Amid all the talk about social media in restaurant marketing, the company website remains the prime gateway for guests, marketers say.
The Web Marketing Association recently honored a number of restaurant companies and independent operators for their approaches to website design and smartphone applications, basing its WebAwards on seven criteria. Coppell, Texas-based CiCi's Pizza won an “Outstanding Website” award in the association’s WebAwards for the buffet concept’s redesigned website.
Other winners included Texas Roadhouse of Louisville, Ky., for its website and mobile app; The Melting Pot Restaurants of Tampa, Fla.; the Buckhead Life Group in Atlanta; and Miller’s Ale House Restaurants in Jupiter, Fla., as well as independents Betel Bar & Kitchen in New York, RDG + Bar Annie in Houston, and Parallel 37 in San Francisco.
The marketing association called out CiCi’s, which has about 550 restaurants in 34 states, for its “virtual tour” of the pizza buffet and its social platform integration and search-engine optimization.
Nancy Hampton, CiCi’s chief marketing officer, said the CiCi’s website got about a 4.5 million visits this year, with those visitors going to the “Locations” page most, followed in order by “Menu & Nutrition,” “Pizza Perks,” “Contact Us” and the “Careers” pages.
“Successful websites, regardless of industry, need some of the same elements,” Hampton said. The top five elements, she said, are:
• Successfully extend a brand’s uniqueness and personality into the online and mobile communities.
• Provide easy navigation and be intuitive for visitors.
• Include relevant content.
• Ensure the most sought-after information is easy to access, accurate and well-presented. “For restaurants this includes location information, menu items and nutritional and allergen information,” Hampton said.
• Give guests a reason to return to the site, whether that’s compelling content, promotional or exclusive offers.
Mobile access to restaurant websites is imperative, Hampton added. “The growth in smartphone and tablet usage has skyrocketed,” she said. “A website that provides quick and easy access for mobile users is certainly more important today than even a couple years ago.”
CiCi’s has found about 45 percent of its website visitors access the site through a mobile device, Hampton said, so quick loading, geo-targeting and the ability to call the restaurant, get directions and see the menu is highly important.
To create CiCi’s website, Hampton said, the development team first looked at business goals and feedback from users of the previous site, and then found an outside software partner that could produced the best results. The company was able to bring “CiCi’s famous buffet experience to life with the interactive scrolling feature,” she said.
Hampton’s top advice for other restaurant companies tackling a new website is: “Take your time upfront to align your business strategy with your website strategy. This prevents changing priorities and resolves content hierarchy concerns from the beginning.”