Web Mender

An incessant whine on web design.

April 25, 2002

Restaurant Site Essential Elements

I was talking to the owner of a restaurant who wasn't a particularly webby person. She couldn't imagine why anyone would want to learn about a restaurant from a web site. Oh, what she doesn't know!

I spend a disproportionate amount of time in restaurants. I have one dish that I enjoy making and really enjoy eating. I even have enough permutations on it that I can make it night after night and not tire of it. The problem is one of timing, and I'm rarely in the mood to cook by the time I'm done with work or with singing.

Strictly speaking, most restaurants will survive just fine without a web site until the end of time. I have yet to find a restaurant whose online ordering capabilities make for a pleasant experience, but there are plenty of other reasons for restaurants to hit the web.

The Logistics

I could be researching a new place to eat any time, day or night. If I'm researching an eatery for an upcoming trip to another city, it's especially important that I be able to learn about it in the middle of the night. For this reason alone, restaurants should be online.

I need to know when the restaurant is available. Hours are a must, and in detail! Since restaurants usually require time to partake of their wares, I'm really much more interested in last seating time than closing time. Knowing how quickly I'll be kicked out is marginally interesting. For that reason, list kitchen and dining room hours separately if they aren't exactly the same. I've even seen a site list the approximate wait times, a pretty good idea.

Directions are a hit-or-miss proposition. Since I could be travelling thousands of miles to get there, local landmarks often aren't sufficient. Most mapping web sites will do the trick, but they require a complete street address. Provide it as text to make it easy to copy 'n' paste into my favorite navigation doomajiggy. Be sure to provide a complete phone number that works anywhere in the restaurant's country. Don't make me dig for your area code!

What's typical dress? There are definitely restaurants where I feel I need to be dressed to a particular level before I feel comfortable. Some places don't feel right in jeans, and most don't strike me as t-shirt places. Tell me up front!

The Menu

Restaurants are food-centric places. I know there's a social element to them, but for me, food is king. Menu layouts are tricky in HTML because HTML provides so little of the traditional layout bag o' tricks. The best bet is probably to use a header for the category (appetizer vs. entree, etc.) and either bullet lists, definition lists or paragraphs for individual items. The item names should be in bold, as should the price. The description is body text, and should be treated as such. It should not be adorned at all. For bonus points, use different headers to create a hierarchy. This will let you have subcategories for types of entree, for example.

Be sure that everyone will be able to quickly understand your item annotations. Having a graphic of a vegetable to denote vegetarian is good on paper, but less than ideal on the web, where the reader might not have the time to learn your system. I'd recommend spelling out the properties as words, making them instantly understandable. A parenthetical, comma-delimited list right after the item name would probably be just about right.

Roast Sarcasm Souffle, $5 (vegetarian, spicy, serves 2)
A searing burst of sarcastic flavor suffuses this tough, gummy monstrosity. Assuming your teeth don't get ripped out by the texture, they're sure to be dissolved by the heady au jus.

Although I don't expect the whole menu to fit on a single sheet of paper, I definitely expect it to be easy to print. It's nice to be able to hand someone the menu on paper, as they will have an easier time both skimming and perusing. It has the additional bonus of being portable enough to be read by car passengers en route. From a print perspective, the specials menu for Hogan's Hideaway would be perfect without the frames, and it looks remarkably like the actual specials menu when you walk in the door, excess underlining and all. For an ever-changing menu like the one at Hogan's, having it online is terrific, as I can decide in advance how happy I'll be with what's there that night.

More to come!

Posted by ventura at April 25, 2002 05:07 AM