Your restaurant is a hit on social networks and potential patrons are looking for a way to make an online booking. So, what are you going to do? Most experts will tell you that creating a restaurant website is the best way to grow your digital presence and increase the number of reservations you get from the internet.
But is a website necessary to inform, engage and convert customers?
Do you really need a restaurant website?
Well, yes and no.
While there’s no doubt that websites help restaurateurs build direct relationships with customers, you can’t ignore the importance of third-party reservation sources. Platforms like Google My Business (GMB) and other online sources of reservation like TripAdvisor hold tremendous potential and can drive extra revenue for your business when used correctly.
In this article, we’ll take a look at both ends of the spectrum, starting with how the capabilities of third-party platforms can make you think of getting rid of a website altogether.
No, You Don’t Need a Restaurant Website
As stated earlier, booking functionality is now available outside of standalone restaurant websites via Reserve with Google and other third-party reservation sources. Restaurateurs can use these channels to accept reservations through Google Maps, Google Search, as well as Google Voice Assistant.
If you’re planning to use Reserve with Google, you’ll need to apply for a Google Reservation link. If you’re accepted, the “reserve a table” option will appear on your Google My Business profile, after which the tourists and residents in your city will be able to book a table at your restaurant via Google’s easy-to-use interface.
Because Google owns the local search experience, you’ll find that your Google My Business profile (and the reservation link) always appears in a prominent place. It's vital to realize just how powerful Reserve with Google is for restaurant discovery online.
For example, if someone searches for the popular Dubai-based Italian restaurant Al Grissino by its name, they’ll see a big box at the right side of Google search results showing the restaurant’s images, location, and more. The person can then click on “reserve a table” to make a booking.
All of that is pretty much automated, so you don’t have to pay someone for search engine optimization.
In addition, Google My Business integrates with Google Maps, which means anyone searching for a restaurant via mobile or desktop can make reserve a table directly within Maps. Your restaurant’s GMB profile may even show up for certain keywords like “steakhouse” and “Italian” on Maps. As far as we know, a traditional restaurant website can’t offer this experience.
So if you haven’t made a GMB profile yet, learn how to make one here. For restaurateurs who’ve already created their GMB listing, our optimization tips for Google My Business may help them generate more reservations.
Of course, you’re not just restricted to Google’s offerings. You can also create or claim a listing on third-party aggregators like TripAdvisor and Zomato. These websites usually offer a better user experience, have reviews integrated into their backend, and even let you offer discounts for online reservations.
You can’t replicate such features on a restaurant website without installing a plugin or two, which makes websites slow (not to mention, the review feature on booking aggregators looks and works much better).
Moreover, it’s much easier to maintain and manage third-party profiles than a complete website. You don’t have to work with a drag-and-drop builder or write any sort of code. Just provide things like your restaurant name, booking times, and images, and you’ll have a listings page ready to go.
Besides these booking platforms, you can promote your restaurant on social media instead of creating a restaurant website. This way, you can build a social community full of people that act as brand ambassadors for your restaurants.
The best part? Some social networks will even let you add a “book now” button, so anyone checking out your posts can click that button to reserve a table through your reservation partner’s website.
However, there are also clear benefits of having a more traditional website which shouldn’t be neglected. Below is a breakdown of why, despite the availability of all these booking platforms, it makes sense to invest in a restaurant website.
Yes, You Need a Restaurant Website
A website serves as a key part of a restaurant’s brand. It can showcase your business in a way that third-party aggregators can’t – stories, design and content all help portray the “vibe” of your restaurant. Consider working with a web designer to infuse life into your site, or apply a pre-existing template that closely resembles the offline theme of your restaurant.
If you’re looking for inspiration on web design, check out these 19 winning restaurant website designs.
Apart from web design and layout, a restaurant website allows you to control 100% of your content and marketing. You can create as many pages of web content as you like and share information via your custom-branded email newsletters. You’re not restricted by word limits, and you don’t have to settle for third-party email promotions.
In terms of SEO, a restaurant website enables you to optimize for different searches and keywords beyond your brand name, like “restaurants that offer weekend discounts,” “restaurants for students,” etc. You can’t do this with profiles on third-party listings. Websites will even let you create a blog where you can post unlimited details and content about your promotions, people and business.
But perhaps the most appealing aspect of having a restaurant website is that you’ll get to build your own database of clients, names, and users. What if a third-party website removes your listing and you are left with no information on your customers? Your business will take a hit.
Therefore, it’s best to really own the customer data so that you can control the guest experience from start to finish. CRM for restaurants can help you gain insight into your guests’ demographics and preferences, allowing you to provide a tailored experience to each of your customers.
Another benefit of having a website comes in the form of commission-free bookings. You can put up a “Reserve Your Table” button and take as many bookings as you like. Direct reservations are free whereas some third-party booking websites charge a commission per cover.
All of this means there’s potential to quickly earn back whatever you spend on creating a website in a matter of months. And once you start making a profit, you can reinvest some of the income into your own digital property and keep earning more.
As you can see, third-party platforms offer a range of benefits, but a restaurant website comes with its own set of perks which can’t be ignored.
A good idea is to test waters on a third party website in the early days of your restaurant, and then reinvest any money you make to create a custom website. That way, you can slowly gain clout with online audiences and also learn how to run a site effectively.
Then, after a few months, come up with a plan to optimize your third-party listing as well as your website. We don’t advise you to completely focus on one or the other because the best strategy, in our opinion, is to attain a balance between these two resources.
Who knows, a customer who wasn’t impressed by your TripAdvisor listing decides to pay you a visit after looking at your restaurant website or vice versa. It’s all about smart cross-promotion of your various properties and optimum utilization of each and every one of them.