A Quick Guide to Building Restaurant Websites in WordPress

I was recently working on an article about merging a local brick-and-mortar presence with its digital one. As I put together my argument, I decided to use local businesses from my area as examples in the article. However, I ran into a problem when I started looking for restaurant websites.

To start, some of the restaurant websites I found were pretty outdated looking, didn’t function all that well, and weren’t built with WordPress. Then, there were restaurants that had no website at all.

As a WordPress developer, I can understand why you might be nervous about tackling this particular niche. After all, if restaurateurs are reluctant to spend money on a website, how could this undertaking be profitable for you?

The key to breaking into this niche and making it profitable for your business is in understanding this industry’s pains and a restaurant’s particular needs when it comes to the web. If you can master these two things, then the rest will come easily to you (since you’re already designing killer websites for everyone else).

In the following guide to building restaurant websites in WordPress, I’m going to first explain how to pitch a website to restaurant clients. Then, I’ll give you some tips on how to quickly and profitably build one of these websites.

How to Pitch a Website to Restaurant Clients

Having worked in the restaurant industry for many years, and still having contacts there, I can tell you that many restaurateurs are wary about making a real investment in a website. In their eyes, it makes more sense to set up a free Facebook business page and Google My Business account and call it a day.

I get it. Profit margins are really low in the restaurant industry, so it’s not like they have a lot of discretionary funds to spend. According to Toast, profit margins can be anywhere from 0% to 15% for a restaurant (15% typically applies to the McDonald’s of the world). The average profit margin, however, is between 3% and 5%. That’s not great.

As the cost of food and labor rise for the restaurant industry, you’re going to have to find a way to paint the idea of a website in a positive light. The basic argument will be this:

A website will increase brand awareness online, drive more foot traffic through your doors, and open up new opportunities for revenue.

Since that statement won’t be enough to convince them, you need a pitch that addresses all their concerns before they have a chance to air them.

Here are the points your pitch should cover:

1. Time

“Everyone working in and for your restaurant is busy. If it’s a matter of making the time to do it, don’t worry. I will handle 95% of the project for you.

“In fact, I’ll show you part of the 5% I need from you now.”

This is when you’ll present them with a pre-made intake form on your WordPress website. Email them the link, but walk them through it while you’re talking to them. Your form should ask for things like:

  • Uploaded logo in eps format
  • Style guide for the restaurant
  • Copy of the menu
  • High-resolution photographs from the restaurant
  • Links to social media accounts
  • Information about the restaurant, including: location, target/ideal diner, history/about, hours of operation, events, contact options, and any special features the website will need
  • Login information

Show them how painless this whole process will be and how you need just a little input before you can run with it.

2. Cost

“Yes, hiring a WordPress developer to build your website can be costly upfront. However, with the right automation and configuration in place, your ongoing maintenance fees can be kept low.

“Additionally, consider the new opportunities a website makes available to you:

  • Reach new customers that otherwise would have never found your restaurant.
  • Give guests a chance to reserve a seat in your restaurant, rather than be turned off by extensive wait times when they get there. This will also free your staff from having to answer the phone or monitor email frequently. Instead, they can focus on serving in-house guests.
  • For customers that want to dine with you but don’t want to eat in, your site gives them a way to order online for pickup or delivery (fun fact: 57% of diners want to order food from a website).

“Finally, if cost really is a major concern and you already have a website, think about a redesign. It doesn’t need to be a complete overhaul–especially since you already have recognizable branding in place. But it would look great with a more modern facelift, even if we just do X, Y, and Z.”

3. Information

“Consumers are so well-informed these days. Websites like Yelp tell (and show) them what other guests ate at your restaurant and how the service experience was. Facebook and Google are other platforms through which diners share their opinions and rate the restaurant experience. And then you have sites like Instagram where they can upload photos from their meal.

“But before they ever get to that point, they need to make the decision to dine at your restaurant–and that can be hard to do when your restaurant is surrounded by a multitude of competitors on these websites.

“Your website gives you a chance to inform and convince diners to eat at your restaurant. First, by giving them an aesthetically appealing website that’s reflective of the quality of your establishment. Next, you’ll provide them with all the information they need to make a decision. This includes:

  • Your address
  • Hours of operation
  • A phone number for questions or reservations
  • A full-page menu (not a difficult-to-read PDF uploaded to the website)
  • High-resolution photos from your restaurant
  • Links to social media
  • Information about reservations (83% of your guests feel this is one of the most important features), events, dress code, and anything else that might affect their visit

“By effectively providing visitors with the information they seek, you may be able to make more sales right then and there. As the CEO of Checkmate, Vishal Agarwal, put it:

“Almost 80% of the operators believe having a website is important, but we have passed that stage where their consumers visit their websites for information purposes only. If they like what they see, they will order directly.”

4. Upkeep

“By building your restaurant website in WordPress, you won’t need to be a developer in order to update it. The interface is intuitive and the process to get new content on it or update current content is simple once you’ve done it a few times.

“I can even provide you and your staff with training on how to use WordPress when the project is over.”

5. Analytics

“Restaurants can often be a logistical nightmare if you don’t have a reliable set of data to work from. When your restaurant is brand new, this means not having much to go on and having to trust your gut when it comes to scheduling staff, ordering inventory, and planning events.

“But what if your website could be a way to gather data about your guests’ habits? There are a few ways to do this:

“Use Google Analytics to track visitor activity. This information can tip you off to the most popular times and days when people look for your restaurant. If you can compare that to guest volumes during those same periods, you can predict how website traffic correlates to foot traffic.

“You can use a heat mapping tool to find out which items on your menu or parts of your website interest customers the most. With food costs being as high as they are, you can use this information to create a more sensible menu or, at the least, more aptly handle the ordering of inventory.

“And, of course, adding a reservation system will help you better plan for scheduling upcoming shifts–especially during peak periods like the holidays.”

6. The Competitive Advantage

“There’s also the matter of what a restaurant website will do for you competitively speaking.”

At which point, this is your chance to show them how distracting other platforms can be. Do a search for restaurants in their area in Yelp, Google, and Facebook. Show them how cluttered the results are and how competitors sit side-by-side, just waiting to draw attention away from their restaurant.

Then, if you have one, present them with an example of a restaurant website you’ve designed for someone else. Walk them through the discovery of the site in search listings, click into the site, and explain what it’s done for their business.

If you don’t have an example, do the same exact thing with their top competitor’s site (which you should have identified before talking to them). Show them how this restaurant is profiting from their site (make sure it was made in WordPress, too).

And then leave them with that. If they have questions, answer them. Otherwise, leave them to marinate on the benefits you’ve just pitched. You can email or call in a few days to check in. For now, though, let them consider whether this is the right choice. When they do come to you for help, have a proposal and contract ready to go.

A Quick Guide to Building Restaurant Websites in WordPress

Now that we’ve covered how to sell a restaurateur on a new WordPress website, we need to talk about how to make this a profitable venture for you. Because, unless you’re targeting upscale restaurants, you’re likely going to be dealing with smaller budgets. That doesn’t mean you need to budge on price. (In fact, don’t.)

Here are some tips for building restaurant websites in WordPress without overextending yourself and without compromising on quality:

Pricing Plans

Offer development packages tailored to different website types: fine dining, fast casual, and fast food. If there’s a market for it, you can get even more granular and offer packages for food trucks, pop-up restaurants, cafes, etc.

WordPress Themes

Always use a premium WordPress theme made specifically for restaurants–and have a list of them saved somewhere. Not only will these save you time in designing and laying out restaurant websites based on best practices, but they will likely come with features you’d otherwise have to produce through coding or additional plugins. The lighter you can make these sites, the better.

Here are some themes I’d recommend:

Barista

Barista WordPress theme
A snapshot of the Barista WordPress theme.

Want to increase your chances of selling WordPress design services to restaurant clients? Target venues located in cities with designs inspired by the Barista theme.

Chicago

Chicago WordPress theme
A snapshot of the Chicago WordPress theme.

Chicago is a nice choice as it offers a variety of formats. It even has a single-page design which would work well for your more budget-conscious clients (and because I know some of you are fans of this style).

Espresso

Espresso WordPress theme
A snapshot of the Espresso WordPress theme.

Espresso is a great choice if you want to cater to hip and trendy restaurants. In other words, if they cater to a younger crowd, offer a nightly schedule of events, or target young professionals, this is a smart design.

ROSA

ROSA WordPress theme
A snapshot of the ROSA WordPress theme.

Simple and classic styling, ROSA comes with most of the key features your restaurant clients will need (e.g. reservation system, links to social and Yelp, on-page menu, and a full-width map on the Contact page).

Design

Once you have their intake form of requirements, and you’ve had a chance to familiarize yourself with their establishment, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what kind of design will work best as well as which WordPress theme you can start from.

Just remember to keep it simple. Restaurant customers are likely coming there for one of the following pieces of information:

  • The location
  • Hours of operation
  • A copy of the menu
  • Reservation portal
  • Online ordering system

The rest is a bonus as they aim to learn more about this restaurant. So, don’t hide these key bits of information. Prioritize them in the design, then let the rest fall into place.

WordPress Plugins

The WPMU DEV blog has talked about the best WordPress plugins for websites so much, I feel silly having to address this point. All the same, restaurant websites need plugins, so let’s quickly check off which ones you will need:

Navigation

The WordPress theme you use will likely guide you on this. In general, however, just aim to keep it simple. You’ll really only need pages for:

  • Home
  • About
  • Menu
  • Contact

If they offer events, reservations, or online ordering, those may need to be represented as special callout buttons in the header. But don’t clutter it up too much as you’ll want to put contact information there as well.

SEO

A restaurant website does not need to appeal to a global audience, which means taking a different approach to SEO than you might otherwise be accustomed to.

When building restaurant websites, use a combination of local SEO strategies as well as structured data for voice searches. If you can nail these down during your development process, you’ll give your clients’ sites a fighting chance in search after launch.

Wrapping Up

I really do believe there’s a lot of opportunity for developers interested in building restaurant websites in WordPress. Even if you find the pitch for a brand new site difficult at first, finding restaurateurs willing to spend money on a facelift will be easy enough if you pitch it to them the right way.

Suzanne Scacca
Are there any other niches you’ve found difficult to crack, but feel the right pitch and approach would win them over?