There are primary two ways you can go when building a restaurant website. The first is utulizing an online service which does all the complicated setup for you and you’re purely responsible for content and the alternative is to create your own restaurant website using a CMS (content management system) or even building your own custom website.
Both approaches have upsides and drawbacks and it’s up to you to be asking the right questions to make the most educated decision in which direction you go. It’s an important decision because changing your mind later can be very costly.
There are numerous services on the internet such as Happy Tables, LetsEat, SquareSpace, that focus on doing all the hard technical work so you can focus on content and running your business. The great thing about these services is that they all specialize in hosting restaurant websites only and they’ve most likely thought about the entire process from start to finish.
This is a great choice for many resturants out there, you get up to date technology and enterprise level infastructure for a low monthly cost. There are a few cavieats that you should keep in mind when choosing a hosted solution.
What’s different about resturant website from other websites is the important of brand. Most restaurants have a important history that dictates the look and feel of the website, you’ll want to stick to that brand quality as much as possible and if you choose a hosted solution you have to make that it’s flexible enough to capture whatever design is required to potray the restarant in it’s true form.
The other area to focus on is how you want to interact with your clientle, for example if six months down the road your Chef want to start writing a blog on the website will he have any trouble? What if he wants to start doing a live chat once a month with restaurant patrions for a special menu he’s creating.
There are a lot of opportunities for restaurants to establish a much stronger relationship with their audience and it’s one are that they can easily differenciate themselves from their compatititors.
The advantages of self hosted websites is that you have full control over your restaurant website. As your business grows you want to make sure your website grows with your business. There are more upfront costs to put up a restaurant self hosted website but it can pay off in spades when the platform is utulized to it’s full extent.
There are two primary approaches to building a self hosted restaurant website. One if to utulize a prebuilt WordPress theme and the other is to built a fully customized theme with the help of a few plugins for restaurant functionality. Depending on your skill level and requirements one is a better choice over the other.
There are a few marketplaces online such as ThemeForest that offer restaurant specific themes. There are prebuilt themes that you can customize with specific colors and images to adhere to the restaurants branding guidelines. The themes also come packed with prebuilt plugins for food menu management, reservation systems, and everything else you might require to run a succesful resturant website.
It’s a great choice if you’re on a limited budget or limited time; however there are also limitations. Typically you won’t have as much design flexibility, the themes will allow you to tweak the layout and branding aspects but if you push them far enough they will break and you might have to hire a professional to help you morph the theme into what you want it to do.
This is actually number one complaint of themes. They’re typically packed with features and are fairly bloated with features you might not need. It’s a constant struggle with features you need now and in the future vs complexity and maintenance of the website.
More on choosing the right theme
The most complicated but most flexible approach is building the restaurant website from scratch but on a platform such as WordPress. This way you can take advantage of having a solid foundation framework that takes care of the basics of website management and you can still lean on the biggest open source community in the world for specific functionality you might need within your website.
This approach is prefered by most professional website developers.
The preference comes from the fact that the developer will spend most of his time developing the theme (what people see) himself and integrate specific functionality from pre-existing plugins. This way he or she can choose from 35,000+ plugins and choose the best tools for the job vs being stuck with whatever plugins the theme came with.
The important thing to keep in mind with this approach is that all design and functionality have to be built to spec. Meaning if you haven’t asked for a feature it will most likely not be built. You can with some plugins get away with adding new functionality in the future much quicker and easier but it will still require a little bit of development time.
Things to ask your developer when building a reasturant website