In the whirlwind of stress involved with operating any business, a new website is usually one of the last things an overwhelmed restaurant owner has on their mind. When your entire life savings is on the line, the website becomes item #137 on the list of concerns behind, “sign up for Instagram.”
Once you’ve picked the restaurant location and purchased the website domain name, building the website should be the very next thing on your list.
Here’s why you need the best website possible for your business.
A well-designed and maintained, responsive website is one of the few marketing assets that will actually save AND make your restaurant money. Unlike other marketing channels, especially social media.
Websites also happen to be ground zero for your first impression.
Building a loyal audience of customers begins and ends with a website that can capture your (potential) customers’ information, their preferred method of contact, and even their delivery/takeout orders.
So, how much does a website like this cost? Stop right there.
There is a better question that you need to ask yourself: “What can my website do for me with a budget of $_____”?
Let’s explore how our options and decisions change based on our budgeted investment.
Website Budgets by Tier
Tier 1: $0 – $5,000 ← off the shelf templates + Squarespace
Tier 2: $5,001 – $15,000 ← custom design with basic content management
Tier 3: $15,001+ ← custom design with phased launch + online ordering
That’s it! If all you wanted to know was the bare minimum, then you can stop reading here like most restaurants do. That’s how so many restaurants end up with $50/month or $50 template brochureware websites.
Most of these sites also seem to never add new functionality or new content except the occasional update to the homepage, centered, in all caps text letting the public know that they’re going to be closed on Easter…
Despite what the social media ad sales trolls will tell you, your website can be the biggest provider of new customer leads and online orders for pickup and delivery — not GrubHub or Facebook or Instagram or anywhere else.
Maximize your spending on assets that make money for you. It’s investing 101. Your restaurant marketing strategy should be no different and the more you can budget for a website that can generate revenue for you, the better.
I acknowledge that not everybody has an extra twenty-five grand to spend after a full-scale venue buildout, permits, licensing, and rent.
So let’s begin with the beginners budget of anywhere from $0 to $5,000.
1. Beginners Website Budget $0 – $5,000
Despite wanting to tell everyone to spend at least $25,000-$50,000 on their website, a typical small business simply will not have that kind of capital when starting out.
Options like Squarespace or mass-marketed WordPress templates are accessible and appealing at this budget level. These are low cost and low risk as long as you don’t mind doing some work yourself.
These sites may not generate much revenue for your business and aren’t likely to build you an audience of loyal customers, but they’ll get the job done. They look professional enough and they’re sufficient for people Googling your hours or menu.
Using proper security measures in the code, maintenance, and management is critical to keep your site safe and operational.
What are the tradeoffs of low-cost websites?
Your website will look like a cookie-cutter, off-the-shelf template, just like 100 other restaurants in your area. You didn’t get in the restaurant business just to be like every other restaurant did you?
Templated or hosted sites tend to break or fall apart over time and become too hard to use for the restaurant managers themselves. For example, a feature you rely on may stop working or could be completely removed after an update. What will you do then?
These drawbacks will have you writing $5,000 checks down the road for fixes or improvements.
Low-cost websites aren’t really low cost
Getting the website right is as important as getting the menu right because most people are checking you out online before trying your food.
Without a website that you can direct people to, the critical marketing process can’t begin, which is paramount to a successful opening.
2. Intermediate Website Budget $5,001 – $15,000
A professional restaurant launch should begin with a “micro” site, a simple single page with the restaurant logo and a signup form.
A good website lives in phases, evolving over time from a single page microsite to a multi-page “brochureware” site and ultimately into a frequently updated content hub with full-fledged e-commerce capabilities for online ordering and pickup, selling merchandise, family meals, catering, and even tickets for special events.
In the intermediate budget range, you can expect to get the high-quality brand and design work you’ll need to establish your restaurant brand.
You can get the microsite and even the full brochureware site at this level but the full online ordering and e-commerce functionality may have to wait. Those features have a tendency to add up in cost from the setup, configuration, and testing of the online ordering system and menus.
The cost for a microsite by itself should be anywhere from $1,500-$5,000 since it takes just a few hours to add a single page with a logo and a newsletter/text message sign up form.
Phasing in website features
Try to take a phased approach to your website project. Begin with the microsite and work up to a larger brochureware website. That way, the intrigue about your restaurant and the “audience building” process starts the day you put up the “under construction” sign at your location.
I’ve been part of a restaurant launch project that had 2,000 names and emails before we even served a single brisket!
A multipage brochureware site with a custom design and some level of content management starts somewhere around $5,000 and can be as much as $15,000. These may not include much custom design, but they do a fine job of getting a restaurant’s main message out there with its unique brand identity and soul.
The upper end of the range will give you the ability to manage your own content. You will be able to publish podcasts, blog posts and make important announcements any time you need, for instance, announcing restaurant closures or updates to your offerings due to that bastard Covid-19.
3. Advanced Website Budget $15,001+
If you’re interested in custom design and development including some level of custom functionality, plan to spend between $15,000+ and $50,000. For that you can get just about all the functionality you could dream of for a restaurant.
Let’s continue our theme of the phased approach.
A project that creeps up above $15,000 in cost is something you should develop and invest in over time.
With multiple restaurant locations, or a full-service restaurant that also handles online orders and catering, it’ll likely take at least six months for the chefs and accountants to figure out your food and delivery costs to keep the restaurant operation profitable.
The additional costs above $15,000 are going to come from:
- Custom design work to get the restaurant branding looking just right and built into a content management system that’s easy to edit by the restaurant
- Testing and integration of complicated functionality like e-commerce ordering for delivery and pickup, or a store locator for many restaurant locations
Venue owners who invest in branding their own content management system up front can always add additional functionality at a later date, just like a restaurant operator would add a lunch service or catering well after their grand opening.
This additional functionality could expand to include:
- Online ordering
- Merchandise sales
- In-venue ordering, which would reduce need for 3rd party services\
The fact that a restaurant owner no longer needs to direct its customers to another brand for their ordering allows them to focus on selling one brand, their own.
Covertnine has built hundreds of websites over the years ranging in cost from $500 to $150,000, and the sweet spot for a single restaurant venue tends to be somewhere between $5,000 and $15,000.
If you can, we’d suggest building a relationship with a local design or development team as you may find that launching your concept in a phased approach will help spread out the costs over the period of a year while the business is scaling up.
This allows your site to grow with you, only adding functionality as you need it. You could always throw in the entire kitchen sink up front but you may find that you didn’t need to.
If you’ve already had a few websites built for your business, then the next time around is a good time to work in some new operational steps like pickup/delivery orders, or offering catering orders on your site.
The extra revenue from catering and additional savings from doing direct online ordering for delivery will be the difference between going bust when the weather is bad or when there’s a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.
-Article by contributor Tim Toomey of Togo and Covertnine
Meet Togo, a delivery and pickup focused e-commerce solution for restaurants, breweries, and dispensaries