Whether you run a restaurant, espresso cafe, hotel, or inn, having a website is becoming an essential part of doing business in the 21st century. Think of a web page as a virtual storefront – another way for your potential customers to discover and interact with your business.
Where to get it
Probably your best bet is to hire a freelancer online. Freelancer’s websites such as RentACoder.com, Elance.com, and iFreeLance.com work like a community job board: post your job (“looking for a web designer to build a web site for our restaurant”), watch the bids roll in, pick somebody whose price is right and whom seems equal to the task, put the money up with the site, and collect your work. The average going rate for a custom site is anywhere form $200 to $1000 dollars.
If you decide to do the design yourself, most web hosting providers include some website building tools to get you started. You don’t need to be a ‘geek’ to get started with building a web page, as today’s tools are usually “what you see is what you get”. If you can use office software, you can build web pages. Many hosts also provide easy-to-use templates, which are like “skeleton pages” that you just drop in and fill with your content.
The only downside of doing it yourself is that good web design is a matter of artistic talent, not technical skill. It’s up to you to decide if you can bring this job home. Visit the websites of other businesses in your industry and compare – can you make it look that good? You can also just put up the basic framework of your site, then hire freelancers for smaller jobs like adding graphics artwork. A common strategy is also to toss out the basic site content without decoration, then hire a designer to go over it and spruce it up.
When picking a web host provider, your needs will be very basic. Since the front page for your hospitality business won’t need nearly the bandwidth that a ‘big name’ website will have, you can usually pick the cheapest package with no problem. Web space today is so cheap, it’s almost free; packages are out there for as little as $5.00 / month with an annual domain registration fee of $15.00 or so. Compared to newspaper ads and even Yellow Pages advertising, a web site will be the most economical publicity for your business you ever had.
At the very least, your business website should have the following features:
– Locations and hours. The easier it is to find this information, the less your staff will have to answer that question over the phone.
– A way to make reservations. The reservations registry process should be simple to use, and all on one page. Whether booking a table, a room, or a dance hall, the process should be consistent and convenient.
– If you have any kind of delivery service, by all means set the site up to take orders over the Internet. Internet users love being able to summon a pizza delivery right from their computer.
– Information about what your business provides. Describe your menu, your suites, your services offered, and so on. If you’re thinking of it like a magazine ad or brochure, you’re thinking in the right track.
– Images! At the very least, have a few pictures of your most sumptuous meal offerings or your ambassador suites at their best-looking. The web is a visual medium, so having pictures of the best you have to offer is crucial. Hire a professional photographer and schedule a day for this event; spare no expense.
– “About us”… most hospitality sites have a separate page detailing the business’ commitment to quality, excellence of service, awards won, testimonials from customers, rave reviews from critics, etc.
Because a service business in expected to have a little flash to dress it up, you can go a little further with the graphics than what you would normally find on a web page. By all means have everything look as good as possible. Your page should be harmonious with your business’s style and motif.
However, avoid the temptation to post a Flash animation as your website’s entry page. Flash animations take time and processing to download, and a guest who’s been here three times and just wants to quickly reserve a room wants to get on with the transaction. Flash movies are certainly impressive, but at the most they should be small side items on your business’s front page. Also, make sure that the Flash animation doesn’t start automatically, make it so the user can start it at will with a click or mouse-over.
When we say you can go a little further with design spice than the average page, we mean tasteful and not gaudy. Avoid too much dark color, which will make the pages difficult to read. Avoid too much white space, which will make the page seem too plain. The text any any given page should be descriptive of your services, but not go on at a legth greater than what you would find on a single page of a news magazine. You should be able to scan the whole site in about 20 minutes.