Restaurant Websites: Hold the Flash

Slate recently published an article asking a very intriguing question: why are restaurant websites so bad? Pull up almost any eatery's site and you'll find it littered with huge images of (at best) featured dishes or (at worst) stock photography and a chef's head shot. Flash that can't be seen on iPhones is prevalent in many restaurant websites, not to mention superfluous pages that make menus, locations, and reservations hard to find.

Though the restaurant industry isn't the most tech-savvy field, that shouldn't excuse restaurant owners from building user-friendly sites.

Here's five of our favorite restaurants in Austin that could use some help:

5. Clay Pit: The Clay Pit uses Flash, which takes a few seconds to load and can't be navigated easily on a smart phone. In their defense, we applaud them for not making a mistake that is common in restaurants: only having a downloadable PDF menu. Clay Pit lists their dishes and prices in text on the site.

4. Justine's Brasserie: Justine's website is the epitome of unnecessary (though admittedly artistic) Flash animation. A vintage movie--complete with nudity, in some cases--plays in the background of all the pages. It's creative, but not exactly user-friendly, as the footage makes any text hard to read. We're not sure what to make of their page titled "amazing," which displays several negative comments about the restaurant, but if there's anything to say about the website, it's this: they're certainly unique.

3. Vespaio: PDF menus and an unnecessary Flash intro. The main reason Vespaio ranks to high on our list is because smart phone users can't access the website at all -- because of the Flash, only a blank blue screen appears.

2. Musashino Sushi Dokoro: To get to a Musashino menu, a website visitor must click to enter the Flash site, click again once an intro plays, suffer through mood music, find the tiny navigation menu in the top left hand corner, and then download a menu. The only good news? If you use your mobile device to access the site, you'll be spared--the Musashino website won't load at all.

1. Eddie V's: This Flash website takes number one spot due to its unintuitive navigation. While the mobile website is fairly straightforward, hunting down an online menu took several minutes. There's no menu link on the homepage; to get to a menu, a user must click on a restaurant name in the sidebar, and on that page, a small row of links (including the menu link) will appear.

Now that we've highlighted some example sites, here are some best practices for restaurant web sites:

  • Don't use Flash. Flash intros and flash driven navigation will leave big empty spaces for iOS users. Most Flash elements like slideshows can be converted into HTML through jQuery which has universal support on mobile platforms.
  • Make your menu, hours, location and reservations button easy to find. Don't bury any of these items under your main navigation.
  • Don't use stock photography
  • Think about load times before adding huge hi-res images because mobile users with a weak signal will give up trying to load your site.

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