The Side Dish: A Restaurant Without A Website…

…is like a fork without a knife.

…a chef without a sous.

…a mirepoix without carrots.

It’s been a regular conversation lately, at least amongst the Portland food crowd, about how surprising it is to find that a new restaurant is without a website. In this day and age, it’s not only baffling, it’s inevitably hurting your business. Worse yet, an incomplete website, a list of hours not actually reflected on the premises, an abandoned Twitter account. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t need to be bombarded by an eager PR intern who fills my feed with photos and updates and retweets – but when I want the information, whether for an opportunity to dine at your establishment or reference your newly-minted dining room in an article, it’s only devastating to you, and your bottom line, that you’re missing that crucial information foundation.

Success in the restaurant industry means more than just a great menu these days. It means a great team, a great location, a great connection to the farmers and producers in your area. It requires the vetting of a perfect name, a brand that will represent you throughout the community, an elevator pitch about your restaurant when you’re knee deep in dinner service and unavailable for comment. And here, in 2012, social media and an online presence are part of that brand.

Two months, six months, a year before your doors swing open, build that online foundation. It doesn’t require a public relations team, or a dedicated marketing manager – sometimes, even those will hurt your business – it only takes a bit of time on your part, as owner and/or chef, to establish that information in a readily available location. We’re living in a speedy, instant gratification world, and if a diner can’t find your restaurant, or your restaurant hours, or any information about your restaurant after a quick Google search, there’s little chance you’ll have another opportunity to gain that business.

So here’s what I’m looking for…

  • A clean website, and basic is just fine (even if it’s a site, we can still be friends)
  • An address where your restaurant is located, preferably with city and state
  • An email address or phone number where a friendly person will help me reserve a table
  • Posted hours of when I can visit said establishment

Information on the chef would be thoroughly helpful, as would a menu of some sort.

I can’t believe I have to say this in 2012, but avoid music at all costs. Of any kind. Even if your restaurant is some nouveau tribute to your favorite 80’s band. Fight the urge. Assault my ears once I’m actually sitting down for dinner.

Update it. Often. I don’t care if you change your menu or your hours or your kitchen staff, even during the second week of business. If I show up at your restaurant at 10 p.m., and your website states that it’s open until 11 p.m., you’ve lost a customer, and there’s little chance I’ll come back. If I’m an average $30 cover, and there are five of me each night who are unable to dine at your restaurant due to a discrepancy like this, you’re looking at an average loss of $1050 every seven days you’re in business. Ouch.

“Close” is not an acceptable close time either. It’s lazy.

Once you’ve got the website, secure yourself a Twitter handle. Make sure it’s spelled correctly. If you’re new to the game, ask your friends for their suggestions on tweets and social media promotion before you make a fool of yourself.

If you go the distance and hire a PR firm to promote your restaurant, make sure they have the correct information as well. If your PR firm tells me they don’t know when you’re opening, and you’re open the next week, it reflects poorly on both of you.

Finally, know what the status of your brand is at all times. It’s an extension of your restaurant, and thereby an extension of you. If you’re going to spend fifteen minutes on that plate, ensuring the sauces are perfect, the sprig of rosemary is placed just so, go the distance and do the same for the face of your restaurant.

It will make it that much easier for me to hand you my money.

~Jennifer Heigl

*Photo credit: Jupiter Images

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