Restaurant Websites – Reaching New Heights To Win Customers
By McCall Mastroianni
The restaurant industry is taking tech-savvy to the table with new website features that make online visits more appetizing. Now, the perks go far past flashy formats and simple navigation to provide web surfers with a plateful of unique features without even stepping foot in a restaurant.
Jay Wilson, principal and founder of Nine Rodessa, Inc., a strategic creative and design firm in Atlanta, creates websites for several local restaurants including Canoe and 101 Concepts. His number one piece of advice to restaurants when designing a site is that it must be easily updatable. “Restaurants have to plan for weekly or monthly updates,” says Wilson. “If not, the website becomes irrelevant as guests visit the site and discover that it never changes. I highly recommend that restaurants invest in a content management service such as Edit Desk. It empowers them to manage their website.”
Fifth Group Restaurants, an Atlanta restaurant company with six dining concepts and a catering arm, has recently undergone a major website update and now offers food for every mood at www.fifthgroup.com. With the new site that offers a unique and user-friendly look at the company’s passion for pleasing patrons, Fifth Group proves that a distinctive dining experience is available depending on the mood of each individual guest.
“We’ve designed our website to coincide with our tagline, Be Yourself,’ and to show guests the depth of our restaurant portfolio,” says Fifth Group Restaurants Partner Robby Kukler.
Showing off the company’s flair for both food and functionality, the site now contains an innovative moving carousel that adapts to the user. Visitors can click on any of the rotating concept tiles, which can be slowed down or sped up at the click of a mouse, to be taken directly to any of the individual restaurant web pages from authentic Italian at La Tavola Trattoria to regional Mexican at Sala-Sabor de Mexico. This moving carousel also informs visitors about upcoming promotions and special events.
“Catering to each individual guest and making them aware of all the concepts in our restaurant group is our goal,” Kukler adds. “We strive to read the needs of our patrons, and our website portrays this about us.”
Wilson agrees that restaurants need to focus on this brand consistency when creating Web pages. “Ultimately, I think it’s critical for restaurants to communicate the atmosphere and experience to be had in order to qualify a site because more and more people are using the Web to judge,” he suggests.
Fifth Group’s new portal offers a one-stop-shop for patrons to not only experience the company’s entire portfolio of dining options, but also the opportunity to purchase gift cards and enroll in the Frequent Guest Rewards Program, which gives guests a convincing excuse to return.
Also keeping guests coming back for more with its online Cafe Loyalty Card feature is Metrotainment Cafes, an Atlanta company with 10 concepts and another venture on the way. Metrotainment began this loyalty program two years ago, and Owner Jeff Landau has seen a 10 percent increase in business since it began.
Though most customers hear about the loyalty program in the restaurants, they sign up for the card on the website. In order to enjoy the rewards and associated with the loyalty cards, guests must register their card online at www.metrocafes.com. Without registering, customers cannot accrue reward dollars, check their balance or receive a reissued card complete with points if the card is lost. This program is designed to draw website visitors, and those that were only aware of one Metrotainment concept now see the other nine the company has to offer.
“When guests visit our website, I feel as though we’ve established more of brand awareness, says Landau. “They realize how many concepts our group has.”
“We’re hearing more and more from restaurants wanting to develop a gift card program and a loyalty program,” says Wilson. “Another increasingly beneficial way for restaurants to maximize their site is by building an online community around the restaurant to connect with clientele,” he adds.
Shane’s Rib Shack, a Raving Brands concept with 34 locations in Georgia, connects with online customers on a more personal level. As a family franchise, Shane’s stresses the importance of “meeting the folks” and makes guests feel closer to the barbeque joint’s concept by offering an endearing family history behind the company at www.shanesribshack.com. Family is central to Founder Shane Thompson and he carries this sentiment throughout his concept, even on the Website.
“Shane realizes life is far more complicated today than when he grew up around the dinner table or when family members gathered for cookouts. He wants guests to feel that sense of nostalgia with every exposure to Shane’s,” says Bret Eldridge, Vice President and Brand Leader for Shane’s Rib Shack.
Shane’s has also recently implemented an online ordering system that is streamlined with existing ordering systems and is just as user-friendly.
“It’s important to us that the Shane’s website has a user-friendly interface because we want our consumer experience to be just as pleasant online as it is in-store,” says Eldridge.
Engaging visitors in an online format is becoming increasingly important for restaurants as guests rely more heavily on the Internet to research their dining options. Restaurateurs are now responsible for feeding mouths and fingertips.
McCall Mastroianni works for Melissa Libby & Associates, a PR firm with several restaurants among its clients. She can be reached at (404) 816-3068.