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Digital Dining: 5 Website Design Trends to Consider in 2017

For many businesses in the restaurant industry, it can be hard to pull the trigger on a new website. But there’s a clear line where any business should redesign. If your website fails to serve your customers, it must go.
That was the case with our website. It didn’t tell the right story and it wasn’t helpful for users. We had plenty of “trendy” gadgets on our site, but we didn’t deliver the experience customers actually wanted.
We knew we needed to redesign, how to do it well was another matter. To help us on a path to success, we needed a partner to push us and keep us grounded in what matters to our customers. So we partnered with Columbus-based Dynamit. They understood the two sides to creating a great application: form and function. If there’s anything to take from our partner selection process, it’s to make sure your partners understand both sides of this equation.
While the right partner makes things easier, it’s not everything. To create a great website, we had to find a unifying vision to guide the process. For us, that was a concept we call hyper-local. Starting from this vision, and working down through the details, we uncovered several core themes businesses in the restaurant space should consider.
1. Localize everything
For too long, restaurants have had a strange dichotomy of showing a national menu, then asking users to select a location and giving them a different menu. At best, that’s a lazy approach. At worst, it’s confusing and upsetting for users. The information a customer cares about is what’s available to them at their store.
We removed the split between national brand information and local store information. Instead, we now craft the entire site experience around a customer’s local store. Everything from the menu they see, the online ordering experience, real-time waiting times, and more that is yet to come, is designed to support this idea.
2. Offer a nimble design
Social media has shown us the benefit of in-the-moment marketing. Social accounts benefit from being reactionary — joining in the latest trends and hashtags. But the experience a user has when moving from a social account to a website is often disconnected. Most websites are frozen at a moment in time. When we redesigned our website, we wanted to create an “in-the-moment” experience.
A nimbly designed website allows you to change content and context to meet the ever-evolving needs of customers and business. This means everything from dayparting, to creating content around events (think Super Bowl Sunday) or product availability.
3. Provide avenues to discovery
In a restaurant, there is only one way to interact with a menu: reading it like a book. On the web, there’s more flexibility. We provide multiple avenues of discovery, suggesting menu items to the customer, rather than having the customer hunt. We use a tool called the “Taste Buddy” which allows users to enter in various criteria -- Mad Libs style -- and have items suggested to them. The website can even help the customer pick the right meal for a first date! Beyond that, we also suggest menu item pairings. If the customer selects any item on our menu, we’ll help that person make it part of a meal by suggesting additional food items and the perfect beer.
4. Elevate the brand
In addition to the great tools a website can provide, it can also help the restaurant market at a higher level. The web is a level playing field. With the right partner, a restaurant can strengthen its brand story and swim with the big boys. We aren’t the largest restaurant chain in the world, but I’d now put our website up against anyone’s.
5. Give form and function equal weight
Above all, restaurants need to focus on both form and function. It’s not enough to create a great design that’s not usable, or a usable site that looks cheap. A restaurant needs the best of both worlds and it needs a partner that understands both. This is the only way to get restaurant customers the right experience and elevate the brand through the web. 
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