Opening a restaurant (ghost kitchen or otherwise) is a stressful and highly complicated task. You need to plan out so many factors, ranging from the menu and venue to the staff, inventory, and financing. But there’s another critical factor that often gets left by the wayside during new restauranteurs’ journeys - the website!
And that’s the topic for today - we’re discussing the nitty-gritty of what is likely the 21st century’s most crucial step for any business; how do you create an online presence for your restaurant or ghost kitchen?
Luckily for you, this is my area of expertise, and there’s a lot to cover - so let’s dive right in, shall we?
Building a website is a complicated topic, as there is a vast swathe of features and things to know to get your website up and running. Let’s start with everyone’s favorite organizational tool - a list! (I know it’s not the most exciting, but it’s essential to see this properly planned out.)
The most important factors and steps to take when planning any website are to:
Now without further ado, let’s hop right in - this is going to be a big undertaking.
This is, (hopefully) understandably, the most vital step to building any website. Like building a business (congratulations, by the way!), creating a website requires careful planning and attention to detail. You need to keep an incredible number of factors in mind when getting it up and running, and without a plan, you’ll be wading into the deep end quite quickly.
The first step is to figure out what you want to achieve.
Some restaurants need a fully-functional site that allows their customers to order online, view the menu, and interact with the restaurant. Others just need a small, simple site with their menu and contact information. Your needs will vary based on several factors, but perhaps the most important one lies below - knowing your audience informs how you need to set up the website more than anything else will.
This is for many reasons, but the largest is that simplicity may be key, depending on where you are (and your competition) are located! We’ll get more into this shortly, but it’s something I need you to keep in mind - just trust me here.
After having this basic foundational block figured out, the next step is to figure out hosting. Once again, this will vary somewhat based on your needs, but you’ll need to figure out where your site will live once finished. Sites like WordPress and SquareSpace are super user-friendly and make building a first site a breeze, while there are also professional (read: more expensive) services out there that can make a bespoke site for you with minimal work on your part.
Beyond that, it’s all about frameworks. So even if you have no idea what you want, take a few minutes to think about it. Look at your competition’s websites (if they have one), take notes, and start writing down what you do and don’t like. Once that’s done, you can just sketch out ideas. Use a notepad - we may be building a website, but paper copies really help here.
RELATED READING: How to Create a Restaurant Marketing Plan
Your audience is another key part of building any website. If you’ve ever been a part of the marketing world, you’d know that every marketing campaign lives and dies by its audience. The first (and often last thing) discussed is who the audience of each campaign is supposed to be. This includes their:
While this will not be a crash course on marketing 101, it is quite important that you know these things. “But why?” you’re likely asking. The answer is simple - these basic bits of information inform who you’re trying to reach, how, and most importantly - why.
Join me in a thought exercise for a moment. Let’s say your restaurant is a new brewery specializing in unique IPAs, creative burgers, and crispy fries.
Sounds good, right?
Well, who do you think you’d have noticed as the primary clientele? The most likely answer is simple - they’re most likely millennials (25-35 years old), have some disposable income, and value supporting local businesses over chains.
If this same business were to switch models to a friendly old-school diner with malt milkshakes, all-American breakfast specials, and massive, cheap burgers, the clientele would also shift. You’d see an influx of people in their 50s-60s with a good deal of disposable income and time, and they’d likely care less about where they eat than they do about how much it costs.
Each of these factors will inform how you build your website. For the former, you’d want a highly modern, well-designed website that uses your social media presence properly - and maybe even a blog! For the latter, you’ll want a simple, easy-to-navigate site with minimal extras - that means no fancy animations, few (if any) extra pages, and direct access to an embedded menu rather than a PDF or link.
In short - know your clientele and build the website around their needs. Flashy sites are great for bringing in younger customers, but they can turn off older or less tech-savvy customers.
Yet another bit of marketing lingo, restaurant branding is (luckily) a more straightforward concept. In short, building a brand means establishing a name and reputation for yourself that’s easily recognized. Branding includes a few essential steps you’ll need to complete, such as:
Each of these is important in its own way. A logo instantly helps build visual recognition - think of restaurant industry tycoons like McDonald’s or Dunkin Donuts. The symbol(s) they chose to represent their business is instantly recognizable from multiple blocks away, no matter where you are.
The same goes for building a reputation. Take our burgeoning brewery example from above - sure, they could focus on having the broadest selection of food and drinks in town, which would appeal to some people. But by creating a business known for creative burgers, unique IPAs, and crispy fries, they’ve cemented their specialty in customers' minds. This helps customers (new and old) build an association between a desire for a burger and brew and that particular brewery.
And in the same way that McDonald’s golden arches are instantly recognizable, picking (and staying with) a consistent color and font scheme helps further establish your brand. This all ties into the psychology that I admittedly don’t fully understand (I’m a writer and chef, not a doctor). Essentially, though, it all boils down to one thing - the more unique and recognizable your website’s appearance is, the more likely people are to associate those colors and fonts in the wild with you.
Finally, we’ve made it to the domain part of things. This is incredibly important for one reason - recognition. It’s much easier to know that “BurgersandBrews.com” is a restaurant website than something like “mom-and-pop.biz.” So when picking your domain, ensure you’re specific and (when possible) descriptive in your website’s name. Each of these steps will help create an incredibly easy-to-recognize virtual brand nearly overnight.
This section ties into the branding bit above. While you can choose to format your site in a massive manner of ways, the choice of bespoke design vs. an easy template is a hard one. As I mentioned above, there are several ways to build a site.
Services like WordPress and SquareSpace offer an incredible number of templates that are all professionally made and easy to get up and running. In contrast, bespoke services can create something from scratch with minimal personal involvement.
REALTED READING: Branding 101: How to Brand Your Restaurant
If you opt for a template, look at every feature it offers. Not all templates are created equally, and the genuinely fantastic ones provide a number of pre-established themes, complementary color schemes, and intuitive font combinations that bring your site to life.
At the end of the day, though, it’s crucial to pick what feels suitable for your brand. Don’t be afraid to experiment, and take your time - the site isn’t going anywhere.
And now we make it to one of the largest, ever-changing mysteries of the internet - SEO. Short for Search Engine Optimization (not to be confused with Search Engine Marketing), SEO is, in its simplest form, how sites like Google, Bing, and Yahoo rank searches.
This is a wildly complicated topic that takes years to understand fully - and even then, you’ll be forced to remain up-to-date on changes for each search engine constantly. While we’ll talk about how to get help with your site a bit farther down into this article, I highly recommend that those new to this field don’t try to learn this overnight.
There are countless SEO specialists out there, and it’s their entire job to ensure your site pops up on the first page of related searches. And perhaps more importantly - it’s also their job to help your competition - so don’t be afraid to invest in good talent.
Among the constantly changing laundry list of things that can affect how your site ranks are:
All of this is quite a bit of tech jargon, and I frankly don’t have the word count available to explain it all.
The absolute best advice I can provide is to invest in a web design and SEO expert, kick back, and make a drink while you watch your site’s page views skyrocket - it really is as easy as that.
Let's talk optimization while we’re on this SEO and tech mumbo-jumbo kick. You may have noticed that I mentioned file types affecting how quickly a page loads alongside search results, and that’s because page speed and SEO rankings are inherently attached.
The speed with which your page loads will directly affect how and where it pops up in searches. This is because Google (and other search engines) prioritize well-optimized sites to reduce the work they have to do on the back end of things. So to ensure your site ranks appropriately, plan around how quickly it will load. For mobile, a good target is to have it load within three seconds, while on desktop, it should be around (preferably under) one second.
Tools like Google’s PageSpeed Insights will comb through your site and find everything that’s holding up its load times. It’ll also give you a handy-dandy visualization of what’s wrong and helpful tips on fixing each issue.
Once again, I must insist that you hire an experienced SEO and website optimization professional to ensure your site is in tip-top shape. This is seriously complicated and will likely look like a foreign language if you try to dive right in without the proper knowledge.
And finally, we make it to the last (though equally vital) step to building a website - get help if you need it.
While this may seem obvious, you’d be shocked at how many business owners will try to do it all themself in an effort to save a few dollars. Let me ask you this - if you needed a chef, would you try and just… do it yourself? Would you hire just anyone to bartend? No! You would hire people with years of experience and (more often than not) an education on that subject.
And just as you wouldn’t ask your general manager to run the line for the week, you shouldn’t try to build and optimize your site if you’re not up to the task! While it’s entirely possible to create a functional, beautiful website on your own, it takes time and work. Hiring someone who knows what you need and how to accomplish it will ensure that everything goes smoothly, quickly, and comes out as the best version of itself possible.
Building a website for your restaurant is vital to its success in this day and age. While doing so, there are near-countless factors to keep in mind, but going in with a plan will make it drastically easier. And if you get hung up on the minutia of optimization, layout, and branding, it’ll never hurt to hire a professional - after all, it’s their job to make sure you leave with the best possible online presence you can have.