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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