5 Ways to Improve the Online Experience for Restaurant Guests

July 31, 2014 - 10 minutes read

According to a 2013 National Restaurant Association survey, 45% of adults say that restaurants are an essential part of their lifestyle and 79% say that going out to a restaurant is an opportunity to socialize and make use of leisure time.

To consumers, selecting a restaurant is about more than just food – it’s about an experience.

But did you know that today’s dining experience doesn’t start in your restaurant?

It starts online.

In fact, 80% of consumers research restaurants online before dining there (Ink Foundry).

That means your restaurant’s website is becoming increasingly important for attracting new customers. And if visitors don’t like your website, then you risk losing nearly half of your business to a competitor.

That’s right! 39% of restaurant patrons say that a “poor” user experience would cause them to leave a restaurant’s website to go to a competitor’s website, and never return (Maxymiser).

That’s a lot of potential business! So, what are you going to do about it?

Well to start, it helps to recognize that it’s your responsibility to make sure that your website creates the same enjoyable experience that patrons encounter within the walls of your physical restaurant locations.

That means you can’t just slap up a menu with a link to Google maps and expect more visitors to walk through the door. And you can’t expect Trip Advisor and Yelp! to do the hard work for you.

If you want to attract more visitors to your restaurant, then you’ve got to step up your digital game.

Here’s a list of 5 ways to improve the online experience so restaurant patrons stay on your website and walk through your door.

1. Create a Flawless Branded Design

According to a study of “Why Restaurant’s Fail”, successful restaurants have one thing in common: they develop a creative concept and concentrated theme across all touch-points (Parsa et. al, 2005), including their website.

For example, the website design for the Outback Steakhouse creates an Australian experience for web visitors, and evokes feelings of being “down under” – mimicking the same rugged atmosphere that patrons encounter when they walk into a physical restaurant location.
How Outback Steakhouse's Website aims to Improve the online experience

Your website should also create an experience that reflects your restaurant’s brand concept and concentrated theme.

2. Provide a Mobile-Friendly Experience

Many restaurant patrons are likely to access your website from either a mobile phone or a tablet device. And typically, these mobile users are more prepared to make an actual dining decision.

In fact, 95% of smartphone users conduct restaurant searches on their phones, and 80% convert within the same day (Dinan). So having a mobile-friendly website is extremely important when it comes to attracting more customers.

The best way to provide a good mobile experience is though responsive design. It’s a development approach that adapts your website’s layout to the screen size of the user’s device. That means web visitors will always enjoy an optimal viewing experience – on desktop, laptop, tablet or mobile.

Responsive design drives results, too. When Wild Wing Cafe launched a new responsive website, they experienced a 400% increase in mobile traffic.

Wild Wing Cafe

And when you create a responsive website, don’t forget about those navigational menus. Browsing habits are different on mobile devices when compared to laptops and desktops. Tasks are simpler, and more immediate. That means mobile navigation should allow for quick and easy browsing, so consider removing content and/or hiding pages that aren’t important during the mobile experience.

3. Hijack the Loyalty Rewards Program

And while you’re busy making everything responsive, don’t forget about your loyalty rewards program. Depending on your promotions, there’s a good chance that visitors will sign up for the program just before or during their visit, especially if you offer a free appetizer, drink or dessert.

And chances are, that interaction will happen on their mobile device.

Plus, there’s an added bonus for marketers when you hijack the user-experience. Capturing customer data in your system first allows you to store it in a database that is easily accessible to your marketing team. Instead of hassling with a 3rd-party system, marketers are able to make immediate decisions that drive results.

For example, Wild Wing Cafe integrated their Aloha-based loyalty program with their web content management system, which now provides responsive forms so patrons can easily join the club on any device. As a result, they experience a 262% increase in the creation of online customer loyalty accounts, and the marketing team has immediate access to customer data for improved decision-making and immediate campaign delivery.

To learn more about how to use customer data to drive decision-making in your restaurant, check out the free booklet Data & the Diner.

4. Include a Location Finder

Once a website visitor decides to dine at your restaurant, you want to make it as easy as possible for them to find you. The best way to do this is to provide a location finder (if you have multiple locations) with simple directions.

For example, the Wild Wing Cafe website includes an integrated GPS that remembers the customers’ location, and displays a Google map with one-click driving directions.

5. Launch Integrated Campaigns Across Multiple Platforms

Use your website as a central platform for promoting new and engaging campaigns, but don’t stop there. Make sure that your promotions are integrated across all platforms, including email, mobile and social platforms, and within the walls of your restaurant.

For example, Cheeseburger in Paradise launched a creative contest to promote their hot summer drink, the Piña Colada. This promotion was featured with a large banner on the front-page of their website, and with small call-to-action buttons throughout the sub-pages. These messages sent visitors directly to the form page for easy sign-up.


The campaign was then shared across multiple platforms, including on social media, mobile phones and through email marketing. The campaign also included table toppers in the restaurant that directed visitors to the mobile-friendly landing page.

Remember, your website is the starting point for most dining experiences, and an extension of your brand long after the meal is over. It’s a powerful tool for shaping customer perception, and a marketing asset that builds brand loyalty for years to come.

Don’t underestimate the importance of your restaurant website. Instead, use these 5 tips to improve the quality of the online experience. Doing so will impact your patrons’ decision to dine with you, and work to bring them back time and time again.

shanna_kurpeShanna Kurpe is the director of marketing for Roger West digital marketing agency and the author of the book Architect a Website that Sells. You can learn more about improving your website by signing up for Shanna’s free 12-day email course. You can continue the conversation with Shanna on Twitter – @ShannaKurpe.



Dinan, Bill. “How to Play in the Exploding Mobile Ads Universe”. SMX East. 2 October, 2012. Preview of Telmetrics’ Mobile Path to Purchase: Under- standing Mobile’s Role in the Consumer’s Path to Purchase for Specific Industries Study. Telmetrics, xAd and Nielsen Media Research, 2012.

H. G. PARSA, JOHN T. SELF, DAVID NJITE, and TIFFANY KING. “Why Restraurants Fail”. Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly 46.3 (2005), 304-322. Print.

Ink Foundry. Influential Dining Survey. Ink Foundry & Angelsmith, 2012. Digital Article.

Maxymiser. Mobilizing the Retail Shopping Experience. Maximyser, 2013. Digital Report.

National Restaurant Association (NRA). 2013 Restaurant Industry Pocket Factbook. NRA, 2013. PDF File.


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