Restaurant website on a laptop
Hospitality Marketing

Why the PDF Menu on your Restaurant Website Has To Go

Setting up a restaurant website can be a bit of a challenge for the less technically savvy. Even the user-friendly website builders like Squarespace and WordPress take a bit of getting used to. 

But some restaurant operators think putting your menu on the website is the easiest part. Just slap a copy of your menu PDF up there and you’re good, right? 

Negative.

I get it — uploading a PDF is the quickest and simplest way to keep up with menu edits. Every time you reprint the menu, just replace that PDF with the new print file and you’re done.

Plus, your PDF menu has your branding and graphic elements on it already. You paid someone to design the menu, so why not get the most possible use out of it?  

Here’s why.

PDF restaurant menus provide a terrible user experience

Most people who consider visiting your restaurant will check your website first. One estimate says 77% of potential customers will look online; another says 90%

They’re on your website because they want to see what’s on the menu. And 30% of those visitors report being discouraged from going to a place because the menu is hard to read. 

“But Kate,” I can hear you protesting. “My PDF menu is a dream to read! I’m looking at it right now!”

On a computer, yes. But on a mobile phone, PDFs can be a nightmare. If they’re embedded on your site, they often appear tiny when viewed on a phone’s small screen. So users have to “pinch out” to zoom. Then they have to scroll all over the PDF to read everything. 

PDF restaurant menu
This is completely unreadable.

A whopping 61% of Google searches were mobile at the end of 2019. And 84% of local searches on a smartphone are looking for nearby restaurants. People rely on their mobile devices to help them find somewhere to eat. And if your site isn’t providing the answers they want, they’ll go somewhere else.

Just look at this screenshot from one of my actual restaurant clients: just under 70% of their website traffic is from a mobile device. Only 24.6% of traffic is on a computer.

Round graph showing 69.% of a restaurant's web traffic is mobile

And this restaurant’s clientele isn’t all Millennials, either. A full 39% of their web traffic is from customers over the age of 35. 

Graph showing 39% of a restaurant's website visitors are over 35

PDF restaurant menus can hurt your search engine rankings

PDFs take longer to load than HTML content. And in the world of well-optimized websites, it’s all about speed. 

A slow-loading website is a sign to Google that your site doesn’t provide a good user experience. Google’s algorithm penalizes slow sites and rewards fast ones. So if your main competitor has a website that’s faster than yours, they have a better chance of ranking on the first page of Google search results.

Slow loading sites are also kryptonite to your users. As many as 53% of website visits are abandoned if the user has to wait more than three seconds for the site to load. And high abandonment is another factor in Google’s ranking algorithm. 

If users visit your site only to leave it within seconds, Google infers that the page doesn’t answer the search query. If the query was “best Chinese near me” and your web visitors keep abandoning your site because it won’t load, Google can push your website further down in the search results for that term. 

Finally — and I don’t want to get too technical here — HTML may be better for web crawlers. 

Crawlers, aka spiders, browse the internet to figure out what’s there. These little digital creepy crawlies find keywords and phrases in your content. To put it very simplistically — if a web crawler sees that you have migas on your menu, and someone in the area searches for “migas near me,” your migas emporium will probably appear somewhere in that search result.

Web crawlers are able to see the data in a website’s HTML very easily. And while they can usually read content in PDFs as well, your PDF has to be searchable. PDFs also lack other important metadata that Google looks for.

Just skip ‘em. 

What to do instead

We want a nice, clean, responsive website menu. “Responsive” just means that the content will automatically reformat itself based on the viewer’s device — desktop, mobile, or tablet. 

Example of a responsive restaurant menu on desktop, laptop, tablet, and mobile
Responsive website design from Fribly.com

If you have a custom web designer: 

  1. Ask them to add a responsive HTML menu, and then,
  2. Fire them for ever uploading a PDF restaurant menu to your website in the first place.

But if you have to set it up yourself, there are a few ways to do it — no coding necessary.

WordPress

Depending on your WordPress theme, you may already have access to a template for a well-formatted, responsive menu to your website. Astra’s “Italian Restaurant” theme and Themify’s “Ultra Restaurant” both come equipped with menu templates. 

If your theme doesn’t include a menu page, you’ll just need to download a plugin. There are plenty of options, like Five Star Restaurant Menu or MotoPress Restaurant Menu. Different plugins offer varying degrees of customization. And some also offer online ordering,

Squarespace

There are some plugins available for Squarespace, but there isn’t a dedicated marketplace for them the way there is for WordPress. You’ll be better served by using one of Squarespace’s restaurant themes, rather than trying to add a menu option later. 

Once you have your site set up, you’ll just need to add a Menu Block to a page to start your first menu. Then follow this tutorial to set up the formatting. 

Wix

LIke WordPress, Wix has lots of optional add-ons. But instead of calling them “plugins,” Wix calls them “Apps.” One of those apps is called “Menus,” and it’s exactly what it sounds like. You can create unlimited menus, including descriptions, images, and pricing. 

If you install a couple “Restaurants apps” on your site, you’ll get a Restaurants tab on your dashboard. This is where you’ll be able to manage your restaurant specific apps.

For any other website builder like Weebly or GoDaddy, just search for “Website builder restaurant menu” to find a tutorial. 

If you need help updating your website with an HTML restaurant menu, let me know. I’m no web designer, but I’ve been around the block with Squarespace and WordPress a few times!

A PDF of your restaurant menu may be easy, but it does more harm than good. Learn why it's not a good choice, and what you should do instead.

Header photo Igor Miske on Unsplash

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