Your website is one of the first things a potential first-time customer sees when making their decision whether or not to dine at your restaurant.

So it’s more important than ever that your website is optimized for converting visitors into customers. The key is to make sure you know what those customers are looking for, and give it to them.

Let’s break it down to the basics. Here are five things that a visitor should see when they reach your restaurant’s website for the first time.

1. Operating hours

Nothing is more frustrating than making plans to meet friends at a restaurant, only to arrive and find that it’s closed or the kitchen stopped serving 15 minutes ago. Make sure your operating hours are very clear and easy to understand, and update them immediately when schedules change, whether that’s holiday hours, closing for maintenance or special circumstances, such as private events or severe weather.

2. Contact info

Make all of your contact info visible on every page. This includes your phone and street address. Using plain text for your contact info makes it easy for mobile smartphone users to access (most mobile devices will convert these into tappable links). It also helps search engines to know your location and contact info.

Placing your contact into both at the top and the bottom of your site makes it even more convenient for people who need to reach you right now (“I’m lost, need directions” for example). It gives them just the push they need to call you right now and book their reservation.

Bonus: Add links to the social media sites you’re most active on (Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, etc.).

3. Menus

First-time customers need to get acquainted with your food menu. Don’t make them download a PDF file to their computer just to glance over your specials and prices. Your food menu should be seamlessly designed into your website, just like any page. All it takes is a click and your visitor is browsing your mouth-watering selection.

Be sure to keep your food menu(s) current, even if that means daily updates. Your website’s content management system should allow for this. Displaying an outdated menu and setting the wrong expectations for first-time visitors can guarantee they won’t turn into repeat customers. It’s important to get this basic but core component of your restaurant’s website right.

4. Your best reviews

Social proof is one of the most subtle, but powerful, marketing tools your business has. And there’s no industry where social proof has a bigger impact than the restaurant industry.

Just look at how heavily customers rely on sites like Yelp and UrbanSpoon. Your reviews matter. And they don’t need to be confined to those restaurant directories.

Take your best reviews and showcase them right on your website. This is a great way to provide an added sense of excitement as your first-time visitors are browsing your food specials and other pages of your site. A great review could be just the push they need to book that reservation or place an order.

5. Photo galleries

Even if you spend days crafting the perfect text for your website’s homepage, people will gravitate to your photos first. They tell a story just as well as a copy of your menu can.

It’s crucial to have beautiful photography on your website. You can hire a professional restaurant photographer, or if you’re just starting out, a digital camera with the right lighting could do.

Aim to provide a variety of photos that showcase both the exterior of the restaurant (making it easy to spot on arrival), the interior (what’s the atmosphere like?), and the food (nothing sells food like photos of food!) There are opposing schools of thought on whether you should photograph the restaurant empty or full; I suggest shooting both and looking at the photos to see which best reflects your establishment.

Also, bigger photos are better, but do make sure they load quickly, especially on a mobile phone.
 
Brian Casel is the founder of Restaurant Engine, a website design solution for restaurants. For more advice on how to win more customers from the Web, visit the Restaurant Engine Blog and get the free email course for restaurant owners.