January 18th, 2008
“Skip Intro” – Bad bar websites
I love visiting bars. I hate visiting bar websites. One of the little-known drawbacks of being a drinks writer is the amount of time you spend searching for the Skip Intro button on restaurant, club and bar homepages. These sites are notorious for forcing on you a little Flash movie of the lounge area, or slide show of signature dishes and cocktails, complete with urbane musical accompaniment, before you are allowed to see the navigation. Then, when you finally get past the intro, you find yourself in a site that uses frames — those little windows, popular in 1998, that you have to scroll through — rather than separate web pages for each section. And don’t even get me started on menus in PDF. Nearly every bar and restaurant on the planet makes you download their menu to your desktop and view it in Acrobat. Is it asking too much to simply put the text on the actual web page? Oh, but wait, you’d need a web expert to hack into those damn frames…
Regarding what I said about frames — it’s not that these sites look out of date. Most of them are quite slick. It’s that they act out of date. Mr. or Ms. General Manager, that flash intro may have seemed awesome the first time your web developer played it for you, but after the ninth time, when all you’re trying to do is take a quick look at the wine list, it’s annoying as hell. And the shoddy navigation on some of these sites can be comical. On the Beehive’s website, for example, click on Special Events (after watching that cool intro, of course). Where does that take you? Not to a list of special events, as you might expect, but to a page that says, “Beehive Special Events. Click here for more information.” Click there, and yet a third page opens in a new window with the info you’re looking for. Incidentally, I will be at the Beehive on the 27th to see Titler, who has a completely hallucinogenic website.
I know, restaurant folks don’t tend to have their fingers on the pulse of web technology. That’s why they’re mixing cocktails, cooking food and serving dinner, not sitting in an office. But what they need to understand is that if a potential customer visits their restaurant’s website, he probably landed there only after Googling, say, “sushi, Boston,” reading a few reviews on Chowhound and local blogs, and asking around the office to see if anyone has been to the place. At that point, all he wants to do is check out the latest menu and find the T stop nearest the destination. My advice? Give him a clean, easy-to-navigate website where he can readily find that info, because he wants to be wowed by your food, drinks and service, not your homepage.