An inexpensive and effective way for a cafe to promote itself is by creating a web page. People looking to find a new coffeehouse in the neighborhood or while traveling will often start their research on the Internet. However, what should be a straightforward way to promote a business often turns ugly. The vast majority of web sites devoted to the local coffeehouse are failures. They lack information, design, and are rarely maintained. This article is set up to discuss what elements should go into designing a web site for cafes.
Information Checklist – The Basics
90% of the battle is being able to completely describe a cafe from a web site. What information belongs on a cafe web site? There are all too many examples of cafes that try to be cool before being functional. Get the following basics down before you get fancy:
- Location – Provide an address, phone number, and map for each location.
- Hours – Post the hours of operation for each day of the week. If you are closed on Sunday, let the web surfers know before they drive across town to try your espresso.
- Pictures – A picture is worth a thousand words. Take photos of the outside, the inside, and even the staff. Invite the users into your cafe from the comfort of their browsers.
- Menu – This is very important. EVERY coffeehouse web site should include a full drink and food menu. With a web site you can do things that aren’t possible with a chalk board menu inside the cafe. Describe the drinks. Take a photo of each of the desserts. In my opinion, you should also list the prices.
- About the business – Tell the readers what makes the cafe unique. Do you have a one-page history that you can share?
- Press – If your cafe is any good then at some point it has been mentioned or reviewed in the local newspapers. Share those reprints on the web site. Tell the user about any awards the cafe has won.
This sidewalk board shows hours, wifi status, the roaster and highlights a menu item. Are are these data points on the website?
Once you’ve tackled the basics on the website, include some more elaborate features. The following are but a few ideas:
- Promotional Items – Offer coupons on the web site as a way to bring in the casual surfer. Last week, I visited a Las Vegas micro brewery because they offered a “free beer” coupon on their web site.
- Employment Opportunities – Is your cafe hiring? Devote a page to open positions with job descriptions and qualifications. Don’t forget to post the URL in the cafe. Maybe one of your customers is seeking a part-time position.
- Webcam – Let the surfer peek into the cafe in real time. This should only be done if there is a commitment to maintain a live connection and the staff is trained on how to work the webcam.
- Staff Extranet – Develop a secured extranet to enable employees to log in from home to check schedules, access training manuals, and do issue tracking. Is there a procedure checklist that needs to be shared? Allow employees to make vacation requests and trade hours from a secured web site.
Design – Colors and Fonts
Ideally, you should create a web site that looks as visually stimulating as the cafe itself. Starbucks matches the same colors and fonts on their web site as they do in their cafe. That isn’t by accident. If your coffeehouse is brick, then don’t use purple as your background color on the web site.
Paying for a top-notch professional who specializes in graphics for the Internet isn’t always an option for many small businesses. Too many novices make cluttered web sites with background images, loud colors, and obnoxious music. Many cafe owners will spend thousands of dollars furnishing and designing the interior of the coffeehouse and then spend nothing to capture the look and feel of that cafe on the web site. A beautiful cafe should never be reduced to a FrontPage template. To those trying to do graphics themselves, my advice is to keep it simple. Use 2-3 colors, a consistent font, and easy navigation.
As with any web site that holds data, there must be a commitment to maintain the site. Did you discontinue a line of desserts? Are you opening an hour later on Saturday? Are you closed on a national holiday? The web site needs to accurately reflect these changes.
From a June 2000 review of Xando cafe:
Is the site being updated? Last night I walked by the Xando in the Old Town section of Alexandria, VA that isn’t listed on the site. As new Xando locations open, the web site should be updated.
Four months later, that information still hasn’t been updated. Anybody planning a trip to the DC Metropolitan area looking for a coffeehouse near Arlington Cemetery will blindly stumble into Starbucks, because they won’t know about this local gem. Meanwhile, Starbucks meticulously maintains their web site.
Creating a functional web site for a coffeehouse is not very complex. Sites can stand out from the crowd by merely providing users with basic information surrounded by a simple, consistent design. These basics, combined with a commitment to maintain the site and a vision of the website as a tool for both customers and employees, will make the web site an asset for all involved.