A Better Website in One Afternoon

Photo by vincen-t on Flickr

There’s a simple experiment you can run in a single afternoon that will give you all the information you need to improve the website for your restaurant or bar. Most bar and restaurant websites are terrible. This is almost a mantra in the web design community. Running a great restaurant doesn’t require having the skills to create a great website, but a good website also doesn’t require hiring an expensive firm to design and build your site. Visual designs are time-consuming and often need some technical knowledge to carry out but you can create a perfectly acceptable visual design based on a customizable template. A great website might take expertise, but it only takes a little to take a bad website and make it good enough.

The biggest gain (and best way to set yourself apart) is not how your site looks, but how it makes the user feel. User experience (UX) matters and it’s not hard to be just a little better than your competition.

The Simple UX Experiment

  1. Recruit 5 potential customers from your local Craigslist board (offer cash or a discount or voucher for a meal at your restaurant).
  2. Example
    Come spend 10 minutes helping us test our Thai restaurant’s website. We’ll give you a voucher for $20 off a meal to use whenever you like. Respond by email with your availability and we’ll let you know where to show up.
    Don’t reveal the name of your restaurant. You don’t want people to become familiar with your website until you can watch the process.
  3. Stagger arrival times by 15 minutes to give yourself time to reset between test subjects. When your first volunteer arrives, sit them down in front of a computer and tell them the name of your restaurant. See if they can find your website on the first try.
    Explain to your volunteer that you’d like them to speak their process out loud, stream of consciousness style, so that you can understand where they hit problem spots.
  4. Ask them to try to find your restaurant’s address on the website. See how much time and how many clicks it takes. Pay attention to how long they spend deciding which links to click, and see if they make mistakes or get frustrated.
  5. Ask them to find a menu on your site. See if they can find and open the menu. See if they get confused or lost if they are downloading a PDF.
  6. Ask them to make a reservation. See if they use an online reservation service (if you have one) or if they find a phone number to call.
  7. BONUS: Ask them to try each of these tasks on a smart phone or other mobile device.

Going through this process with 5 volunteers will take you less than 2 hours and only $100 (or less if you’ve offered vouchers). The insights gained from actually watching your customers struggle with your website will uncover the most common barriers that are keeping visitors to your website from becoming visitors to your restaurant. As an added benefit, even customers who succeeded at using the old website will be happier with the improved user experience. A few simple changes can make a big difference.

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