Reinventing Restaurant Websites

How we empower independent restaurants to create their online presence in a way that doesn’t suck.


Going into 2015, we have unparalleled access to unique and independent restaurants. Tools such as Foursquare or Yelp have done a great job bringing us closer to them (and less dependent on chains with larger marketing budgets). A recent article in The New Yorker highlights our return to small businesses (in this case with breweries):

The dedicated craft-beer drinker, once he’s hooked, no longer cares if Coors Light costs three dollars less. Today there are once again thousands of breweries in the United States (more than 3,000, in fact).

Even Fortune reported that small business optimism was at an 8 year high. As someone who can’t stand chains, I find this incredibly encouraging. It’s why we built Happytables: to empower the little guy, be part of their success story. And on a larger scale, help further democratise the restaurant business.

Despite this resurgence of the long tail, restaurant websites are still largely stuck in their old ways. We’re downloading PDF menus, getting blocked by Flash or going on a treasure hunt for opening hours. In a market where mobile dominates daily screen-time, it’s almost ironic how unusable many restaurant websites are.

Bespoke Websites

Restaurants often hire freelancers or smaller agencies to design and develop their new web presence. The challenge here is related to budget what sort of resources a restaurant is willing to give up to make it happen.

Websites require responsive food menus, call to actions, integrations and a wide variety of other information displayed in a manner that respects a certain prioritisation. Above all, they need to be accessible across all devices, which isn’t always a given, such as in the case of this Michelin-starred restaurant below:

Michelin star restaurant leaves us with “This plug-in is not supported.”

Chances are, that come April 21st, I wouldn’t even find the above restaurant organically using a mobile device as mobile-friendliness then becomes a (more important) ranking signal for Google.

With so many considerations that need to be factored in, can a budget of $1000-$2000 really cover all the bases? In addition to cost also comes time; restaurants have to spend hours if not days away from their regular business to coordinate and manage this process. This isn’t ideal for restaurants which are still small or just starting out.

Auto-Generated Websites

On the other extreme of this website building spectrum is another trend: auto-generated websites. When restaurants don’t have a website, online ordering and reservation companies also feel the pain. It hurts their bottomline because there are less eyeballs on their booking or food ordering widgets. Even if a particular restaurant does have a website, it could be months before the widget code makes its way online.

As an example, online ordering company Just Eat has taken a shotgun approach to this by simply registering domains on behalf of their clients and creating (the same) sites. Below a handful of such restaurants:

This provides a band-aid rather than a solution. Restaurants have no control over what is communicated, no way to differentiate themselves. Said differently, the website becomes a subset of the online ordering process. In an ideal world, online ordering should be a subset of the website, and the website an extension of that brand (and ultimately, the restaurant’s story).

Our Solution

When we first launched Happytables, it was a proof of concept built that exposed WordPress and its standard admin interface. It afforded too many freedoms and didn’t necessarily cater to restaurants beyond a few features. Happytables version 2 went in the other direction, taking almost all decisions away and focusing on very linear (yet incredibly accessible) websites. Happytables 3 — launching today — is the product of our experiences and lessons learned dealing with restaurants directly; empowering restaurants to be creative without compromising accessibility, readability and other foundations of web design.

The following is a representation of using Happytables to either build a minimal one-pager or something more elaborate:

I love the unique character that each small or independent restaurant carries. It’s something that’s hard to convey if we’re forcing their websites into strict templates. On one hand, we have essential data (opening hours, phone number, address, etc.), and on the other we have narrative. What is the story and visual impression that the restaurant is trying to communicate to first-time visitors. More importantly, how can we enable non-technical people to communicate that narrative themselves.


“We started building a site three times, but didn’t have the time for design meetings. Now we can easily manage our website using Happytables.”

Owners of Kanaal, who for three years only had their logo on their domain.


Over the past few months, we’ve tried to build the best restaurant website builder that we could and have shipped it today with a number of restaurants already on it.

We’re certainly not alone in this market. We compete with other website builders (Squarespace, Wix, etc.), but do so by putting the niche requirements of restaurants first. Our food menu designs for example provide enough flexibility to represent both short and long, as well as simple and detailed menus.

Use a variety of food menu design options to tailor your online menu.

It’s also important that our tools are accessible to users. We decided to expose front-end editing functionality as much as possible (and only where it makes sense, which certianly isn’t everywhere). The image below is an example of editing the spotlight block:

Front-end editing to bring restaurants closer to content creation.

By providing content blocks which restaurant owners are able to add, remove, reorder and customise, we hope to provide the right balance between good design and creative freedom. It’s certainly not perfect, but goes a long way in providing websites that are quickly built using the restaurant’s brand.

If you know a restaurant in your area that could use a new website, put them in touch with me directly at noel@happytables.com. I’d be glad to see if we can be of help to them as well as mock up a website using Happytables 3 in the process.

By the way, thank you for reading this far, we have a coupon code MEDIUM100 which provides $100 off the annual subscription to the first 100 restaurants that use it.