The Subject is: Restaurants and a Monty Python Acid Trip

While I sort out the mess with my web hosting company that has been charging me to redirect my url to wordpress, and thus far continues to delay my more in depth postings, I wanted to offer something here to chew on. The subject is restaurants. When I was vetting the BEST lists for my book Best Places Northwest, 17th ed, two things really started to bug me: The CELEBRITY chef and horribly overdone restaurant websites.

No one should have to wait two minutes for a page to load no matter what it is being offered. So without getting into the touchy politics of the restaurant biz (see I am going to avoid giving you my two bits on celebrity chefs) and coming off as sounding negative, you’ll find a repost here of the Food Channel’s Trendwire commentary on restaurant websites, which they actually attribute back to Slate in order to get their own two bits in on the issue  (hey, isn’t this how news is made nowadays?).

There’s no doubt in my mind that restaurant websites are hugely relevant to travelers. Thankfully, you can log on and read more before investing your entire arm and a leg to the cause of dinner.  But that reminds me, I do have a complaint about this posting: In the closing note we get this: “going forward.” That has become such a hackneyed cliche, I am sure my former journalism professor, Jim Patton, would have nailed a big fat F on the otherwise enlightening piece.

Of course, I “look forward” to your comments upon my return from the island of Maui where I am headed tomorrow in search of the mainland visitors’ quintessential island attractions as well as the endurance athlete’s real Maui Wowie.


Why Do So Many Restaurant Websites Stink?

The chatter about restaurant websites heated up late this summer when Slate magazine slammed the hospitality industry for what it called “overdone” sites. The article by Farhad Manjoo had a subtitle that was none too subtle. It asked, “Why are restaurant websites so horrifically bad?

Why indeed? Well, the consensus seems to be that restaurant websites try to be too sexy, too over-the-top, when most site visitors mainly want to have a look at the menu, check on the hours, and figure out how to get to the place.

Slate’s Manjoo pokes fun at the website for Hubert Keller’s San Francisco restaurant, Fleur de Lys, which features a nearly full-screen animation of his autograph, along with snappy photos of the chef, and links to Keller’s other eateries and his PBS TV show. Then there’s the autoplaying music—ambient techno-smooth jazz—that kicks in. Eventually, after sitting through way too much “loading…,” you’re able to find the menu.

The article also cites other offending sites, including New York’s Buddakan (like an Inception trailer) and Houston’s Cavatore”> Cavatore, described as looking like it was created by designers on a Monty Python acid trip. Manjoo even pans the websites for such highly regarded establishments as Napa Valley’s Chez Panisse, and Chicago’s esteemed Alinea.

Far too many restaurants, especially the higher-end establishments, try to entertain the website visitor with flash graphics, music, and ego-driven chef biographies.

And far too often, the websites are simply inaccurate. Omnivore blogger Cliff Bostock writes about his visit to Atlanta’s Wisteria. When he arrived, the valet told Bostock he had three and a half minutes to get in the door before the place closed. The restaurant had failed to note on its website that the place would close at 9 p.m. that night, rather than at website-listed 10 p.m. In another blog, he asks, “Why do so many restaurants not include their (damn) hours of operation” in the first place? That’s annoying to say the least. He calls out two Atlanta-area restaurants that had absolutely no mention of the places’ hours.

Part of the blame probably goes to the web designers. They make more money when they create a website with a lot of bells and whistles. And, hey, it’s always a good bet to stroke a chef’s ego with a great head shot portrait that zooms or tumbles into view over a jazzy guitar solo. But most savvy web designers know that all that flash animation and autoplay music became passé, oh, about 1999.

(editor’s note: here’s a consensus on what most travelers and diners want from a restaurant web site)


Specials and happy hour info. Including social promotions such as Foursquare, Groupon and Twitter specials.

Address with a link to Google maps

Online reservation that actually works (instead of one where I make a reservation online, show up, and the hostess gives me a blank, confused stare when I tell her my name).

Hours of operation, parking and contact info

The writer follows that up with an amusing graphic depicting “What I get instead” featuring an image of people laughing while eating, along with callouts complaining that the menu is only downloadable as a 90 megabyte PDF file…that you can’t copy and paste anything because it’s in flash…that the site includes a letter from the founder that no one wants to read…etc.

Attempting to answer its own question as to why so many restaurant websites “suck,” Slate’s Manjoo writes, “Restaurant sites are the product of restaurant culture. These nightmarish websites were spawned by restaurateurs who mistakenly believe they can control the online world the same way they lord over a restaurant.”

The writer does, finally, acknowledge a few of the better restaurant websites, saluting the steakhouse chain Morton’s for its mobile site that uses your GPS location to get you information on the restaurant closest to you, and Jimmy , a rooftop bar at the James Hotel in New York’s Soho area. After viewing this clean, minimalist site featuring great photography, I’ve decided to put Jimmy at the top of my list of places to visit on my next trip to Gotham.

Going forward, the simple answer for restaurateurs seems to be…keep it simple. Make your site user-friendly. Make sure all the pertinent information is there, and please go easy on the fancy stuff. As it is with your culinary creations, sometimes less is more.


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