Restaurants are a big part of the economy with over 600,000 in the US alone. Every restaurant in the modern age needs a good website. And thankfully these websites have the simplest design requirements.
But just because they’re simple to design doesn’t mean they’re simple to create from scratch. You’ll need to know what sort of information a typical visitor wants and how to give it to them—all things that I’ll cover in this guide.
So whether you’re working for a client or looking to design your own restaurant site I’m confident this guide will help you craft something fantastic.
Grab Attention Above-The-Fold
The majority of restaurant websites only need a small bit of content: menus, hours, locations, maybe pricing & operation details.
You won’t have a ton of writing to pad out the site and it’s a good idea to not add fluff. Instead focus on above-the-fold content which draws attention right at the first pageload.
For restaurant websites the best thing you can use is photography to grab attention and sell your restaurant immediately. The best restaurants use photographs to capture their food and use this as a selling point at the top of the page.
The massive Chicago-style pizza chain Unos delivers an HD photo of their pizza in full-screen right above the page. It takes up the entire background along with accompanying text to help sell the photos.
You may be thinking “yeah but visitors already know Uno’s sells pizza”. The goal isn’t to educate anyone on what the restaurant does(except for smaller restaurants that nobody knows about).
But the goal of great photography is to sell the food and keep people coming back for more. Once they land on Uno’s website and see the deep dish pizza they’ll instantly recognize the food and hopefully get a craving for it.
Another great example is Provenance which uses photos all throughout their website. But the header image takes up the vast majority of space and uses colors that naturally blend into the site.
An excellent composition, a strong color scheme, and a photo that sells the food really makes you dig deeper into the site without thinking.
Food photos are a huge part of any restaurant. So much that complete guides have been written about the topic.
If you can’t manage to get photos of your food then take some photos of your restaurant instead.
Everyone’s smartphone has an HD camera attached that can take incredible photos. And these work just as well to help sell the establishment, so any photos you can get are better than nothing.
But your goal should always be to grab attention and pique curiosity in new visitors. This will encourage them to stick around and scroll deeper into the website.
A Clear User Experience
My biggest pet peeve is any restaurant site with no clear link structure. Most people don’t even ask much from restaurant sites!
To me the most important things are a menu, hours of operation, and a phone number. These details should be prominent right on the homepage or clearly accessible from the navigation.
Clear user experience is about delivering exactly what the user wants.
Don’t make visitors dig around your site to find your menu. Instead make it one of the first links in your navigation.
The homepage of BJ's Restaurant is pretty clear and well-organized. The very first link is a menu page with order information for ordering online. It gets right to the point and the menu page itself is pretty simple to navigate.
Other links point towards locations and an online order checkout page.
But the hidden hamburger menu contains even more links that are sure to provide a clear navigation. That’s the best way to cram all navigation links into one place, not to mention they style the links so that more important items are much larger than others.
Designing a clear experience often comes by studying examples. Joe's Garage is another one that uses a large above-the-fold background video along with super large menu links.
These links are crisp, easy to read and simple to navigate. For example the menu link has internal pages for each location. These internal menu pages have sub-menus for different items.
It does not take a genius to figure out how to use this menu. But it’s also detailed and offers access to everything.
User experiences need to adapt based on content. So restaurant sites tend to have their own unique UX guidelines that you can only learn by deconstructing others.
And here are some related posts you can read to dig deeper into setting up a restaurant site with UX in mind.
- Good UX Learned From Working In Restaurants
- Making A Restaurant Website Using WordPress
- 7 Tips To Create A Gorgeous Restaurant Website
Strong Photos & Branding
I already covered how food photos are the best selling tools for any restaurant. But food photos also help build a brand through recognition of their food and their style.
Clear branding should be visible across the entire site from great photos to a very strong logo. It should be clear what site the user is on & that site should leave an impression.
I can’t read French but the Küto restaurant site has a brilliant design with a clear sense of branding. Their top logo leaves a lasting impression and it’s instantly recognizable, even for someone who doesn’t speak the language.
The background photo is superb and it helps sell this website as a restaurant. Notice this photo isn’t even a food photo but rather an interior view of the restaurant. It goes to show even a simple interior pic is enough to make a difference.
When you scroll down through this site you’ll notice it uses a single page design. The top navigation links also scroll down the page which makes the experience snappy and clean. Plus the logo stays fixed the whole time promoting the brand.
I like the fixed nav because it doesn’t ask too much of the visitor. It only has 4 links and they’re clear to read, plus it doesn’t take up much space so it offers a simple user experience.
Same goes for the Smokeman restaurant based out of Japan. The site uses English mixed with Japanese characters and it’s incredibly simple to browse with very large typography.
What strikes me about this design is the simplicity of the logo. The “Smokeman” text appears to be in Arial or Helvetica or another basic sans-serif font.
But even with a simple logo it still leaves a mark on the visitor. You don’t need a fancy logo for your restaurant, nor do you need fancy high-quality HDR food photos.
You just want to have enough on your page to leave a mark. If you can only get a simplistic logo with an iPhone-quality photo this should be enough to create a memorable brand.
An Essence Of Theming
Every restaurant has a unique theme based on the food, atmosphere, and dining experience. A bar & grill feels very different than a Mexican restaurant, and they both feel very different than a Chinese buffet.
This atmosphere should carry over into the restaurant’s website with a clear theme in the design.
Longhorn Steakhouse is a prime example using grill flames in the background to promote the sense of charred meat and smoky flavors. The header also uses a dark charred texture effect along with many other elements on the page.
Together this site feels like a grill. It sells the idea that Longhorn offers a sit-down BBQ grill experience just through visuals and context.
You’ll see this everywhere from seafood restaurants to kids-friendly sites like Chuck E. Cheese.
Take for example the Fat Cat Creamery which serves ice cream and other delicious frozen goods.
The site uses bright colors, fun typography, and the vertical stripes you typically see in ice cream parlors & malt shoppes. It takes on a classic 1950s design which fits the bill perfectly.
But the Fat Cat Creamery website doesn’t sacrifice theme for function. You’ll find the hours of operation & the phone number right in the top header. Plus the side navigation includes links to the menu and flavors.
This is what I like most about their site: the focus on experience first.
A great theme will spruce up your restaurant site and help draw more attention. But a thematic design should always come after the usability of the website.
Restaurant websites are very simple in theory. They help sell food and experiences in the quickest manner possible. The tough part is merging this together with a cohesive design and a branding that makes sense.
Think mostly about brand, photos, and content for your restaurant site. If you place the greatest focus on user experience then you’ll always come out ahead.