See More Restaurant Reviews For:
As contrasted with restaurants in other cities, Western New York dining establishments are far behind the times in web site designs - it's astonishing how many restaurants here don't have web sites at all. But there are some good to great exceptions - and therefore, reasons to believe things will get better. We recently polled our Twitter followers to ask which local restaurants had the best web sites, then we looked at each site to see where they went right and wrong. Here are the results, starting with some of the peak local examples, and concluding with a food event site that's so bad that it actually makes us not want to attend the event.
Blue Monk: Everyone seems to like Blue Monk's web site, and for good reason. It wins users over by using a confident, stylish layout that was obviously assembled by someone with real graphic design talent, then includes both nicely written text and beautiful fonts. Additionally, it conveniently includes address and phone information on every page, with very obvious, clear sections of the site to explore. On the other hand, it trails some other good local examples by failing to make good use of the top of any page, and breaks both its main graphic and fonts when displayed on mobile devices such as the iPhone, where it's otherwise easy to read and use.
Sweet_ness 7 Cafe: This two-location restaurant wins in part by including contact info - address, phone number, and hours - for both shops at the top of every page, and goes beyond most other local places by nicely integrating its Facebook feed directly into the main page of the site, a social media component that most local businesses just don't get. By including recent "buzz" news, Sweet_ness 7's main page also does a nice job of creating a community-friendly feel for the rest of the site, and though it uses a little bit of Flash, the site properly displays substitute graphics on non-Flash devices, so the page looks good no matter how you're viewing it.
One big bummer: the site requires a PDF viewer to see menus, and moreover has seven different PDFs to open separately if you want to view different food and drink menus. In this particular case, PDF doesn't add anything; all of the menus would look better if uniformly formatted for the web. But Sweet_ness 7 otherwise does a lot right, and comes across as friendly, besides.
Black & Blue: This site wins immediate respect by using a sharp design, dividing its main page into several nice sections, and including a contact telephone number and hours at the top and bottom of the page. It also makes menu, reservations, and directions sections of the site obvious, and has some great photos. But it falls short by being mobile device-unfriendly: the site opens with a Flash animation that can't be seen on many mobile devices, and adds nothing to the site, with only tiny links that lead to the rest of the pages. Thankfully, these pages are viewable, though not optimized for small screens. Black and Blue also has an absurdly long URL that's tough to type manually.
Here are a few examples that were recommended by readers, but turned out to have more serious issues.
Bistro Europa: We initially liked this site because it seemed very straightforward, has a great logo, includes updates on specials, and has an accessible menu - at least, on a computer or most mobile devices. But it's really a simple Wordpress blog with some formatting and other customization issues. It hides the restaurant address, contact information, and hours behind a link that isn't obvious from the main page, though it's there. The iPad version of the site also has some serious UI issues.
Carbone's Pizza: We were intrigued by this site's original-ish interface that looks to have been borrowed from Nintendo's 8/16-bit games. But we were seriously disappointed that it hides the entire site within and behind a Flash interface, which literally displays as a completely black screen on mobile devices, including the 100+ million iPhones, iPod touches, and iPads out there. Flash's days were numbered three years ago, and today, there's no excuse to have an entire site built with it - it loses at least as many potential customers as it gains.
Saigon Cafe: Saigon Cafe does a nice job of using its web site to really show off what the restaurant looks like, and includes a full menu with pricing - useful for placing telephone orders - complete with address and phone number information at the bottom of some pages. On the other hand, it uses a Flash introduction page that doesn't add much and doesn't let non-Flash devices even find the next page; the site also renders on iPhones, iPod touches, and iPads as a white box on a gray box. There are some other issues, too; the broken location page doesn't include a map, and the site could use a complete redesign to better format everything for modern devices.
Our advice to local restaurants: now is the time to set up a new web page if you don't have one already. Hire a web developer with proven graphic design talent - and several recommendations from past clients whose sites you can see for yourself, and like. If you can't speak with the client and get their thumbs up for the developer's past work, there's probably a reason for that.
Make sure that your new site embraces the latest web standards - HTML5, for cross-device compatibility, and little to no Adobe Flash, which is on the way out. Use minimal PDF content unless absolutely necessary, and include easy routes to contact information, maps, and reservations if you offer them. And in the event that you're still using Flash, provide a clear route for non-Flash users to access your information, too. Plus, whatever you do, hire a real graphic designer and proper web design firm to create your site. You don't want it to look like Buffalo Soup Fest's site, which screams "amateur," actually reducing our desire to attend the event that it's promoting. Regardless of how much it cost, a badly designed site looks cheap, and can do more harm than good.
(All images credit their respective web sites.)