Restaurant Websites: Where Creativity Goes To Die

Restaurant Websites: Where Creativity Goes To Die
by Zachary Adam Cohen on November 30, 2009
Originally Posted on Zachary Adam Cohen

The Agony and Pain of Restaurant Websites

Smooth Jazz? Flash? Impossible Navigation? Incredibly Long Loading Times?

The current state of restaurant websites is pathetic. Haven’t we had enough of this? Why do restaurants think they can get away with putting up a brochure of their offerings and expect their customers will respond by flocking to their establishment? In a city like New York, with thousands of dining options, it is simply not enough to broadcast your service to a sophisticated public. Even in smaller cities and towns with far fewer options, restaurants are failing miserably to adapt to the realities of how consumers spend their money today.
Let’s Take a Look at Why

The 20th Century is why! All one had to do was broadcast, hire some P.R. people, get the word out and hoped and prayed that the customers started flocking.

Not anymore folks! American’s get a bad rap for being lazy, apathetic gluttons who watch too much TV and lack any real culture. Silly I say! Social Media is changing that perception right quick! And more importantly, it’s changing the truth about Americans.

American consumers are quickly becoming a discerning sophisticated consumer. Part of this is due to the recession. We are all going through a phase of re-prioritizing just what it is we REALLY want to spend our money on. And what we want to spend our money on is places, products and people we believe in, that we feel connected to, that we feel we have a stake in.

Social Media makes this all possible. We can now communicate directly with the brands and businesses that get, or could potentially get, our spending money. And it’s all public. No more ruses, no more telephone hangups, no more poor customer service. Why not? Cause when you piss off a customer these days, they can get you back. They can Twitter it, they can post a youtube video, they can blog about it.
What Do Restaurants Need To Excel in Social Media?

First thing’s first, you need a blog. There are so many stories to tell. Who are they? WHY are they? What motivates the chef, the servers? Give me a narrative damnit. I want your food but I also want your story. Restaurants are one of the few remaining places that we go to truly disconnect. To be with our loved ones, our friends, our family. We get to connect in real life after SO much connecting online.

But I want to do so in a place that has captured me with their story. And you can’t do that without a blog. Start one, make the time to learn the basics and start sharing. You will quickly find a lot of people willing to share your story. You’ll find your natural constituency. Are you a Nouvelle Mexican spot in Boerum Hill? Well, talk Mexican food. Share stories about authentic Mexican ingredients. For the Chef: Write a post about any stage work you did in Mexico or Spain or wherever! Who trained you? What did you learn?

Where does your food come from? Talk about your vendors, the farms and middlemen that get the product you serve? Talk about the menu, how was it created? What inspired this dish or that? Give us some context. You don’t have to give away every little secret. We still like to be surprised. But give us something!

Oh, and can we please get your social media links? Every website in the world has their social media links proudly displayed on their website. And you don’t? I know 14 year old Indonesian scam artists who have better designed websites than you do. Oh and btw: you got ripped off royally on your site.

And tell us who is doing the twittering? Is it a host? What’s her name? The Chef? The PR Firm? Let’s get some transparency people.

How Can You Use a Blog To Entice Customers?

As I am known to do, I asked Twitter AKA The Hive Mind about this today. One user, a new friend name John True suggested letting blog readers know about special “off the menu” items. This is a fantastic idea. Every so often the restaurant could end a blog post with an “Easter Egg.” Basically, they could leave a clue telling readers (or twitter followers) about something special going on. This a great way to make your readers feel their are privy to something special. And it’s another creative way to convert readers to customers.

What about letting blog readers, or Facebook Fans, or Twitter followers get first dibs on any special events? And what about video? And Pictures?

Start a YouTube channel, get a Flip HD camera and start interviewing regular customers. Is someone coming by once a week? Get him or her on tape to tell us why? What draws that customer back? Maybe we’ll feel the same way. Are testimonials so hard to produce? Stop relying on a big media dinosaur to come to your rescue. Yes, The New York Times is still important, and hopefully always will be, but for the most part, the impact of professional critics is nominal. If 20 food bloggers love you, and 5 critics don’t, guess who wins? It ain’t the critics. No one trusts them anyway.

Zac is a friend active in social media services in NYC and a VERY accomplished food blogger with the award-winning blog Farm To Table: The Emerging American Meal

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