Restaurants 2.0

By OWEN MORRIS

Yesterday I posted an article about fast-food chili. While researching the article, I wanted to call Steak n’ Shake and ask them a few questions about the history of the chili. To find a Steak n’ Shake phone number I visited its Web site — and was more than a little surprised to see just how plain it was. It was designed in the (early) ages of web 1.0. Here’s an Internet Archive link to what the page looked like in 1998, and essentially, it hasn’t changed.

Call me an Internet snob, but I was actually shocked that a publicly held restaurant chain like Steak n’ Shake would have such a pedestrian site. It did, however, have all the relevant information that any normal customer could want (minus a damn press-office phone number), including store locations, menus and nutritional info.

Actually, it was preferable to a high tech gee-whiz site like the Olive Garden’s, where the site map lists about twenty links too many but not a single one to nutritional info. Turns out it’s because the Olive Garden doesn’t list that information on its menu or like, anywhere.

My curiosity sparked, I looked around and the only chain I could find, comparable in size to Steak n’ Shake and with a simpler layout, was Taco Time, a fast-food burrito chain with 250 restaurants in the West. Like Steak n’ Shake, the information is there — it’s just not presented very attractively. However, one Taco Time franchisee in Washington made a Web site that made it clear how much more presentable the exact same information can look.

Does it really matter what a restaurant’s Web site looks like? I think so — and so does McDonald’s, which realized the power of the Internet with its “I’m Lovin’ It” campaign. Here’s McDonald’s Web site the month before the I’m Loving It campaign started. One month later the entire Web site was redesigned to what it is today. Meanwhile, the most buzz any restaurant advertisement has generated in recent years came not from a television commercial but from a Web site; Burger King’s Subservient Chicken.

Web sites should be like menus: cool, up-to-date, with no contrasting colors, leaving customers hungry to eat the food.

Categories: Dining, Food & Drink