How to encourage diners to return monthly, not every six months

Too many restauranteurs don’t give their diners a reason to return monthly.

Nilgiri’s restaurant does – with a different theme for its Sunday buffet every month.

Below are three posters I’ve designed for nilgiri’s. They are displayed on the website and also in frames located in the restaurant (internal advertising is free and effective).

restaurant theme restaurant theme 81ChristieStreet

The Grounds, Alexandria – smiling staff

Restauranteurs often want staff in photos but the staff aren’t being paid to be photographed. They are being paid to be rushed off their feet, the meat between the chef and the customers, and don’t always  want to smile at a photographer who is blinding them with a flash.

So if you want staff to be in photos, make sure they are into smiling, no matter how busy they are.

The grounds, Alexandria

This photo works well because the waitress is smiling, the food is visible, the ambient lighting is warm and inviting and there are happy diners in the background.

Wooden Spoon Bar & Restaurant or why restauranteurs don’t need to buy props

I was asked today by a prospective client if they should buy props for a restaurant shoot.

My answer was no, the restaurant will have enough props within it.

The images below were taken at Wooden Spoon Bar & Restaurant, Cremorne To only photograph food was to ignore the restaurant’s terrific ambience which was created in par  by filling up wine glasses, placing candles and placing another meal w in the background (the previous food shot).

restaurant shot003restaurant shot002sydney restaurant photography

Why use models in your restaurant photos? An example of photos of diners at Grace of India Restaurant, Milsons Point

Restaurants want images of people enjoying themselves in their restaurant but they can’t afford models.

what should they do? I think they should abandon even thinking of wanting models unless they want their clients to be anorexic which is unlikely to help their bottom line.

Instead, restaurants should use real clients in real time thereby guaranteeing authenticity. 

Grace of India RestaurantGrace of India Restaurant

Grace of India Restaurant

Grace of India Restaurant

Grace of India Restaurant

Flamingos and mirrors, or how to attract a younger crowd to your restaurant

Many years ago Taronga Zoo had a problem – the flamingos weren’t breeding.

The solution was simple – a long mirror in their complex . It worked because the flamingos then felt secure. Why did they feel secure? Because there seemed to be twice as many flamingos and there is nothing like safety in numbers!

The same principle applies to restaurants. You want to attract a young crowd, you want more than elderly couples and young families but how on earth do you attract the mid to late twenty somethings who are cashed up and ready to spend?

It goes without saying you need a terrific product but you also need to appeal to their insecurity: the last place they want to be is in a restaurant full of people their parents’ age.

So how to deal with this? Show images of young people!

It’s not rocket science yet 99% of restaurants don’t. Why? Maybe they prefer images of empty restaurants or they only employ photographers who work business hours.

This is an image I took at Bay Tinh Restaurant Marrickville. It shows happy young people. It’s real. The only fakery is the table hadn’t ordered Bonfire Prawns, Bay Tinh’s signature dish which not only tastes good, it is also eye catching. So when they were offered Bonfire Prawns on the house, they accepted and I got a great photo that is used to market Bay Tinh as a young thing’s restaurant!

Best Vietnamese restaurant in sydney

How not be to just another ethnic restaurant in Sydney

Sydney has a plethora of culinary talent – chefs from all over the world hope you will walk into their restaurant but so many of them fail.

They don’t fail in their food preparation or even its delivery.  They fail to tell you that they exist so you never see them, or if you do, you think, another ethnic restaurant I’ll try some day.

The solution is surprisingly simple and cost-effective. Advertising. But where? The reason restaurants are conveniently placed in busy streets is because they hope they will be seen. This means they have large open windows. This is called advertising space!

But how to use this advertising space? You need a time limited offer. Why? Because if it isn’t limited, people will think I’ll get there sometime, it doesn’t matter when. And if you run a series of limited offers over a year, people will associate your restaurant with energy and will be attracted to it. How do i know this? Even McDonald’s engages in limited offers!

On Friday Bay Tinh restaurant asked me to promote their Valentine’s Day offering – by Sunday they had posters in their resurants and images on their website. So it doesn’t have to be time consuming and slow. But it has to be more than a black and white photocopied paper stuck to the glass which looks tacky and is difficult to read. Any poster should be legible from across the street, by people in cars or you are missing out on 90% of your potential audience.

Here are the posters and menus for Bay Tinh.
valentine-day-poster-crows-nest valentine-day-menu-crowsnest valentine-day-poster---marrickville valentine-day-menu-marrickville

Not only is the offer time limited but there is an additional incentive to book early – the first twenty reservations get chocolate “lips” from Belle Fleur Chocolaterie.

Plate Restaurant’s website

I’ve launched another website today - Plate Restaurant at Darling Harbour.

The restaurant’s location, on the waterfront with views of Sydney’s CBD across the water, resulted in the website focussing on the vista.

web pages emphasise the view

When the page loads, all you see is the background and then the slideshow fades in.

To create energy, the slideshow uses the Ken Burns effect which means the image pans. In addition, text appears on each slide and I’ve played with the location, background colour and timing of the text to make it more eye-catching.

Since the restaurant targets visitors to Sydney, I’ve included a directions page which includes walking directions!

walking directions to Darling Harbour

To minimise visitor irritation, I’ve include the address and telephone number at the base of every page (you would be amazed at how many restaurant websites are shy about telling visitors where they are or how to contact them).

I’ve also added a booknow page which doesn’t ask for silly amounts of information or have an impossible captcha (anti-spam) device that might deter visitors from booking.

an easy to use contact form




why are restaurant websites so bad?

When I set out to design my first restaurant website, I thought I would borrow ideas from existing high profile restaurants.

But when I looked at these websites, with one exception, they were terrible. The most common deficiency was the extensive use of tiny fonts no one without a microscope could read. Imagine a shop with an entrance 4 inches high and expecting customers to flood in – it ain’t going to happen!  Tiny fonts may look great but only 20 year old web designers can read them.

As for images, generally they showed restaurants with no one in them – I call this the Marie Celeste look. No one wants to dine in an empty restaurant, so why would you choose to promote the fact that your restaurant is empty?

When I talk to restauranteurs about their websites they generally have no idea how successful their websites are, i.e. how many visitors their websites receive a day. The conspiracy theorist within me thinks this is because web designers are embarrassed about how unsuccessful their concepts are in reality. i.e. if you spend $5000 on a website and it only gets 10 hits a day you might be unhappy. To help restauranteurs obtain website traffic statistics, they should know the information is free via google analytics and takes approximately 15 minutes to set up.

But enough preaching – to my latest website,

the home page of nilgiri's' website

Since the nilgiris’ website was launched three days ago, it has received 500 visits: the average time spent on the site is 4.01 minutes, 1845 pages were visited and 87.8% of visits originated in Australia. Not bad for a single location restaurant in suburban Sydney.  In the same period (Monday to Wednesday which is generally the quiet time in the week for a restaurant), the website generated 10 restaurant bookings, 5 private room bookings, 4 catering enquiries, 1 function enquiry and 6 general enquiries. Again, all this information is free of charge via google analytics.

If you really want to obsess about web traffic, you can!

site statistics

So why is the nilgiri’s website doing well? Here are seven reasons.

1. easy on the eye

First of all, the nilgiris’ website is easy on the eye – not cluttered, inviting colours and there is extensive use of photos which allow visitors to feel they can objectively assess the site.

2. easy to navigate

Secondly,  the nilgiris’ website is very easy to navigate with each page generally accessible using one of three alternatives.

Visitors can  use the search bar in the top right hand corner of every page which is helpfully titled ‘search this website” and uses large text. Or visitors can select the drop down menus which are generously proportioned, taking up the entire width of the website so people can easily read and then select them.

drop down menu

Visitors can also access the most popular pages of the site by clicking on them at the base of each page.

popular pages accessible in the footer of every page

3. no dead ends

Thirdly, visitors stay on the website, because very few pages are dead ends – they offer additional relevant pages for the visitor to check out e.g. the cooking class page has four buttons on the text window to the right of the main image: faq, book now, cooking class schedule and resume slideshow.

no dead ends

4. friendly forms

Fourthly,  the nilgiris’ website receives many bookings is because the booking forms don’t demand excessive and irrelevant amounts of information, (e.g. your postcode and country) they don’t have impossible anti-spam measures and they use large text.

user friendly anti-spam filter

The website also understands people want feedback so it offers one hour turnaround for enquiries – why on earth would anyone use a booking form that promises to get back to you in 24 hours?

legible contact form that resounds within one hour

5. Extensive use of images

Fifthly, the website revolves around images – I often think that the average web designer doesn’t really want the client to spend money on photography as it means less money to spend on fancy graphics and fonts – hence mediocre images are often used.

images of people having a good time

6. An engaging experience

The nilgiris’ website isn’t a dull static experience. This means the landing page isn’t a tedious flash movie that takes an hour to load and 30 seconds to watch. Instead, most pages have an automatic slideshow  which is easily controlled by the visitor. Incidentally, the slideshow has a large image with text on the right hand side – too many slideshows have a tiny pop up text window which is difficult to read so why not have a decent text box to the right of the image?

The website is also fast to load – this is because the images are optimised for webs and flash isn’t used.  To objectively assess how fast your website is, use free tools such as google’s Pagespeed and Yahoo’s Yslow.

The nilgiris’ website website wants new users to subscribe to the monthly newsletter but the invitation only pops up after the visitor has looked at three pages and remembers the visitor so they will never be asked again i.e. you don’t want to deter repeat visits.

7. Address and telephone number are visible on every page 

address and telephone number clearly visible on every page

It’s amazing how many restaurants are shy about their address and telephone number – these should appear on every page so there is no excuse not to use them. As a bonus, when you click on the address of nilgiri’s, it opens up to a map that can give directions.