Why Menupages exists

By Razib Khan | August 11, 2011 12:06 am

You’ve wondered I’m sure. I have. Why are restaurant websites so horrifically bad?:

…The rest of the Web long ago did away with auto-playing music, Flash buttons and menus, and elaborate intro pages, but restaurant sites seem stuck in 1999. The problem is getting worse in the age of the mobile Web—Flash doesn’t work on Apple’s devices, and while some of these sites do load on non-Apple smartphones, they take forever to do so, and their finicky

I did get a plausible-sounding explanation of the design process from Tom Bohan, who heads up Menupages, the fantastic site that lists menus of restaurants in several large cities. “Say you’re a designer and you’ve got to demo a site you’ve spent two months creating,” Bohan explains. “Your client is someone in their 50s who runs a restaurant but is not very in tune with technology. What’s going to impress them more: Something with music and moving images, something that looks very fancy to someone who doesn’t know about optimizing the Web for consumer use, or if you show them a bare-bones site that just lists all the information? I bet it would be the former—they would think it’s great and money well spent.”

Not coincidentally, designers make more money to create a complicated, multipage Flash site than one that tells you everything you want to know on one page….

I can comprehend the reliance on old-school designers who overcharge for a series of static pages if you need fine-grained control of the visual look & feel which aligns with your class and elegance. But a lot of high end restaurant websites look like they were outsourced to the Insane Clown Posse and their stylists. Most fine-dining American eateries I’ve been too tend to avoid the bright and flashy aesthetic you might find at iHop or Red Robin in their meatspace ambiance, but that seems less assured when it comes to their cyberface.

MORE ABOUT: Technology
  • http://backreaction.blogspot.com/ Bee

    It’s the same for many hostel/guesthouses etc. I actually think the reason is that they spent money on this once like a decade ago when flash was hip and the screen resolution was 10 x 16 or so and then they never looked at it again.

  • TerryS.

    The premise of Bohan’s argument is wrong…To assume that the majority of restaurant owners are “in their 50s…but not very in tune with technology” is ludicrous. It’s more likely that they compare their pages to their competition…if their competition has Flash and music, they better have it also.

  • Bob LaVesh

    I would say it depends more on the owner of the site- but not necessarily their age.

    I hate to stereotype, but by necessity I think restaurant owners will be more artistic than pragmatic. It only flows that they will be more interested in a more flowery, but less functional web-site.

    Take for example this web-site. It targets a scientific community. Functionally, it’s OK (if rather cluttered), but aesthetically it’s an eyesore. That’s OK though- I doubt any of us come to this website to look at how pretty it is.

  • L

    This style, especially the reliance on flash, is popular on many corporate websites, e.g. Pepsi and Visa.

  • pconroy

    Menupages is awesome – I actually worked with the guy who started it years ago.

    My take on it would be that there are 2 niches being served:
    1. The browser or tourist, who doesn’t eat out often and is looking say for a romantic place to take a date or wife on an anniversary – where ambiance and style are paramount – Restaurant website
    2. The foodie or those that frequent restaurants, where they are looking for a specific dish or style of cuisine, like a Thai restaurant that serves not just Pad Thai, but Larb – so details are paramount – Menuages website

  • Stephen

    I think the problem is that food is not an intrinsically visual thing.

  • Zora

    Food not visual? Thousands of food stylists and photographers would protest. True, a picture doesn’t convey all of the food experience, but that’s generally true of 2-D representations: they leave out a lot of sensory data that would be there if you were in the presence of the real thing: gateau St. Honore, Deccan ghats, Antarctica, Aishwarya Rai.

    I find food pictures mesmerizing. My glimpse of the forbidden, as I’m on a diet.

  • Liesel

    Restaurants that generate money via the web have great sites (most chain pizza delivery business for example.)

    You see the same dynamic in other industries. Funeral homes often have terrible, difficult to navigate websites that lack important information (like hours or directions) and were designed once(like a decade ago) with no updates. Whereas florist websites are generally user friendly and regularly updated.

  • Stephen

    @7: I’d suggest that food and sex are the two things where any simulated image MOST falls short of the real thing. That is, with food and sex the gap between the visual stimulation and the biological nourishment is largest. Being in the presence of the Taj Mahal would gratify what a photograph of it promises. But merely being in the presence of a cherry cheesecake or a supermodel does not go everywhere that a photograph of either invites us to consider.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com


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