I’ve ranted about this for a long time – for the majority of restaurants, their websites are horrible. Especially in the era of smartphones and iPads, restaurant owners that have Flash-only sites are deluded, at best.
Farhad Manjoo reports:
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. The problem is getting worse in the age of the mobile Web—Flash doesn’t work on Apple’s devices, and while some of these sites do load on non-Apple smartphones, they take forever to do so, and their finicky navigation makes them impossible to use. Over the last few weeks I’ve spent countless hours, now lost forever, plumbing the depths of restaurant Web hell. I also spoke to several industry experts about the reasons behind all these maliciously poorly designed pages. I heard several theories for why restaurant sites are so bad—that they can’t afford to pay for good designers, that they don’t understand what people want from a site, and that they don’t really care what’s on their site.
But the best answer I found was this: 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. “In restaurants, the expertise is in the kitchen and in hospitality in general,” says Eng San Kho, a partner at the New York design firm Love and War, which has created several unusually great restaurant sites (more on those in a bit). “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.”
When you visit many terrible restaurant websites in succession, it becomes obvious that they’re not bad because of neglect or lack of funds—these food purveyors appear to have spent a great deal of money and time to uglify their pages. Indeed, there seems to be an inverse relationship between a restaurant’s food and its site. The swankier the place, the worse the page. Chez Panisse, Alice Waters’ Berkeley temple of simple, carefully sourced local cuisine, starts with a pointless, grainy five-second clip of what looks like a scene from a Fellini movie. Alinea, the Chicago molecular gastronomy joint, presents you with a series of menu buttons that aren’t labeled; you’ve got to mouse over each one to find out what you’re about to click on. Masa, the exclusive New York sushi bar, presents you with a pages-long, scroll-bar-free biography of its chef, but (as far as I can tell) no warning that you’ll spend $400 or more per person for dinner.
(click here to continue reading Restaurant websites: Why are they so awful? Which ones are the absolute worst? – By Farhad Manjoo – Slate Magazine.)
and brief parenthetical note: I started using Menupages about 6 months ago, and now I find myself going there first before or soon after looking up a restaurant’s URL. Menupages also has an iPhone app and an Android app which is handy when I’m hungry outside somewhere since the app has a geo-locational feature.
I did get a plausible-sounding explanation of the design process from Tom Bohan, who heads up Menupages, the fantastic site that lists menus of restaurants in several large cities. “Say you’re a designer and you’ve got to demo a site you’ve spent two months creating,” Bohan explains. “Your client is someone in their 50s who runs a restaurant but is not very in tune with technology. What’s going to impress them more: Something with music and moving images, something that looks very fancy to someone who doesn’t know about optimizing the Web for consumer use, or if you show them a bare-bones site that just lists all the information? I bet it would be the former—they would think it’s great and money well spent.”Not coincidentally, designers make more money to create a complicated, multipage Flash site than one that tells you everything you want to know on one page. Bohan, for one, isn’t complaining about the terrible state of restaurant websites. Menupages, which lists each restaurant in its database by menu, operating hours, price, and address, is one of several sites that benefits from bad restaurant pages.