If there’s one thing about most restaurant websites (whether stand alone or part of a hotel) that really annoys me, it’s having to trawl through a PDF menu on their restaurant website marketing.
I really don’t understand why they do this. This applies to most restaurants but even most 5-star hotels and resorts are guilty of this sinful practice.
There aren’t many websites I go to where I’m forced to download a PDF to view simple text, yet it seems to be such a common thing in the hospitality industry. But it really has to stop! And here’s why.
It makes you look lazy
The only reason you would just upload your menu as a PDF is because you can’t be bothered copying and reformatting it onto your website properly. The food is the main attraction to a restaurant and relegating it to a slow-to-download, paginated PDF is the equivalent of an online store turning their product catalogue into a PDF and making people download it to see their products.
The only thing PDFs are good for is printable contracts and graphic design work. Normal people just deciding where to eat tonight shouldn’t need to be inconvenienced by them.
If you are still aren't convinced, grab your smart phone and navigate to your website then try viewing your PDF menu. Notice how on an Android device for example (depending on your settings) it will actually download the menu in the background and not even display it!
A user then has to have the nous to find the PDF in their downloads folder. Talk about putting up hurdles that shouldn't be there!
It ruins the look of your website
Even if your overall hotel marketing website looks great and is easy to navigate, the moment I hit a PDF download, that whole image is lost. Suddenly, the look and feel of the website is destroyed and I’m staring at a document.
Most people look at enough documents at work, they don’t want to see yet another one when deciding where to dine. And where have all the links gone?
They can no longer get to your home page or your contact page. At best a PDF is bad for navigation, and at worst it’s just an ugly, old fashioned retro-fit that needs to go away right now.
It’s a terrible experience for mobile users
This is actually the biggest problem, and even if you don’t care about the first two points, you surely cannot ignore this one. If half the visitors to your site are on mobile devices, they need to pinch to zoom and pan around an A4-size menu!
How in the world can you sell your food when half your audience can’t even read it properly? It’s simply unacceptable to be asking a mobile user to wrestle with a PDF on a mobile device.
It's not trackable
A PDF can not be inserted with tracking code as a normal website page can. This means it is impossible to track clicks and other possibly important marketing activity.
You might be able to see the number of downloads, but once a user hits the PDF they are all on their own as they are outside your website.
You have just created a dead end
Loading a PDF inside a mobile device (which is what the vast majority of your website visitors will be using) will cause that user to have make the conscious decision to hit the back button on their smart phone to get back to your website navigation.
Otherwise, they have hit a dead end because as soon as they scroll down to the last page of the menu - they have nowhere to go. And on an iPhone there isn't a back button in a nice place anyway, which means it's just easier to hit the home button and do something else!
Your restaurant menu should be on your website and your call to action to make a booking prominently displayed at the bottom. That's how we do it on all Locus Focus hotel restaurant websites we consult on and we wouldn't think of doing it any other way.
A PDF is stale the moment it's created
This one should be obvious, but it's often overlooked. Once someone has downloaded your menu they may go back to this static document that will not be updated. That means the moment it's downloaded - it's out of date.
The benefits of hosting your menu on your main marketing website as a normal page is that with most content management systems such as Wordpress, this content is generated dynamically (from the database).
That means that anyone who has the correct permissions can update and edit the menu, and then the very next visitor to the website (depending on your caching settings) will of course see any changes live.
But it get's worse. Because a PDF is considered a static document by most content delivery networks any updates you made to a PDF may take hours or days to actually get refreshed in their cache.
And if someone has downloaded your menu to their computer or phone, or printed it - then they won't be looking at the latest version of your menu - which can cause all sorts of problems down the line.
It makes it difficult to update your menu
You probably should be tweaking and optimising your hotel restaurant menus all the time, whether it's a single evocative word that helps sell more of that high margin dish or a complete seasonal change.
If there are barriers to doing this (creating and uploading an entire PDF every time) then whoever updates your menu is going to be reluctant to change it as frequently as they should.
Having your hotel or accommodation food menu in PDF form makes it more difficult to maintain.
Google Chrome blocks it from opening
If there weren't enough good reasons to put your hotel restaurant menu inline with your website (preferably on it's own branded website) then this surely has to be the number one reason.
As at April 2017 the current version of Google Chrome is blocking pop-ups to PDF documents. That means the website visitor will click on the PDF and nothing will happen. The browser toolbar will indicate something has been blocked but the PDF will not open without the visitor being made to jump through hoops!
I think you will agree this is certainly not the type of experience you want to be providing prospective guests...
Every website can technically host their own menu
Featuring your menu on your main marketing website as a page instead of a PDF is technically possible for every website, so there really is no excuse not to improve it.
Food and dietary requirements are often a factor when people are booking accommodation. They want to look at the menu quickly and they may also check your hotel's restaurant on TripAdvisor or Zomato before booking a room (by the way).
If the only way to access the hotel restaurants food menu is via a PDF document, you need get that changed immediately. Get your web person to add the menu to your site properly, just like the rest of the hotel website content such as the "functions and events" area which is often guilty of using PDF's for some reason.
This will result in a much better guest experience for people thinking about booking a room, but will also make it easier for checked-in guests to make decisions about where they will eat tonight.
This advice applies to all accommodation providers too, from one room bed and breakfasts to 5-star hotels. If you serve food - you need a menu.
And if you have a menu, it should be easy to digest...
Chris Jack is the editor of Locus Focus and a professional hotel photographer based in Brisbane with over 20 years experience in digital marketing. He also hosts the weekly "Sharper Hotel Marketing" podcast.