Saturday, October 18, 2008

Restaurants on the Web – Part 1 of 3

I love good food. Bestowed with a metabolism that allows me to eat until full, three meals a day without blimping out, I consider it a true blessing.

So, with that in mind, I tend to hold in high value the restaurant industry, though I wouldn’t know the first thing about managing a restaurant. I probably know a bit more about Internet marketing, though; and that's going to be the topic of discussion in this post. Specifically, why do some restaurants fail to market themselves on the Internet?

CASE STUDY: The Georgia House Restaurant

My in-laws live in Lower Delaware. This affords me the opportunity to visit Sussex County every 4 or 5 weekends, and that thrills me because I never miss the chance to have a dinner at The Georgia House in Millsboro, DE. It's my favorite restaurant in Delaware. There isn’t a fancy thing in the dining room or the kitchen -- it is simply unadulterated Southern-style and Chesapeake regional "family food". You can sample a catfish po'boy sandwich, Memphis BBQ ribs, Miss Vicky's meatloaf, prime rib (try the Cajun-spiced version!), or my trusted go-to dish, the buttermilk fried chicken. Chicken is the area's primary agronomic business, so of course Georgia House has to know how to prepare it well. Whatever you do, don't miss the "soup that made them famous", a cream of crab concoction that you'll regret having ordered only a cup. Upgrade one of your two side dishes to the classic green salad, and you've got your fiber for the night. Finish off with another salad, the Eastern Shore picnic favorite Jell-o pretzel salad.

Sounds like a perfect restaurant, huh? But it has no website. Why, then, doesn't co-owner Sean Hall publish a website about his Millsboro restaurant and its several satellite locations in Selbyville, Milford, Laurel, and Georgetown (take-out counter only)? I can't figure that out, and Sean was unavailable for my call. Just a couple of years ago, people would pack the place and wait 45 minutes for the next available table, but now business has dropped off to a relatively slower "at capacity" pace. I have to imagine there are tourists traveling to the area who have never heard of the Georgia House, or may have been referred to it only by name but would like to see the menu before trying. Most of the clientele is over the age of 50, so maybe Sean doesn't think this market avails itself of the Internet. Think again, though -- seniors constitute the fastest-growing Internet demographic. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, those age 50 and over experienced a 26% growth rate in home broadband adoption from 2007 to 2008, with half of Americans between the ages of 50 and 64 having broadband now. Some 19% of those 65 and older had home broadband access as of April 2008.

Consider the following possible web searches a hungry diner might conduct. For the tourist who has never heard of Georgia House, but happens to be rambling through Millsboro and has a craving for the regional favorite soup, they might go to Yahoo! on their mobile web browser and type 'millsboro delaware crab soup'. Here's their search result:

In the top 9 results, there's not one hit for the Georgia House, despite it being founded in Millsboro and famous for its cream of crab soup. Is it just me? Wouldn't that be maddening if you were the owner of this restaurant?

On the other hand, consider the diner who may have had a local resident advise them, "You should go to the Georgia House in Millsboro," but they’d like to see the menu, evaluate prices, get directions, and perhaps confirm whether the establishment accepts Discover card. Their Google search might be constructed as '"Georgia House" Delaware menu map'.

In the top 9 results, four of the links do contain info about the Georgia House restaurant, but these specific links are not particularly helpful or flattering to the business.

I don’t understand why the Georgia House would settle for these various pages representing (or, failing to represent) their establishment on the Internet. Maybe some of my readers will have some thoughts why.

Editor's note: As of September 2009, the Georgia House finally established its own web site.

Later in this 3-part series:
Part 2 – The imagery of Hamburger Hank's
Part 3 – Can a wiki directory change the web landscape for an unpublicized restaurant? (Still haven't completed this part, but the attempt to build data was made here.)

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At 2:34 AM, October 23, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay - I'm now I'm really hungry!

At 12:23 PM, November 25, 2008, Blogger BlogRhythm® said...

Well, as you said, the number of people who are using the internet is growing every day. I think sometimes, businesses owners think that the people that would patronize their restaurant are not on the web. As you so well pointed out, that's not the case!

At 8:27 AM, November 19, 2009, Anonymous Paper on Research said...

Many institutions limit access to their online information. Making this information available will be an asset to all.

At 6:02 AM, December 06, 2009, Anonymous dissertation writing said...

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At 10:35 AM, January 27, 2010, Blogger MaldenJen said...

I think the short answer is lack of time and lack of awareness.

Restaurants large enough to have real administrative staff do have websites. But in the case of smaller, or family-run, or single-owner eateries, my experience (when selling web development services) is that although the decision-makers are generally aware of what they could/should be doing regarding online marketing, they either (1) don't know where to start, (2) simply cannot find the time to deal with a web-specific project, or (3) are unwilling or unable to allocate the necessary funds to such a project.

I have spoken with many restaurant owners who are unwilling to spend more than $200 or $300 dollars on a website or online marketing. So of course they don't have a website.

Instead, they waste even that small sum on a listing with a local menu-aggregator service. Often, such services provide listings that are so poor that they include only a low-quality, unsearchable PDF of a JPG image of a restaurant's menu, accessible via a numerical code, and not even by the actual name of the restaurant. The websites where such abysmal listings are posted are themselves often poorly optimized for search, technologically outdated, and seemingly abandoned by their own proprietors.

I have met more than one restaurant owner who, having gone the route described above, honestly believes that he "has a website now," and that he is pretty much on top of the whole online marketing thing.


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