The Terrible-Ness of Restaurant Web Sites

By Deane Barker on August 11, 2011

Overdone: Why are restaurant websites so horrifically bad?: Totally agree:

While lots of people have noted the general terribleness of restaurant sites, I haven’t ever seen an explanation for why this industry’s online presence is so singularly bruising. The rest of the Web long ago did away with auto-playing music, Flash buttons and menus, and elaborate intro pages, but restaurant sites seem stuck in 1999.

I’ve occasionally thought about this, and in the end, it’s a situation of just not thinking hard enough about the user and their actual needs.  Restaurants are very stylish affairs, and the site is largely done for the restaurant owner/chef’s pleasure, rather than the visitor’s.  (Masturbatory web design, writ large.)

What do users really need out of a restaurant website?  I can think of four things off the top of my head:

  1. Directions
  2. Hours of operation
  3. Menu with prices
  4. How to get a reservation, if necessary.

Most restaurant sites can’t even do these four things well.

More importantly, here are three things I’m not looking for:

  • Any discussion of how awesome your chef is.  I don’t often go to a restaurant where the chef matters.  I’m sure they have chefs, and they’re probably pretty good, but I can’t name one except for Anthony Bourdain, and that’s only because he’s on TV.
  • Any view into your “ambiance.”  With a restaurant, I’m primarily looking for food.  Ambiance is great, but I’m not so stupid as to think I’m going to be able to judge this from your website.
  • Music.  Dear Lord, I don’t want music.

But, for some reason, restaurants focus on these things, seemingly above all else.  The line of reasoning is pretty clear (from the article):

Restaurant sites are the product of restaurant culture. These nightmarish websites were spawned by restaurateurs who mistakenly believe they can control the online world the same way they lord over a restaurant.[…] “People in restaurants have a sense that they want to create an entertainment experience online—that’s why disco music starts, that’s why Flash slideshows open. They think they can still play the host even here online.”

What This Links To


  1. I recently went to a restaurant web site that blew my mind in its simplicity. It had two pages. The first page gave a link to a PDF of their menu (with prices), a link to their Google places page, and a link to leave comments. The second page gave their phone number, address (linked to Google Maps), and hours. It’s set up using WordPress (why, for something that simple, you’d use WordPress, or any such installation, I don’t know, but it doesn’t interfere with the simplicity of the site).

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