Setting the Table Online

Restaurateurs can make the Web work for them.

Who are you?

Where are you?

When are you open?

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These are the three questions anybody visiting a restaurant’s website ought to be able to answer immediately.

Take it from Peter Bodenheimer. He likes to eat out, and he often finds himself frustrated combing a restaurant’s website looking for this most basic information.

By the way, he’s also a seasoned web developer, a veteran of the advertising business and a partner with the international app development company Flatstack. To boot, his brother is a restaurateur and craft-cocktail bar proprietor (Cane & Table, Bellocq, Cure).

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Some restaurants wow you with flash galleries and animations. But often, “it’s just clutter,” Bodenheimer says. “If (restaurateurs) would just start to think, ‘What do people want from our website?’ that would be a big step forward.”

To that end, Bodenheimer advises clearly establishing goals for a website before beginning design. No matter what the goals, however, the answers to the big three questions need to be front and center, and the design should respond well to all methods of access – whether via desktop, tablet or smart phone.

Beyond that, a website should convey what is unique about a restaurant. Bodenheimer strongly recommends posting a menu. If the menu changes every day, he advises posting a sample menu.

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“A well-written menu will draw people through the door,” Bodenheimer says.

Now you’d expect an app developer to say, “Oh, yes, every restaurant must have an app.” But at the end of the day, Bodenheimer says, an app is “just a tool.”

Basically, if all you’re doing is hammering nails, you don’t need a screwdriver.

For instance, having an app for ordering can be beneficial, if that’s a big part of a restaurant’s business. And the app must offer enough value for customers to want to download it. Bodenheimer gives the example of City Greens, whose app ties the QR code to the customer’s credit card. Just add tip.

The conventional wisdom tells business owners, “Get a Twitter account,” and “Well, ya gotta be on Facebook.” But Bodenheimer says it depends on whether you’re up for the commitment. “The whole idea of social media is conversation,” he says.

Facebook requires regular updates. It requires engaging customers by responding to them and by posting items to which customers might respond.

For those who are up to this commitment, Bodenheimer recommends posting, for instance, the “sandwich of the day.” He also recommends posting (or re-tweeting, as the case may be) the successes of competitors. “It’s a positive reflection on the business,” he says.

One of the challenges new to today’s restaurants are crowd-sourced review websites like Yelp. Such sites can be double-edged swords. They can help promote positive word of mouth, but they can also serve as a forum through which one customer’s bad experience becomes part of a public narrative about a restaurant.

Bodenheimer advises avoiding any arguments with gripers. “The first rule of social media: Don’t feed the trolls,” he says. In the end, the reviews should balance out. “You rely on the law of averages.”





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