Restaurants, Bars & Cafes: Their Websites and Social Media, an Interview with Scott Kilmartin from Online Store Guys
Interviewer: Tim Martin, September 2014. Episode #19 from the NET:101 podcast.
TIM: Hello, and with me today, I have Scott Kilmartin, who’s the Strategy Director at Online Store Guys. Hello, Scott.
SCOTT: How are you, Tim?
TIM: Good. So you’ve got an agency here, Melbourne-based, yeah?
SCOTT: Yeah, we’re about 9 months old. I come from an e-commerce background, and before that I was in hospitality as well, predominantly in the U.S. I and a couple other guys have started a web development company, predominantly building e-commerce sites. We’re only 9 months old, and we’re growing and building sites in various areas. This is how I ended up in this space.
TIM: Excellent. You’re making your present felt. I’ve been following you guys for a few months now and really enjoying your stuff. One thing that really stuck out, and hence this podcast today, was the blog that you posted I think back in July, around bar and restaurant design, which I thought was both amusing and poignant.
You’re out of hospitality originally, and I’ve got a hospitality background, too. But it was amusing in that it rang so true in terms of how bad, generally speaking, a lot of bars and restaurants are when it comes to getting websites up and looking after their websites.
SCOTT: It’s an interesting one. I think as an industry, they didn’t see the real value in the early days of online and having a website. A lot of them didn’t have a website at all for a long time. Then they put one up and probably didn’t know what to do with it. A lot of them also – I don’t know how many websites you count in that space which are predominantly black, a dark background. Because maybe they’re in the bar business and in nightclubs and they’ve got dark interiors. But one of the things that is hard about dark websites in any industry is that they’re quite hard on your eyes; you can’t look at them for a long time.
So that has a lot of impact in my core business, which is building e-commerce sites. There’s some really good data out here that talks about if you’ve got a dark website, then people ultimately, it is hard on their eyes, and they maybe don’t realise they’re doing it, but they leave the website earlier than they normally would’ve. So you’re kind of defeating the purpose of having – yes, you might have a look and feel that you quite like, but if it’s dark, it’s hard on people’s eyes and they’re probably going to go.
That’s probably the first one. The other thing that is really common is that because those guys either didn’t have sites for a long time or slapped up a site, then Facebook came along and they’ve gone, “It’s probably easier for us to put out pictures of the people that were in there on the weekend on Facebook, and they can tag themselves.” So I think the other thing that’s really hurt bar websites and why some of them have been left to die is that a lot of them have gone “It’s just easier for us to run things through Facebook.” So the website’s just been left out there, flying in the wind.
TIM: You and I had this discussion before, that the difference between owned and rented land, having a brand presence on a website as opposed to Facebook – to only have a presence on Facebook, for example, and no website, fairly dangerous thing, yeah?
SCOTT: Absolutely. Facebook can change the terms and conditions, as they do fairly regularly, and you could be left high and dry. So regardless of what kind of business you’re in, I would suggest – you absolutely need to use Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and a whole bunch of those platforms, Tumblr, maybe Snapchat and some of those things as well – but I think having your website as the mother ship means that – if your entire database or your customer list is mostly planted on Facebook and then casebook change the rules and make it harder to be visible, as they’ve done for some of the organic posts of late, then you entire business can change overnight, or your sourcing of customers, or your communicating with customers.
And you didn’t see it coming; there’s not a huge amount you can do about it, and it might take you enormous amounts of work to reconnect with those people or to drag them across from Facebook or whatever it might be to your own site. So having your own presence on your own real estate, as you’ve said in the opening, is absolutely key.
TIM: Go back to the website. You talked about black not being a particularly wise colour choice. A lot of the websites out there that I see still today, in 2014, are in Flash. They’re taking two, three minutes to load to get through the homepage.
SCOTT: A lot of them went down the Flash route because they wanted to do cool things, but one, it looks so dated now. It takes forever to load. As we’ve moved into a mobile world, Apple and Flash don’t get on, so Flash doesn’t look good on your iPhone or your iPad, and most people, when they’re out and about, are using their mobile or their tablets to maybe make that last-minute call, find out some information around where a restaurant is. That might be trying the find the location, the address, “is the kitchen still open?”
And that brings up a couple of issues. One, if it’s an old Flash site, you’re probably not going to see anything on your phone, and that leads us into a lot of websites are relatively old and they haven’t been designed to be mobile-responsive.
Simply, mobile-responsive, all that means is that instead of having to do that pincher movement on your iPhone screen to try and move the website around inside your iPhone to see different parts of it, the actual site has been designed to display in a more concise manner on mobile, which makes it a much better user experience. If it’s been done well, people can find all the things they need on the first couple of pages without having to squint and squeeze the phone around and buttons being too small to press and all those horrible things.
TIM: Yeah, for sure. It seems like such an obvious thing, but let’s go there anyway: the scenario is that I’m thinking of going to a restaurant. Maybe, as you said in our blog post, you got a text from a mate, “Meet us here.” What is the core, the most important information you need as you climb into that taxi and get ready to go and meet your friends?
SCOTT: Put a link in your post afterwards to the blog post. But as I write in the post, imagine you’re in the cab. You’re on the way somewhere. The cab driver doesn’t know where it is. The first things that you want to see on the front of that mobile-responsive site is a phone number. So I don’t have to go down to your Contact page, the phone number’s at the top. The hours of the venue so you know when they’re open. If it’s really smart, even have the hours of the kitchen and maybe even when last call is. So if people are making that dash late night, “Is it worth going across town or is it going to be a disappointment?”
And the other really, really big one is a link to Google Maps. A live link that you can then, when the cab driver goes, “I don’t really know where that is. I don’t really spend much time in South Melbourne or in Prahran” or wherever it might be, you can either show him your phone or read out the actual address to them. If you do those things well – yeah, it’s good to know about parking and what events you have on certain nights, but if you just do those absolute basics, you’re ahead of 95% of the bar, restaurant, café, nightclub websites out there.
TIM: And they are so basic. They seem so obvious as we’re talking about them now. Where does the problem lie? If these owners, managers are getting websites built, are they getting dodgy advice? Are they overriding good advice? What’s happening?
SCOTT: A combination of, generally, small business owners and what they do. If I’m selling bags, then bag design is probably my expectation.If I’m in a restaurant, it’s slinging drinks or cooking food or the day-to-day stuff of the interior. Most people aren’t experts about the web, and so you are relying on advice from people. I guess some people don’t even potentially realise what the opportunity is, so they’re thinking, “I’m in a bar or restaurant. Why is online so important to me?”
And that’s not an easy one-off silver bullet response to that. There are so many things that you want to be able to do. One, you want to be found. Two, you can build community through the social aspects of your site and then use that as a feeder point for the other social platforms we’ve talked about. The stuff with mobile, if you get yourself very organised and if you’ve got tables or booths in a nightclub, you can even have an online booking system that can be usable on your mobile.
So people then know that they can go to a place and there’s still bookings left over and they won’t have to go there and it’s a bit of a random roll of the dice, “Are we going to get in? Is there going to be a table for us when we get there?” If you’re taking bookings through a system on your site and it puts you at such an advantage, it’s saving you people having to ring. People often don’t think that people at bars and restaurants are going to answer the phone late at night, or it’s going to be so loud, they’re not going to be able to get anywhere.
I think the opportunity is really strong. Lots of businesses are taking it up, so if you are a bar or restaurant that do get your online platform really well-situated, I think it can save you some staff and labor hours. It can make you a much more efficient business. You’ll be able to see a lot of traffic to mobile. If you’ve got Google Analytics inside your website as well, you’ll see where your traffic is coming from, see how people are accessing your website, and then using that website to access your venue. And we’re all about trying to get more people in our venue, regardless of what it is.
So I think, to answer your question directly, I think it’s a combination of people having a lack of understanding of the web, and then as an extension of that, maybe not knowing how to develop that, and maybe not having developers that really know the difference between “yeah, we can build your website” but maybe not having comprehension why a mobile-responsive site is so important.
Especially in that industry, where people are out and about on their phone, and their phone is the primary – it’s not like they’re doing all the research in real-time on their desktop at work. They’re probably in the cab on the way somewhere, on the tram or the train or however it is. So they need that information straightaway.
One of the other things I talk about in that blog post is generally people now, regardless of what the industry, are making multi-platform or multi-device decision-making. You might be at work and your friend goes, “Oh, there’s a new place we’ve seen on Broadsheet or Epicure. Let’s go there,” and they might send you a link on their Facebook page, and you might access that through your laptop or your desktop at work.
And then later on it comes to going there, and you pull out your phone and you want to go and find that post, and you click through Facebook again to the venue’s website. You want to make that easy to use because when people are wanting that, when they’re making that click through on their phone, it’s probably when they’re on the way. So making that stuff easy is the key thing to do.
It’s really simple stuff; almost it’s very hard for lots of business owners to think like their customer. “Are people actually using this?” not “how we’d like them to use it,” which is a common mistake.
TIM: Exactly. I’ll tell you something that I really like, is when websites put the TEL tag on the telephone number, which means when I’m looking at it on my mobile phone, I can just tap that with my finger and it opens up the phone app.
SCOTT: I’ve got a friend, a woman who runs a blog here in Melbourne about restaurants. It’s called Melbourne: Hot or Not, and it’s about restaurants and cafes that are opening. Her name is Joyce, and Joyce put a post on Facebook about worn-out restaurants, why their websites are bad, why don’t they put their opening hours up there. We’d love to come spend our money, but…
Especially I think for a lot of people – Joyce is a mum, and if you walk into the mum’s space, where maybe they’re going to meet a girlfriend at a café for morning tea, for them to put a kid or two kids in the car, in a pram and drive somewhere, they want to know as much as they can about that site. Can they see that site? Is it small, is it large? Is there going to be space to park a pram?
Because it’s not that they’re just jumping on a train and going there as a single person. When they’ve got to haul kids and all the other things that come with that, they want to know as much as they can about your venue before they go there, and they’re going to get that stuff off the web and their phone. So you need to cater to that in as many ways as you can to make life easy for them as potential customers.
TIM: Speaking of Facebook, I would challenge a lot of restaurant and bar owners to show me their contact details somewhere within Facebook. A telephone number and street address.
SCOTT: So, so true. It’s the easiest thing; you don’t need a technical person to do it. Update it. The other thing is Facebook makes it easy for you to put your hours up there. Half the time they are winter hours that haven’t been updated for summer, or people haven’t put their hours in it at all. It’s really, really simple stuff to do, and it makes life so much easier.
TIM: I was on a very well-known Melbourne restaurant website a couple weeks ago, and I went to book and the booking engine was broken. I don’t know how long it’s been broken, but certainly not a good look. Are some booking engines better than others? And can you recommend any?
SCOTT: There’s two out there that you see predominantly that tap into slightly different areas of the market. Probably Dimmi is the biggest one for restaurants. Dimmi has really done well in penetrating the restaurant market, and a lot of restaurants and cafes use – their website links off to Dimmi to make a booking.
The other one is more in the restaurant bar and nightclub space, is MyGuestlist. MyGuestlist does a bunch of different things. It can do booking to booths, it can be a guest list where people can have their names at the door and they can have drink cards associated with it, a bunch of things. They’re the two that you’ll see most often.
Again, if I’m a bar or restaurant owner and I have the ability, it’s going to cost you more to put a booking app on your own site that’s not one of them. The upside of that is, though, there’s more expense upfront for you to pay for that and have that booked, but ultimately, you’re not at the beck and call of a company like a Dimmi restaurant booker or MyGuestlist. If they jack up their prices, then it doesn’t affect – they don’t own your database, and you are not at their beck and call if their prices change.
Anyone that’s in the café, restaurant, bar space, there are lots of plug-ins you can get for those websites that allow you to run bookings through your own site and not have to use one of the third party apps. Having said that, though, again, Dimmi are great; they’re pretty cost-effective. MyGuestlist, again, are slightly more expensive, but you get more value if you’re using all the services they offer as a bar or restaurant owner or manager.
TIM: Do they tend to be a one-off expense, or is it subscriptional, transactional?
SCOTT: Most of them are using a model where they are an ongoing, you pay monthly. So you would be paying monthly to use it. It might be $30 through to $120 depending on which level you’ve got. And then some of them take a per-transaction as well, so they will take a clip of the ticket of a booking that’s made.
TIM: Sure. Now, not everybody obviously is going to access a website via mobile. For those on desktop, speak to the importance of photography.
SCOTT: We often talk about business that great photography can hide many sins. If you’ve got great imagery, then it’s that first impression. It’s the striking image that draws people’s eyes in. So I look at that and talk about that as that is your front door of your business. So many more people are going to be accessing you via the web, from a link from Broadsheet or Epicure or wherever it might be. That’s their first opinion.
So they might be making the decision whether they go or not depending on what they think your venue looks like. “Is it a place that people like me go?” So great imagery is fantastic. Imagery of the venue, imagery of people in the venue, imagery of staff that work there. So when you first roll up, there’s that feeling of you already know these people because “I’ve seen their picture online.” That’s a nice homely feel.
And the other thing is having imagery that’s current and updated. If you’ve got old imagery from 5 years ago and people are wearing 5 years ago haircuts and fashions, it dates your site’s look. In the same way that you see bars and restaurants updating their interiors every few years because they want to seem fresh, and the restaurants that get all the press, the ones that are on all the new opening lists, doing a refurb of your place gives you that freshness. So having imagery on your site that gives that fresh feel is going to work really well in your favour.
TIM: Why is it that, on a lot of restaurants especially, you see I’m photography that’s been taken by the owner or the owner’s cousin, and it looks like it has been taken by the owner’s cousin, as opposed to bringing a professional photographer in to do a fantastic job?
SCOTT: The obvious thing to that is upfront cost. It’s perceived value. If I’m going to pay someone a couple of grand to come out here and shoot all these things, it’s expense upfront. Maybe it’s the middle of winter and you’re not as busy as you were, so it’s you really putting your hand deep in your pocket. I think the value that brings you, though, is going to come back in folds.
So having great imagery I think positions you as a brand and a business, and bookcase so many of those sites don’t have either great imagery, or all they do have is the photos of who was in the nightclub on Saturday night, which are kind of Facebook-esque style shots, you’re only showing one part of your business. You want great photos of product, your food, the venue, the table setup, the exterior, and the happy shiny people that are enjoying the experience. It creates that whole picture.
TIM: Yeah, completely. Are you seeing more hospitality-orientated businesses adopting and pushing hashtags as part of their online marketing profile?
SCOTT: I think you’ve got lots of people, especially in a café market. If you use Melbourne as an example, you’ve got lots of late 20s, early 30-something crowd that left a job and opened a café that’s probably pushing out into something like the north of the city of Melbourne. Fitzroy was the only cool part, and then it became Thornbury and then it grows further out to somewhere like Preston.
Those guys are using Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest all the time, every day, and it’s a natural extension for them. We’ve got an owner that are already using those social platforms; by definition, they’re going to use them as well. And then you generally see those businesses that are getting more value out of hashtags and getting more usage around content.
So they’re getting people that will hashtag the name of their business when they show them a picture of them having a drink in there with their girlfriend or food that they’re taking away or whatever it might be, and that business, if they know how to attract those hashtags, can then regram it on Instagram or retweet it on Twitter as well. People like to have their own stuff used, and if it’s a venue that’s using it, it’s a nice little way of patting your customers on the back.
TIM: Yeah, for sure. I think there would be quite a few restaurant, bar, café owners out there that say “Look, I’m actually not on social media. I don’t use Instagram,” but they’re not aware that other people are, and they’re Instagramming the heck out of their business and their food.
SCOTT: Yeah. There are some really good examples. There’s one place called Gelato Messina. They’re a brand out of Sydney; they’ve got I think three locations in Sydney. They opened in Melbourne in November of last year. It was unseasonably cold weather, it was raining. It was cold and wet, and they had a line of a couple hundred people out the front that were there.
And the reason they had found and was aware of that brand was that they had been following them online and knew of them prior to open. They’d seen their friends hash-tagging imagery on that on Facebook or somewhere else to become aware initially.
I think the secondary thing that comes with that is the websites that show the lifestyle stuff, so the café and bar websites like Melbourne: Hot or Not, that blog – Broadsheet is probably another big one. Even some of the smaller sites like Yelp. They’re also following social media and they’re getting their leads from social media. So if they’re seeing lots of people hash-tagging those brands, they’re more likely to be curious and send somebody out.
One thing leads on to another thing, so it has that cumulative effect. But you’re seeing those businesses – there’s some great ones. Chin Chin is a restaurant brand in Melbourne. The guy, Chris, that owned that has recently opened a place called KONG down on Church Street and Richmond. He used the same formula for opening Chin Chin, and they went and replicated it again with KONG. KONG’s on a bit of a dead area of Church Street, but again, it’s the shining light down there. It has been from the day they opened.
TIM: What I do love especially about Instagram is the ability to find out who actually has been in your venue – because if you’re following the hashtag or even the geotag in some cases – and then be able to connect with those people. It’s just amazing.
SCOTT: Instagram is an interesting one. I didn’t think it would blossom in the way it has, because you can’t have live links in there, people can’t click through to your site from Instagram from a comment or from an actual post. And yet it’s still the explosion of photo sharing, especially in Instagram becoming the leader in that space, has meant that it’s the go-to place for people.
Especially you’re seeing a lot of millennials that don’t use Facebook so much anymore, but they all use Instagram. And the fastest-growing area of Instagram is 40-plus-year-old women. So you’re seeing mums that are taking selfies and using Instagram, and if they’re using it themselves and they’re following brands as well on there, so it’s another way for them to find you, track you, make you curious to go to your venue.
TIM: At the end of your post, you raise one really interesting point. I was fascinated to see it then, and delighted. The idea that a venue could have a blog. Blogs have been around for a long, long time, and they’re still alive and kicking. Can you talk to that idea?
SCOTT: Yeah. Blog is probably the least sexy of the social media stuff. It’s not new anymore, so I think it’s one of those things that often gets forgotten. The great thing about blogging is Google likes blogs because it allows your site to have fresh content. So when the spiders come and search, it’s seeing new things, so it pulls you up in rankings.
Also, if people have come back to your site previously and there’s no signs of life, there’s no change of imagery, there’s no reason for them to come back again unless they’re just looking for your address or your opening hours or whatever it might be, having fresh content in a blog means that – the blog might be an article that’s written about the food, the change of menu, new staff, stuff around the local community in your area, but it keeps that freshness.
And I think blogs are a great way for people to both build community, but it’s also giving fresh content that people that are active on the other social platforms can then link back to. “Hey, this is that restaurant I was talking about. Look, they’ve got a new menu. Look, their winter menu is up. They’ve added this; now they’re doing takeaway or delivery.” So blogs are a really easy way for venue owners or managers to update their own website. They don’t have to have a technical ability.
TIM: And of course, because each post has its own URL, those posts can be cross-promoted on their other social media.
SCOTT: Yeah. I guess the two big blogging platforms you most commonly see now are WordPress and Tumblr. Tumblr is fantastic; it’s really easy to set up. It’s one of those set-up-and-go, running with it straightaway. It’s really easy to feed an Instagram post, a picture with a few words, straight through to both Twitter and potentially your Tumblr blog as well.
So it’s one of those ones where an owner can be doing that from their phone. Obviously you want to have other long-form blog posts in there as well, but it’s a really easy one to keep updated. It’s keeping your site fresh.
I think one of the great things about blogs, if you’re about to launch a venue, by taking people through the process of the fit out, putting the menu together, staff hiring, the paint job, the signage going up at the front, you’re building anticipation before you’ve even opened your venue.
And whilst you might not be as successful as something like a Gelato Messina which has got other venues around town that can bring that community with, if you’re just starting and you’re unknown and the area is unknown and you haven’t got a community yet, I think a blog is a great way of building anticipation locally so that when you do open, it’s not just like you open the doors and that’s the first time anyone’s heard of you.
You might have other media tracking you and going, “Great, we’ve been watching you on your blog. We’ll send a journo out there or send a blogger out there to do a report on you.” So blogging, the other great thing is it builds anticipation. So you’re not opening from a cold start; you’re opening with a bit of a job already going.
TIM: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Scott, thank you very much for your time. You and I are going to get together sometime shortly and break bread. Let people know where they can find you?
SCOTT: On Twitter, I’m @scottkilmartin. The business is Online Store Guys, onlinestoreguys.com.au.
TIM: Excellent. And you guys have a cool and groovy Pinterest set of boards happening, too. I’d recommend that as a look.
SCOTT: Yes, we put up great e-commerce and web design, we put up branding and packaging stuff, we put up businesses that we like. We feed our blog into Pinterest. I have a little bit of behind-the-scenes that I always do as well. So I think anyone that’s looking to start, regardless of what kind of business it is, but particularly in the hospitality space, you’ll get lots of good ideas around what is good design, how to use Pinterest, how you can have menu boards up, you can have recipe boards that your crowd can be licking their lips waiting for you to open.
And it’s another platform. They’ve all got different feels to them. People use them for different reasons. If you can learn the rules of engagement on those platforms, I think things like Pinterest and Instagram and Facebook, they’re all slightly different, but if you figure out why people are there, how to find that crowd that’s applicable to you, you can do really, really well.
TIM: Excellent. Nice one, Scott. We’ll talk again soon.
SCOTT: Tim, thanks very much. Appreciate you having me on.
Online Store Guys website, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest
‘Great bar and restaurant website design’ – blog post
Mel: Hot or Not
Dimmi Online Restaurant Reservations