to make this a reality.
Restaurant websites historically have their share of usability issues. Issues such as large PDF downloads for menus, not displaying valuable content like addresses, hours or phone numbers, no clear path to make reservations and a heavy reliance on flash have frustrated would-be diners for years. Users coming to a restaurant website want to find information as fast as possible. As illustrated by frustrated users all over the Internet:
For Straits, we made sure that this information was easy to find and created clear paths to conversion. Traditional placement of always-visible main navigation in the top with sub navigation on left makes it clear to users at a glance what information they can expect to find and how content rich the site is. The far right column is an ever-present place for reservations, address and hours. Menus are text driven with an option to download a PDF, and there is no use of flash anywhere on the site.
The web design had to appeal to a hip crowd that descends nightly to dine and lounge. To effectively communicate this experience, we focused on ambiance and passion. Ambiance refers to the beautiful interior design of each location. Passion refers to the food, patrons, staff and owners that make Straits come alive.
We were heavily inspired by the wonderful photography available for each location. Our vision was to capture that ambiance right away without compromising users' experience in finding information. We wanted to place the user 'inside the space,' so to speak. The locations themselves are layered with so many little details that we needed to capture in the design. We set the stage with the full background, but needed to effectively layer elements on top of it. Fine details such as layered patterns, transparencies around the photos, brand color usage and smart typography mimicked the type of on-location atmosphere that exists at each restaurant.
Placing prominence on food photography, event photography, extensive menus and company history connects the user to the passion the staff and owners have for what they do.
[removed the flash] The mobile audience is on the go; the user needs essential information quickly. We delivered content people want: content such as reservations, menus, hours, address, map and call functions are all prominently displayed in one column, making it easy to take action in one step.
We reduced down the design elements to streamline download times; however, it was important to keep the experience of each location using brand elements with a hint of location backgrounds.
All sites run from one Content Management System (CMS). A CMS is a system that provides administration tools to allow users with little knowledge of web development or design to manage site content easily. Building all these sites around a single CMS makes it very easy for the restaurant staff to keep content fresh on each site for each location. Staff can update menus, hours, images, events, and careers, as well as add pages when needed.
We are very proud of the result that we provided for Straits Restaurants. They now have website that is easy to use, easy on the eyes and easy to update. A restaurant site should be planned and executed like any other type of successful site. There is no reason to keep repeating the common pitfalls that have plagued users for years just because other industry sites do. Remember that most of your users, regardless of the industry, spend their time on other websites. They understand what a good user experience is over a bad one, and planning for a good one will reap its rewards for your business.
For more info about our approach to restaurant web design, contact Orbit.
Interested? We would be happy to share with you our experiences and help you understand the potential opportunities involved in achieving your goals.
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