By Adam Rowe
Every business needs a website, but the restaurant industry has even more at stake than most.
When someone’s out of the house and their stomach starts growling, the first thing they’ll do is reach for the phone. Google, Facebook, or a third-party app will all point to a restaurant’s online presence, and that’s how potential customers will quickly decide where to eat.
In other words, any restaurant that doesn’t have a stellar website risks leaving money on the table — and leaving their tables empty during the dinner rush.
To figure out all the dos and don’ts of restaurant website design, I spoke to food critics, marketers, advertisers, and restaurant web designers. In this article, I’ve compiled everything they had to say, and included a host of examples.
Here’s the full list of tips — you can click on each one to jump directly to it, or just keep scrolling to see each one in turn.
- Start with a template – website builders have fantastic restaurant templates to choose from
- Stay mobile friendly – a huge number of your potential customers will view your site on a phone
- Keep it simple – don’t overcomplicate your site when a few core pages will suffice
- Focus on essential info – give your customers the information they need and make it easy
- Update often – if your restaurant is evolving, your site should, too
- Know your brand – this site must reflect your restaurant’s unique identity
- Consider color psychology – did you know some colors stimulate the appetite more than others?
- Dark or light colors? – it’s all a matter of creating the right tone for your restaurant’s brand
- Pick your typeface – legibility is key, and the right font can help set your identity
- Create a featured image – it’s all about creating an impactful first impression
- Keep your menu clear – don’t leave customers confused about what you actually sell
- Consider social media integrations – this can be a great way to generate extra buzz
- Think carefully about video – a good video can help, but never look amateur
- Track seasonal menu changes – again, update your site to reflect your restaurant’s changes
- Define your online order policy – make things clear and easy for customers
- Single or multiple locations? – this has an impact on your site’s structure
- Limit those popups – you don’t like them, and neither do customers
- Skip the frills – review your site and cull what’s not necessary for it to work
The Basics of Creating a Restaurant Website
A simple approach is best when it comes to creating a restaurant website. Don’t create a convoluted series of pages that force potential customers to click endlessly to get to that all-important booking form or address for your restaurant. Instead, focus on a few well-designed pages that hit their purpose and make things feel effortless for visiting customers.
Start with a Restaurant Website Template
Your restaurant is unique, and that needs to be reflected by creating a website that matches its identity. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t rely on a solid template to help get you started.
The easiest way to create a restaurant website for the first time is using a website builder. These brilliant modern tools let anyone get up and running with a professional-looking website in no time at all. The best ones have a large range of high quality templates to help you build a brilliant looking website in moments.
For example, using a tool such as Wix or Squarespace, you select from the outset that the type of site you’re creating is a restaurant site. You’ll immediately be greeted with a range of restaurant website templates to choose from – these will be good to go with a polished, well-designed welcome page, contact page and dummy menu page. You’re then free to add your own descriptions, imagery and unique identity.
It needn’t cost a fortune, either. For example, Wix allows you to create and publish a website for around $100 per year – and regular Wix discounts are available, too.
Looking just as good on a mobile device as on a desktop computer: It’s a basic requirement for a modern website, and it has been for years. Yet this is still a hurdle that restaurant websites fail to clear on a regular basis.
Most of the experts I consulted for this article cited this issue. The impact on your website couldn’t be greater, as mobile devices made up 48.7 percent of global website traffic in the first quarter of 2019.
That percentage is likely even higher for restaurants, as many hungry potential customers are already on the go when they first start researching the best bite to eat near them. Google, Yelp, or Foursquare are common restaurant aggregating sites, and they all see heavy mobile traffic. A website that’s unreadable on mobile will deter over half your audience.
The example above, Pitch, is an example of a simple mobile-friendly design. It offers all the same information on mobile and desktop, while changing its format to stay just as readable.
“These days, an overwhelming number of folks will view restaurant websites on mobile. Who sits at a desktop and researches restaurants? Nobody! They all do it on the fly on their mobile devices.”
~Ata Khan, Cofounder, Xoobo marketing agency
More isn’t always better. Your website should have one goal, to bring in more customers. To do that, you’ll just need a handful of simple pages, or even just one page that viewers can scroll down to see everything. Adding minimal elements like flat, 2D design and white space rarely hurts — Just check out the website for New York City’s Dear Irving.
Keeping the site simple isn’t all minimalism, however: One sorely overlooked perk of restaurant websites is access for those with disabilities. CDC analysis shows one out of four Americans has a disability, yet restaurants are “the #1 industry getting sued over inaccessible websites” at the moment, according to Sheri Byrne-Haber, former head of accessibility for McDonald’s.
Alt tags, frequent descriptions, simple copy and straightforward webpage design can all help a text-to-audio translator, and will keep your site easy for everyone else to skim through as well. The less friction keeping a viewer from checking out your sandwich selection, the better.
Your address. Your hours. Your menu. Your reservation policy. That’s all your restaurant website needs to include, but trust me, it really needs to include them.
The lack of essential details on restaurant websites is a big deal for anyone who’s considering a meal out on the town, and no one knows this better than restaurant critics, who can’t just move on to the next Yelp listing. Andy Hayler, restaurant critic for Elite Traveler magazine and author of The London Transport Restaurant Guide, has eaten at every three Michelin star restaurant in the world as of 2018. He’s seen his share of restaurant websites. Missing information is his pet peeve, and he has a list of what he’d love to see:
“Obviously restaurant sites have wildly differing budgets and so inevitably some are a lot better than others. However one thing that I find odd is how many of them fail in the basics. From my perspective I would like to see, easily and prominently on the home page, and not buried away in some dark corners of the site:
- The menu, or at least a sample menu
- The address and phone number of the place
- How to make a reservation
- The wine list (in full, not some years out of date sample with no prices)
- Opening hours
and then only after that am I interested in the “story of the restaurant” and its roots in the childhood memories of their egocentric chef and a long screed about how he sources things locally and can’t be bothered with an a la carte menu.”
~Restaurant critic Andy Hayler
Granted, there’s still room for an authentic About page that tells the restaurant’s story, according to Providence Cicero, who served as The Seattle Times’ lead restaurant critic for the past eleven years.
“A lot of restaurants fall back on marketing-speak when they describe who they are and what their mission is. They should reveal their passions, their experience and their vision, but make it personal. Diners will connect with people’s stories more readily than with generic ad copy.”
~Providence Cicero, former lead restaurant critic at The Seattle Times
Anyone familiar with the internet knows that it’s constantly evolving. Or maybe the better term is “devolving,” as links break, domain names move, and hosting service renewal periods fly past. Anyone managing a website for a business like a restaurant needs to constantly be checking that everything is up to date, from open hours to menu items.
Website refreshes fall under the “update often” mantra as well: Your site should always reflects your restaurant brand, and if you don’t re-examine it every few years, it’ll eventually fall behind the times.
An address animated with a Flash-based graphic was cutting edge in 2007, but no one wants an address they can’t copy and paste into Google Maps, even if Adobe hadn’t discontinued their Flash Player earlier this year. The Le Jardinier website, however, stays effortlessly updated.
Creating a website for your restaurant? Choose the best website builder first
Getting the Tone Right for Your Restaurant Site
Remember that your restaurant website is an extension of your restaurant’s brand identity. For plenty of customers, it may be the very first interaction they have with your business – and as we all know, first impressions count. Make sure that the language, imagery and even the choice of font match up to the type of brand you’ve created with your restaurant.
Are you classic or rustic? Healthy or decadent? Antique or buzzy? Elegant or meat-and-potatoes? All these details make a difference in how your restaurant and its website should look. A lot of branding has to do with what you don’t do rather than what you do.
The type of food you serve impacts your brand, too. An Irish pub looks different in people’s heads that a taco stand, and your customers will want to see that difference play out online as well.
To figure out your online brand, try Googling similar restaurants and seeing how the best ones present their websites. The Olympia Oyster Bar site is a good example: The white background, bright-lit images of oysters and white wine, and hand-drawn light blue logo all tell you that it’s a breezy, beachy location.
“The website is the public’s first impression of your restaurant. Make it helpful and informative, as well as provocative.”
Still, you shouldn’t feel like you need to rely on these colors, or any other color psychology tricks — a local Mom-and-Pop restaurant doesn’t need to optimize as much as a trillion-dollar fast food franchise. For a more subtle approach, check out the blazingly red lobster slapped on the homepage of the Burlington, Ontario-based seafood joint Spencer’s.
At the least, your website does need to use a coherent color scheme. If the colors clash, a viewer won’t know where to focus, and might be thrown off of visiting the restaurant at all. Critic Andy Hayler has witnessed “colour schemes that would pass muster on a horror film site.”
“In order to get people to eat at your restaurant one needs to use warm and welcoming color. When it comes to color psychology, the designer needs to persuade an individual that this is a clean and tasty restaurant to eat at.”
~Reuben Kats of Falcon Marketing
One easy way to create a classy, cohesive look for your restaurant website is to choose primarily light or primarily dark images and backgrounds.
Every image on the homepage slideshow for the Mexican Toca Madera restaurant website has a dark background, helping the white typeface of the restaurant name stand out and letting the website maintain a single coherent tone.
For an example of a light color scheme, check out the website for the French-Peruvian restaurant Astrid&Gastón, which uses a slideshow of white-plated meals on a white tablecloth or light brown wooden plank.
In both cases, the websites have settled on a simple color scheme that’s easy to follow, yet sets a tone that represents their restaurant. Want smokey mood-lighting? Try dinner at Toca Madera. Feel like a bright, sun-lit brunch? Astrid&Gastón might be for you.
Even the typeface and font sizes matter on a website. Once again, it’s all about the brand.
What best conveys the mood that your restaurant embodies? A three-star restaurant with a wine menu may look best with flowing, graceful calligraphy or perhaps an elegant minimal sans serif font. A fast-casual street food vendor, however, might use a bold, chunky typeface to better represent the unpretentious and outdoorsy meals it serves.
You’ll need to keep readability in mind when picking out the best typeface: Some typefaces look great when used for a single word or two, but fail when you’re using them for entire paragraphs. One of Andy Hayler’s problems with restaurant websites, for example, are the “menus in 4 point font.”
Fable, a Vancouver, BC-located farm-to-table restaurant, has a simple one-page website that stands out thanks to its selection of blocky, rugged typefaces and textured background patterns. The typefaces are reminiscent of a woodcut print, calling to mind the local ingredients you’ll enjoy and down-to-earth mood of the restaurant.
The best website builders have simple templates to get you started in moments
Restaurant Website Imagery and Media
Time to get the appetite worked up. The right photos and videos can mean the difference between customers making that booking or looking elsewhere. Focus on a few key fundamentals when choosing which images you use on your site. You’re going to want to pick photos that show your restaurant and its food in the best light.
Create a featured image
Your website’s homepage will be the first thing visitors see. You’ll want to include a splashy, eye-catching image, and there’s just one rule determining what it is: It needs to represent your brand.
For a lot of restaurants, that’s an impressive shot of their most drool-inducing dish. (If your restaurant has done a photoshoot, you probably already have your best photo in mind.) For others, the most representative image might be their swanky interior design, or the majestic view on their patio.
If the weather around your restaurant tends to be warm and inviting — like at Catch’s LA-based location — you shouldn’t let your visitors forget it!
“On Catch’s website, we love that they open with a gorgeous shot of the restaurant, since that is one element they are really known for – an airy and beautiful environment to dine and enjoy LA’s amazing weather.”
~Cara Federici, Founder, Madison Melle Agency
The menu on your website must be as obvious and easy to read as possible. A customer wants to know what you offer. If they have any doubt, they’ll just move on to the next available eatery. A restaurant website needs to win that fast-twitch “where do I eat” decision on a nightly basis to stay in the game.
In other words, don’t just upload a PDF of your menu and call it a day. A static image of the entire menu won’t work either: You’ll miss a chance to gain the SEO benefits of letting search engines see every dish you make.
Instead, present the entire menu on its own webpage. Some websites include a few images to pique interest in their best-selling dishes, but a cleanly designed text menu is often the best way to go.
Here’s a great example from Cassia Santa Monica: The information-dense menu is easy to read, with clearly delineated sections that the eye can easily follow.
“First, I want to see the menu design. Does the menu pair fonts well? Are the margins properly formatted and menu sections clearly delineated? These things are important because the flow of the menu has a direct impact on my interest in visiting the restaurant.”
~Eden Weinberg, graphic designer and creative marketing manager, Bell + Ivy
Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter are great ways to promote your best dishes or special promos, and you’ll definitely want to include hyperlinked logos to your social media accounts on your site.
Some restaurants go even further, however, and embed social media posts directly within their website, saving viewer from needing to click through in order to check them out.
When it comes to social media on restaurant websites, Instagram is far more popular than Twitter or Facebook, thanks to its subculture of foodies who love documenting their meals. A daily updated Instagram feed also adds a little social proof, as your customers can see how many likes your dishes can pull in.
The square images of an Instagram feed look great stacked against each other, as the tiled, clickable images near the bottom of Piada Italian Street Food’s homepage prove. Dang it, now I’m craving that lobster bisque.
Including a video in your restaurant’s website is a tricky move to pull. On the one hand, it can be an engaging, fun way to take viewers on a virtual tour of your kitchen, showcasing your wares and best dishes. But on the other hand: If you can’t pull it off, you might just tip your hand a little too far, exchanging your classy mystique for a few minutes of shaky iPhone footage.
A great video takes a great budget: You’ll need a good camera, someone who understands how to set up shots and how to light a scene, and a workspace that’s large enough for a small crew to operate within. A professionally shot video will likely cost at least a few thousand dollars, and might not be worth the cost of investment for a single restaurant with a tight budget.
And whatever you do: Don’t make it autoplay with audio. I don’t care how affable your chefs are, I don’t want to hunt through my browser tabs to figure out which one is informing
That said, a video can showcase a restaurant’s energy in a way that static images can’t. TOCA Toronto offers a great example of a well-done video embedded in its homepage, with shots highlighting their tableside service and a happy customer digging into a dessert.
Focus on the Details
Little things make a big difference when it comes to designing your restaurant website. You wouldn’t want to rush your plates out the kitchen without ensuring the highest standards have been maintained, and your website is no different. Make sure that even the smallest details reflect your brand perfectly, and don’t forget to keep the site up-to-date.
Updating a seasonal menu online can be a boring chore, but that’s just why it can help you stand out. A fresh, up-to-date seasonal menu reassures customers that you sweat the details.
This is also where the temptation to use PDF menus can be strongest, as it makes updating a breeze for the restaurateur — but it makes actually reading that menu just a little more tough for your website viewers.
The Manhattan-based ACME Bistro makes the bold choice to turn its seasonal menu into a pop-up window that blocks out everything on the page, ensuring no one can miss it.
You’ve heard of “the customer is always right,” but there’s a lesser known but equally useful corollary, “the customer is always lazy.” Updating your website’s menu with the changing season can be a pain, but it’ll result in happier customers.
Can customers order through the website for deliver or pickup? Can they place reservations online? Different restaurants have different policies, and it makes a huge difference in website functionality and design.
If you offer a delivery service, for example, you’ll need to make sure all your prices are clearly marked and up-to-date, or you’ll deter customers who won’t know how much they’ll need to pay.
And if you allow online reservations, make sure that a bold “Reservations” button is one of the first things customers see, like the one that the Boston, MA-based Blake’s includes at the top of its site. Even the best website won’t result in more sales if the customers don’t have an option to start saving a table on the spot.
One final word of advice: When it comes to actually placing the reservations, many restaurants seem to love OpenTable, a single-serving third-party integration designed for the job. If you opt for it, one marketer I spoke to suggests, you may want to opt for a widget that can save customers time.
“One design element I see used very frequently is a button that only directs right to OpenTable. OpenTable actually now has widgets where you can book a table directly from your website. This helps keep your users on site and removes the need for the user to visit multiple pages to book.”
~Ethan Herber, Head of Advertising and Marketing, WP Codeus
If you have more than one location, you should make this clear on your homepage.
Some restaurant franchises will offer a new domain name and website for each location, but most simply list all their locations and addresses in a header across the top of their homepage.
If you have three locations, the website’s header might hold the addresses of each. If you have four or five, it might only have room for the town name of each. The Flying Pig is an example of both.
In 2017, the webpage featured three locations, complete with phone numbers and addresses.
By 2019, the franchise had added another location, and needed to make their header a little more simple.
When researching this piece, I was invited to buy tickets to bottomless rosé Sunday, try a two-for-one lunch special, and subscribe to endless email newsletters — all by invasive popup windows that forced me to close them before I could see anything else.
Popups shouldn’t completely fill the page, serving as the very first introduction that a potential customer gets. They need context. Annoying popups are a surprisingly common misstep, even from otherwise stellar sites.
A great alternative? The tasteful (no pun intended) black strip of a popup that New York City’s vegetarian restaurant Dirt Candy uses to remind visitors to reserve a table ahead of Mother’s Day. It only runs across the very top of the site, so it doesn’t distract or obscure anything, and it won’t reappear once it’s been closed.
Once you’ve followed all the steps here for the best possible restaurant website, there’s just one more tip left: Go back and prune out anything that’s not serving a purpose.
Some restaurants include lengthy blogs or profiles of their workers. Others throw in music players or animated graphics. But instead of drawing customers in, these extra frills are more likely to confuse them and dilute your website’s message. Remember the essentials — address, hours, menu, and reservations — and pare away everything else that you can.
Toronto’s Bar Isabel website offers a great example: The essential information is centered on the page alongside a spare black and white background, perfect for clarity on both mobile and desktop.
“Extra graphics and text need to be a part of the ‘added value’ equation. If the item is not relevant, necessary, or consequential in any way, it shouldn’t be on the site. Keeping clutter off of a site doesn’t mean it will look bad, it means that you understand why your site exists and how your clients will be using it.”
~Jeff Jack, of Jeff Jack Productions
Next Steps Creating Your Perfect Restaurant Website
Hopefully by now, you’re feeling a lot more confident in the best way to go about creating a restaurant website that will drive customers through your door. It can feel like there are a lot of considerations, but in case you’re overwhelmed, remember that a good website builder tool can do most of the hard work for you.
Above all, you don’t need to be an expert to use a website builder. These brilliant tools give you slick templates and easy drag-and-drop functions to help you customize things with ease.
Not sure how to mobile-optimize a site? A website builder will do it automatically for you. Unsure how to create a Contact Us form, or embed a Google Map with your restaurant’s location? All of this can be ready-prepared in the template – a few simple tweaks is all you need to add your own contact details.
The other thing to remember is that website builders are great value. It will typically cost you under $10 per month to create a site, publish it, and keep it hosted online.
Which website builder should you choose? We’ve tested the biggest website builder brands on the market, and our top choice is Wix, thanks to its brilliant ease-of-use, great help & support, and range of templates. From a purely design point of view, we feel Squarespace has the best templates, including a range of fantastic restaurant website designs.
For more guidance, see our round up of the the Best Easy Website Builders for Beginners.