When I started my company website about two years ago, my only significant website experience was with Squarespace. So when I tried to dive into WordPress, there was quite the learning curve.
I spent a ton of time scouring the internet, trying to figure out how to make my site behave. I’m still not a site building expert by any stretch. But I have picked up some knowledge over the past couple years from running my own WordPress site and blog.
Since most restaurant and venue operators are also not site development experts, I’m sharing what I’ve learned about restaurant plugins and how you can use them to add extra functions to your site.
If you’re new to WordPress, you may be unclear on what exactly a plugin is.
WordPress is a website builder that’s designed to be flexible. Unlike Squarespace and other “block-style” site builders that have all their functions built in, WP allows users to add the features they need through add-ons called plugins, without knowing how to code.
A plugin is a program that you add on to your WP site to give it a new capability or function. These programs can be visible to the end user, displaying your food and drink menu or your Instagram feed. Others run behind the scenes, helping you to optimize your blogs for SEO or keeping your images small so they don’t slow down your website.
Some of these programs are free, and others charge a monthly or one-time fee. With over 50,000 available plugins, there’s nearly always one available that provides the function you’re looking for.
Restaurant Menu Plugins
When you work with WordPress, you’ll find that maintaining your formatting without a plugin can be a challenge. This is especially the case in these days of responsive design, with websites that reorient themselves based on the size of your screen.
Using an up-to-date plugin ensures that your menu layout will be neat and clean on desktop, tablet, and smartphone. They’ll keep your spacing accurate, your pricing where it belongs, and make sure the menu is readable on every device.
Remember Kate’s #1 rule for restaurant websites — No PDF menus!
There are several plugins that can help you create attractive restaurant menus on your site. A few popular options:
WPPizza (good for more than just pizzerias)
These menu programs both offer free versions, with additional functions if you upgrade to paid options.
Online Ordering Plugin
If you’re not offering online ordering, you’re missing out on income. I’ll never push a restaurant to get in bed with the third-party delivery platforms. But an online ordering system for to-go orders removes a big barrier to purchasing. Don’t underestimate how much Millennials (like me!) hate making phone calls.
Both Five Star Restaurant Menu and WPPizza have online ordering built in, so you won’t need another plugin if you use one of these services for your restaurant menu.
But if you want something more robust, you can go with an option that has more features. These usually (but not always!) come with a higher cost. And of course, you’ll have to work out the logistics of online ordering with your POS.
GloriaFood has an easy online menu and ordering interface that can be set up in just a few minutes. Plus, it’s FREE.
There are also online ordering platforms that aren’t plugins, but operate independently and integrate with your WP site. Check out MenuDrive and Restolabs as good options.
Restaurant Reservation Plugin
Some of the above menu plugins have extra features, letting you offer online reservations, add food menus, and provide online orders all from the same plugin.
Five Star also has a reservation form plugin, which will let you keep your programs separate but will keep the overall look of the site cohesive.
If you have an account with an online reservation service like OpenTable or Resy, you can embed a custom code into your website to allow your customers to make their reservations from your site. The implementation process will vary based on your reservation platform.
Overall Performance Plugins
Beyond the restaurant-specific plugins, there are some more general programs that every WP user should activate to keep their site operating at its best.
Start with UpdraftPlus. This is a program that you can automate to create safe backups of your site at regular intervals. It will provide protection in the event of hacking, buggy plugins, or if you want to migrate your site. I have UpdraftPlus set to back up my site every week and download the files to cloud storage.
Next, you’ll probably want an image optimizer. This is a program that will compress your images so they’ll load faster and slow down your site less. I use Smush because it’s free, but there are others like Optimole and Imagify that may work better (at a cost.)
Finally, most sites will need a caching plugin. Every time someone visits your website, it pings the server, which must then process that request, which then sends the resulting page back to the user. Caching lets the server store some of that information to the browser’s RAM, so it can pull it up locally instead of sending the request all the way back to the server in the future.
It makes your web pages load much faster, which creates a better user experience and can help your SEO.
How to Add Plugins to WordPress
So what do you do with all this plugin info?
Head to your WP Admin dashboard, and click “Plugins” on the left. Then click “Add New” up at the top.
From here, you can search for the plugin you want to add, click “Install Now” and then click “Activate.”
Some of these programs will show up in the dashboard sidebar, easy to see. Others will (annoyingly) live within other menus. For example, UpdraftPlus sits inside the Settings menu. So you may have to click around a bit before you’re able to find each one.
A Word of Warning
There are some potential downsides to adding plugins to your site. Anyone can create a plugin, and spoiler alert: they don’t all know what they’re doing.
Some can slow down your website considerably. And a slow website will lead to users abandoning it before then see a single menu item. Check the reviews to make sure you don’t see reports of buggy code or major site slowdowns after install.
Next, look for plugins that have been recently updated — at least within the past year. Older programs may have security flaws that make them a potential doorway into your site’s backend. They also may not be compatible with the current version of WordPress.
And always do a backup before making any major changes to your site!