Written for the Occupancy Marketing blog

Hotels are generally pretty good at knowing their guests – they know Mr. Grant from Swindon travels with business, stays for 1 night every month, eats in the bar and drinks just a little too much… they know Janet and Steve, who have been married for 23 years, come every November to celebrate their anniversary and that Steve plays golf whilst Janet goes to the local spa… they know Lois and Scott came for the first time this month, that they are in their early 30s, and that they liked visiting the local art galleries… etc, etc, etc. What we’re trying to fight against is that this knowledge is sometimes hard for hotels to translate into knowledge of what customers expect from their website.

Let’s take a standard element of almost any hotel website – the restaurant’s menu in a downloadable, PDF format. Everyone knows that PDFs are easy to make (you take your menu in Microsoft Word, hit export as PDF and you’ve got a web-ready document). Just creating PDFs because they are easy to do isn’t a great idea – everyone should also know that PDFs are harder to track using tracking packages like Google Analytics. Still, hotels insist on using them. And who wants to read a PDF of a restaurant’s menu? No one, that’s who. Let’s break down some stereotypical scenarios:

  • Corporate travellers like Mr. Grant – they don’t want a PDF of a menu. They’re eating at the hotel no matter what – it’s paid for. If they are looking for any information about the restaurant it’s what time the restaurant shuts and they really shouldn’t be getting that from a PDF. Corporate travellers are very likely to be visiting your website on the go (probably from their mobile) making PDFs a massive pain.
  • Older regulars like Janet and Steve – they don’t want a PDF of a menu. A few photos for when they tell friends about the hotel’s food will suffice. PDFs can cause problems if older users aren’t using up-to-date web browsers or aren’t as confident at using their computers.
  • General first time younger visitors like Lois and Scott – they don’t want a PDF of a menu. He might want to know if he’s going to be able to get a burger or steak or if the portion size is going to leave him wanting a consolation McDonalds afterwards; a photo or and a general description will cover his needs. Lois is using her tablet to visit your site, making PDFs acceptable but still sometimes a bit of a pain. She will have the job of booking and doesn’t want to have to call the restaurant just to book a table.
  • General first time older visitors – they don’t want a PDF of a menu. He wants to see how much lunch is going to cost him and she’s wanting to know whether the afternoon tea looks as nice as the little tea room down the road. A price range is easy to show without needing to list every item and photos of an example afternoon tea in the dining room will show off the meal far better than a list of types of sandwich and cake.
  • Local restaurant-only customers – they don’t want a PDF of a menu. They want to know opening times and directions and they are very likely to be using a mobile phone (92% do, according to SinglePlatform http://xvio.com/mobile-search-restaurants/ ).
  • Couples staying at the hotel for a romantic break – they don’t want a PDF of a menu. They’re eating somewhere else then ordering some room service snacks and some champagne – a few example room service offerings and the times that room services is available are sufficient.
  • The girly weekend – they don’t want a PDF of a menu. The organiser want’s to know about how well you cater for her friend’s dietary requirements – a statement saying all diets are catered for and all menus are clearly marked (to show which dishes contain meat, fish, dairy and gluten) and a handy email link to contact you with questions will cover this. When it comes to booking it’s great if your booking app can handle group bookings and additional comments, if not make sure the phone number is easy to find.

So what does it say about your hotel when vital information is hidden in a PDF? It shows that you haven’t joined up your off-line knowledge of your customers… but it might just look like you can’t be bothered. A good restaurant will always be varying what they offer so to have a sample menu on the website may well lead to disappointment if guests can’t get that one thing on the menu that they’d seen and they were hoping to try.

So how can you help your customers?

The Basics

  • Make sure the dining section of your website has a decent selection of recent, well-taken food photographs.
  • Make sure that the text on your restaurant covers all the key points, especially what type of food you serve, what a typical main-course costs during the day and at night, anything unique that you offer, how you cater for special diets, opening time and address/map.
  • Make sure calls to action are clear – if you can book a table online (and we really recommend that this is something you add to your site: you don’t need a custom app – providers like TopTable exist for a reason) then you can increase the number of bookings simply by improving the booking button e.g.
    • “Click here” isn’t as good as
    • “Book now” which isn’t as good as
    • “Reserve your table now” which could be improved further to
    • “Reserve your table now – no login needed”
  • If you can’t book online then the phone number should be a number that goes directly to the restaurant and should be clickable (for mobile users) and very prominent on all restaurant pages – approximately 61% of local searches result in calls http://www.google.com/think/research-studies/the-mobile-movement.html .
  • Ensure that your Google+ Local listing is up to date and has high quality images shown
  • Make sure that your site is mobile and tablet friendly – you wouldn’t turn half of your customers away at the door so why do that on your website?
  • Make sure that in the restaurant all menus are clearly marked to show which dishes contain meat, fish, dairy and gluten – people who have a special dietary requirement who find a restaurant helpful often go out of their way to write extremely kind reviews.

A little extra

  • If you can’t book online maybe you can offer a ringback option – the user types their phone number into a contact form, you call them back later on.
  • If you get a significant trade in afternoon teas then it’s a given that it should be easy to find afternoon teas on the homepage of your website but since afternoon teas generally are about buying into the experience there is plenty of opportunity to use the afternoon tea page to make a big deal of the history of the hotel, the history of afternoon tea, more details about each of the ingredients/cakes/teas, etc
  • People love something for free – if you appeal to real foodies then you’re appealing to aspiring cooks and cooks love finding good, well-tested recipes. A recipe, mini recipe ebook or video of a signature dish would have a big impact for this type of guest.
  • Video tells a story and can be a great way of improving the conversion rate for a page by helping a guest imagine dining with you – videos ideas include an interview with the head chef, a quick tour of the kitchen, or a demo of a meal being created and plated up.
  • If you are a big resort and offer lots of dining options then you could simplify the booking experience by creating a guide or flowchart showing where, when and what to eat at each of your restaurants.
  • If your bar plays a big part of the dining experience then make sure that this is well presented on the site – people want to know about their drinks so use the website to feature a video or slideshow that shows off your special range of drinks or how your unique cocktails are made.

Sure, some people will always take a glance at a PDF if that’s all you offer but how about taking your customer knowledge and show people something that really sells your restaurant to them.