A Website is a necessity. Customers expect it and they want it to be packed with the right information and served up with a heaping helping of good design. It doesn’t matter what your budget is, there’s a Website waiting for you to build it. Take a look at our three categories to find where you fit and follow along with our restaurateurs who have already taken the online leap.
Mix a little do-it-yourself with some paid services and you can end up with a smart looking Website for just a few bucks per month. Most major Web-hosting providers offer easy-to-use template builders so that even novices can get a professional-looking Website up and running quickly. First you’ll need a domain name. Try to register a relevant, easy-to-remember name (like www.yourcafename.com). Some registrars like GoDaddy (www.godaddy.com) offer a free ad-supported Website with each domain registration. Expect to pay under $10 per year to register your name. Some hosting providers will give you a free domain with purchase of a hosting package
It takes only the cost of ink to add your Web address to your takeout menu and business cards. You can also directly submit your site for free to major search engines. Here’s where to submit your site:
Remember that the content of your site and links to your site from other Websites are important factors in search engines favoring your site. For content, be sure to include what you do and where you are on your main page. Search engines look for keywords like “pub,” or “Los Angeles” to figure out where your site fits. For links, get listed with sites that have city guides or directories for your area. Local newspapers’ sites can be a good source. Yahoo! Local (http://local.yahoo.com) is one free resource.
Getting repeat visitors can be a challenge for any Website. A regularly updated photo gallery where customers can go to see themselves and their friends having fun at your place will give folks a reason to return to your site. Online-only coupons is another tool. The bottom line is that nothing beats having current content. List your daily specials, changes to your beverage offerings or post a news section.
Click to It
These Web resources will help get you started on the cheap (or even free).
What they do: City guides and extensive directory of restaurants arranged by locality.
What it costs: Set your own monthly spending cap for Local Pay for Performance services that improve your listing.
What they do: Web hosting and services provider with an emphasis on small business users.
What it costs: As low as $3.95 per month for basic Web hosting package.
Microsoft Office Live Basics
What they do: Easy-to-use template-based site builder and online email solution.
What it costs: Free, includes a no-cost domain name.
What they do: Social networking site for connecting to a younger customer base.
What it costs: Free for a basic page with pictures, blog and general information.
What they do: Business Web hosting provider also offering design and marketing services.
What it costs: Basic site hosting plan starts at $9.95 per month.
Yahoo! Small Business
What they do: Web hosting packages that include the online SiteBuilder design tool for do-it-yourselfers.
What it costs: Starter plan runs $11.95 per month.
Douglas Sokoloff, owner of Woody McHales (www.woodymchales.com), a tavern-style eatery in New York, keeps a tight lid on his Web budget while still maintaining a site packed with menus, photos, specials and reviews. How does he save money? He does the work himself. “There was no budget. I’m very proficient with regards to computers, but I had never done programming. I had to teach myself,” says Sokoloff. He uses Microsoft FrontPage software ($180 street price) to build the site and bartered with a friend for help with some of the more technical aspects. Sokoloff handles all of the updates and photos himself.
Hire It Out
With a mid-sized budget you can hire someone to build your site. Expect to get a site with some custom graphics, a clean cohesive look, easy navigation and plenty of pages.
There are several methods you can use to find a reliable and experienced Web designer. If you have an existing marketing company, chances are they have services available. Otherwise, ask your fellow restaurateurs or browse online and find out who built the sites you like. Finally, you can check with sites like Guru.com or Marketingtool.com. Guru.com lets you post your project and get quotes for the work. Marketingtool.com lets you find designers in your state.
Getting the Right Designer
What you need to ask a Web designer to make sure you get what you want.
Q. Do you have training in graphic design, programming and Web technologies?
A. Look for a designer with a college or vocational degree, programming certifications and industry experience.
Q. What will you do to optimize my Website for search engines?
A. The designer should be able to explain how search engines generate their search rankings, identify keywords that are relevant for your site and tell how those words will be woven into the text of the site.
Q. Will my Website be based on a template or will it be unique?
A. Using templates can save you money, but you still want your site to look different from everybody else’s.
Q. Who will own the site design?
A. If you own the design (get that in writing), you will be able to transfer the site to another designer should you feel the need.
Q. Will my site look the same in different browsers?
A. Your site visitors should have the same experience whether they use Internet Explorer or less common programs.
Q. What tech support do you provide?
A. Be sure they can address changes or site maintenance needs in a timely fashion.
Q. Will my site load quickly?
A. The designer should be able to discuss how he will optimize graphics and content for fast loading.
Q. Do you offer visitor statistics?
A. Designers are often able to offer statistics tracking and web analytics for an extra charge or help you get set up with a third-party provider like Web Side Story (www.websidestory.com).
Q. Who will host my site?
A. Most designers have a hosting partner that they prefer to use. Make sure the hosting provider is reputable and affordable. Expect a minimal cost of $10 per month.
Q. Will I be able to easily update the site?
A. Have the designer demonstrate how you can do that to be sure that it is a straightforward and easily accessible process.
Let Them Find You
At this level, you can look to invest in online marketing programs that fit your needs. Google’s marketing programs are a good example of what’s available from most major search engines. Google’s AdWords program (http://adwords.google.com) will display your Website targeted to relevant search results. Cost-per-click pricing lets you control how much you want to spend each month. Yahoo! Local (http://local.yahoo.com) can help you tap into a local customer base with its Featured Listing program. Pricing starts at $25 per month.
Blackrestaurantgroup.com is the home of four separate sites designed around a single online hub. They spent $14,000 over the course of a year, working out to less than $3,000 per site. “I don’t know if we actually had a budget for it. It was a process that evolved,” says Black Restaurant Group director of operations Jon Linck. The sites share a similar feel and design, but each reflects the unique nature of the individual restaurant. Reusing a basic Web design template can help you save costs if you have multiple restaurants. To save on ongoing maintenance costs, Linck handles the BRG Website updates himself. “We are an independent restaurant group and it allows us to show our individuality.”
If the sky’s the limit when it comes to cost, you can do just about anything you want with your Website. The trick is to make sure your Web plans are compatible with your marketing message and restaurant image. If you’re a hamburger stand, you might want to keep the tech toned down. However, if high technology, music, multimedia and interactive elements mesh with your business, the Web is a great place to show yourself off.
Make sure you’re able to fully communicate what you want the site to achieve and how it should reflect your restaurant’s image. Find a designer that can handle high-end technical needs.
The Extra Mile
High-end Websites can have high-end features. Your Web designer can make recommendations and integrate these features into your site.
The Extra: Blogging
What it is: Short for “Web log,” a blog is an ongoing written commentary on any topic you want.
Where to get it: Movable Type (www.movabletype.com).What it costs: $100 for unlimited users.
The Extra: Podcasting
What it is: A podcast is a downloadable audio presentation. Think of it as your own miniature talk radio program.
Where to get it: PodBlaze (www.podblaze.com).
What it costs: Starts at $14.95 per month for a standard account.
The Extra: HTML newsletter
What it is: HTML newsletters are a professional looking way to keep customers informed.
Where to get it: eNewsBuilder (www.enewsbuilder.com).
What it costs: Basic self-service plan starts at $49.95 per month.
The Extra: Ecommerce
What it is: You can sell gift certificates, logo gear and other merchandise.
Where to get it: There are tons of options; talk with your Web designer.
What it costs: Can be as little as $30 per month.
Pick Your Marketing Plan
With a high-end budget you have a lot of possibilities for marketing. All of the tips for shoestring and mid-sized budget sites still apply to you. You may choose to allot more money to search-engine marketing programs. Most independent restaurants want to reach their local customer base and encourage repeat business. Email marketing is one of the simplest methods for doing this. Collect email addresses on your Website and in your restaurant. Regularly notify your visitors of Website updates, menu changes, coupons and special offers. Regardless of your budget, an email list is a low-cost and very effective way to market your site to the people that matter the most.
Dorakusushi.com is where old world and high technology meet. The South Beach, Florida, restaurant is more than just a place for dinner. The Website projects a sense of lifestyle that appeals to the clientele. Doraku owner Kevin Aoki is both wooing local customers and looking to extend his branding concept across borders. Aoki set the budget for dorakusushi.com at $20,000.
“I looked at what other people had done and what it cost them and I came up with a figure I could live with,” he says. For that he got a Website that integrates classic-looking black and white photos with some of the latest Web technologies. Those include an affinity program for members, an animated bamboo cursor, evocative music and interactive graphics that react to mouse movements. Such high-end details don’t come cheap. Says Aoki, “I wanted to use all of the technologies that were out there to wow the customer.