Miscellaneous

Why are restaurant websites so awful?

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The best restaurants in the world deliver exquisite food, impeccable service and wonderful attention to detail. And, almost without fail, they have websites which would embarrass a first year web design student. Here is a sampling of a few problems.

I have an offer to make: I will provide one day's free site consulting and copy editing to any restaurant that has two or three Michelin stars in return for a free meal for two. (In the case of El Bulli, I'll even pay for the meal if they give me a reservation!)

The French Laundry

Arguably The French Laundry is the best restaurant in the USA. However, the Flash site opens a new page that fills the entire screen, takes minutes to load and then the first page has an error on it - a visible <br>. Even after you've preloaded the Flash file, changing page takes a few seconds because it has to load a new image then scroll around a bit. Oh, well, I guess they won't let me book a table in October, when I visit San Francisco.

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The Fat Duck

Just one sin here. When you go to The Fat Duck website, it displays a startup screen, which is always annoying. Why not go straight to the actual site. But worse, there is no obvious button or link that explains that this is only an intermediate page. Three stars for the restaurant. Only one star for the website.

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Guy Savoy

Guy Savoy is quite probably the best restaurant in Paris. (See my review on Golf Hotel Whiskey.)Certainly the concierge in our hotel thought so. We've been there twice and the food is extraordinary. Last time we went, M. Savoy came out of the kitchen to greet the diners personally. I'm not even sure if Gordon Ramsey is in the country, let alone in the kitchen when you go to his restaurant.

However, the website is abysmal. It plays music. Worse, there is no 'mute' button. Going from page to page requires several seconds of pointless animation. And annoyingly, all the menus are written sideways making it very hard to read. I'm pretty sure that the contrast is below minima for accessibility too.

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Les Maisons de Bricourt

Les Maisons de Bricourt recently achieved a well-deserved third Michelin star. (See my review.) But the website is pretty grim. Flash-based sites seem to be de rigour for fine dining restaurants (why?) but this one has a Flash intro that just plays and plays with weirdly scrolling still images. When you get past that, there is - yes - more music and more animations. A video plays with the owner talking in French, whether or not you want to watch it. The address is virtually impossible to read - white text on a pale, animating background:

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el Bulli

Another site that requires Flash in a pop-up window. Before you get it, though, you have to choose between ES, CA or EN. I don't understand why people don't just spell out the language choices.

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You have to click through a page with a catalogue. (A catalogue? For a restaurant?) Then you get the site itself. Clicking on reservations opens up a third window which plays a video and then you get the reservations page. But, of course, it is fully booked throughout 2008 and there is no waiting list.

Noble exceptions

Gordon Ramsay is easy to navigate and dispenses with all the usual Flash nonsense. (It's just a shame he didn't also register the near-mispelling of his name with an 'e' in it.) I'm going there for my wife's birthday on Thursday. Hopefully the food will live up to the website!

The Waterside Inn at Bray. Keeping the British end up, this has no Flash, no music, no videos - just a simple website that is easy to navigate. Bravo! (Site good. But despite three stars and a stellar reputation, my wife got food poisoning when we ate there.)

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Matthew Stibbe

Matthew is founder and CEO of Articulate Marketing.