Restaurant Websites: The Heavy Table World Wide Web Wish List

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We’ve reached the point of web saturation where it’s a surprise to find an eatery with no internet presence. Even small cafes with limited budgets often put together free Facebook pages with bare-bones information, although — astonishingly — some people are still not on Facebook. But even if they’re not on Facebook, today’s diners are web- and mobile-savvy, and they increasingly expect restaurants to provide all the information prospective customers want in order to decide where they’re going to spend their dining-out dollars.

Heavy Table staffers — with input from our readers — have found some things that happen too often, and some not often enough, on the web. These aren’t just mild annoyances, but things that can truly irritate visitors to sites — so much so that they may leave the site, and quite possibly avoid the restaurant. Seriously, people are passionate about these things. Listen up, restaurants! We have some suggestions (in some cases, desperate pleas) for you about your internet presence that will make future customers happier and more eager to visit your business.

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  1. The biggest pet peeve in our survey? Restaurants that don’t put their address and hours of operation on their home pages. Please, eateries, we beg you — don’t bury this crucial information in some hard-to-find place. Most people we talked with said this is hands-down the main reason they look up a restaurant website in the first place. The homepage is also a great place to put your external links (Facebook, Twitter, sister restaurants, etc.). Extra page views aren’t valuable if the potential diner is frustrated by not finding your hours. And note: One respondent said she’s stopped bothering with restaurant websites and just looks to Google or Yelp to provide this info.
  2. Provide contact info that actually works. If you have a phone number that someone will answer and then help customers, great. But if your phone line always goes straight to voicemail, or if you provide an email address or a web form and no one ever checks it, that only hurts you.

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  3. On a related note, if you’re going to have a website — and you should have a website — carve out some time on a regular basis to keep it updated. It’s great if you have your hours on the home page, but if the page says you’re open on Mondays and that has changed, it’s going to annoy the person who looked up your hours and showed up on Monday night. Same thing for menus — no one wants to see what your summer specials were in November. Extras like blogs are nice, if you have time to update them regularly. If you don’t? Delete. A blog that hasn’t been updated in 14 months implies that the rest of the site is out of date as well.

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  4. Another hot topic: menus. Please, please, please stop the madness of putting menus in PDFs that have to be downloaded. Stop it. Just don’t. Nobody likes it. Really. Nobody. Except maybe the web development person who billed you for the time it took them to do it. But that’s it. No one else.
  5. That said, please have menus online. If you have more than one menu, have all of them, including happy hour and wine lists, and be sure to include the hours that each menu is available. If your menu changes frequently, and this would be an unreasonable task, then put up a sample — clearly marked as such — to give potential diners some idea of what you have to offer. If your menu changes daily, consider taking a quick photo of it and posting it on your social media, making sure to link to it on your website. This is especially crucial for people with dietary concerns; they want to use your website to see if it’s safe for them to eat there. Don’t make them call and ask.
  6. Also greatly frowned upon: music or videos that automatically start up when the page loads. If you absolutely must have music or video on your site — and neither is necessary for a restaurant — make participation opt-in. Because when forced, many people will turn sound and video off as fast as they can, or leave your site for a quieter one.

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  7. Save eloquence and cleverness for the food. Don’t waste it on the website. You can pour hours into developing lengthy chef bios and long mission statements, but most people will either not read them or will skim them while desperately trying to find the hours. As one respondent said, “I really don’t care about those things, although they seem to feel I should.” As for cleverness, don’t be coy. Be straightforward and use terms people are familiar with. There’s a restaurant out there (Revival, see above) using the phrase “gluten friendly.” What does that even mean? The restaurant is only friendly to people who eat gluten? Why not just say, “We’re not gluten-free” — or “we are” — and be done with it?

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  8. Photos matter. We realize this is a hard one, especially for small eateries on tight budgets. But when you post amateur photos, or stock photos, it cheapens your site and leaves a bad impression. Even if you can afford to have a only a few professional food shots done, it’s worth sacrificing something else to get those photos. A few representative photos of your interior space are helpful, too, so diners can get an idea of how to dress or what to expect in terms of size and ambiance.
  9. If you have live entertainment some or most nights, keep an updated calendar on your site. Diners looking for a quiet evening out will not be delighted to be seated next to the amp for a show they didn’t know about.
  10. Do you sell gift cards / certificates? Of course you do. Does your website help potential customers buy them? It should, or someone searching for a gift may just surf right on to the next restaurant on their list.
  11. The use of Flash. As in, don’t.
  12. Negative space is actually a positive. You don’t have to fill every square inch of web space with text and photos. One striking photo with a brief description can do more to motivate a potential diner than a page bulging with photos and text.
  13. Mobile sites. You can have the best website in the world, but if it’s reduced to unreadable, unsearchable squiggles on a smartphone, it’s not working.
  14. We can’t recommend this enough: Have people who are not your friends and relatives review your site. Good web design companies will recommend usability testing, and there’s a reason for that. Someone who doesn’t know you and has no vested interest in being kind to you will be more likely to say, “Hey, I can’t find your hours, and that Flash you use when the page loads takes forever, which is really annoying.”

Bottom line: Don’t design your site based on what you want people to pay attention to. Instead, pay attention to what people want from your site: simple, clean, basic information, easily found; regularly updated content; with a minimum of (or preferably, no) flashy bells and whistles.



Heavy Table Hot Five: Feb. 10-16

hotfive-flames

Each Friday, this list will track five of the best things Heavy Table’s writers, editors, and photographers have recently bitten or sipped. Have a suggestion for the Hot Five? Email editor@heavytable.com.

shepherd-song-banner-ad-horiz-3The Hot Five is a weekly feature created by the Heavy Table and supported by Shepherd Song Farm.

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Lucy Hawthorne / Heavy Table

Lucy Hawthorne / Heavy Table

1-new - oneMushroom Melt at the New Scenic Cafe
The mushroom melt served at the New Scenic Cafe is worth every minute of the 2.5-hour drive to the North Shore. Between two hearty slices of wholegrain bread, there is a delicious mix of shiitake, maitake, oyster, hon-shimeji and porcini mushrooms, all topped with melted Gruyere and pecorino Romano. Paired with a cup of French onion soup, this meal was the perfect, savory warmup before stepping out into the freezing temps to hike along Superior.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Lucy Hawthorne]

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

2-new - twoRaw Scallops from Grand Cafe
We’d recommend pretty much every selection on Grand Cafe’s final menu, but the raw scallops were outstanding. These shellfish were firm, fresh, and sweet, with just the right amount of fresh dill and finishing salt. The accompanying pommes paillasson were like little French tater tots — warm (but not hot), and a crunchy complement to the slick texture of the scallops. I will miss the creativity that came out of the Grand Cafe and will miss Mary and Dan Hunter the most. They are such graceful, friendly hosts. But as the rumor goes, “there’s something brewing.”  Perhaps closing chef Jamie Malone is taking over?
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Brenda Johnson]

James Norton / Heavy Table

James Norton / Heavy Table

3-new - threePorchetta Sandwich at Smoqehouse
Easily one of the best sandwiches we’ve had in months — tender, full-flavored barbecued pork belly slathered in a bright, garlic-forward salsa verde that perfectly cuts the richness and fat, all balanced on a delicate but structurally sound ciabatta bun that ties the package together. Is it worth the drive to Faribault? Maybe. Is it a must-eat if you’re passing through? For sure.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from a review by James Norton]

Amy Rea / Heavy Table

Amy Rea / Heavy Table

4-new four Cry Baby Burger from Jimmy’s Billiards
The Cry Baby Burger from Jimmy’s Billiards is as feisty as its name sounds. Jalapeño peppers, pepper Jack cheese, and a small but mighty dose of hot sauce will clear those sinuses in no time. Spring for the sour cream for the fries as a heat-reducing dairy product.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Amy Rea]

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

5-new -five Quiche from Dave the Pie Guy
We weren’t looking for quiche when we walked into Dave the Pie Guy’s new location on the 3500 block of Grand Avenue in Minneapolis. That said, the quiche looked appealing. It was, in fact, delicate and creamy. The bacon was generous and savory, and the cheddar cheese on the top was broiled to a crisp perfection. The crust was pretty good, too: flaky with flavor, and not soggy in the center.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Brenda Johnson]



The Porchetta Sandwich at Smoqehouse in Faribault, Minn.

James Norton / Heavy Table

James Norton / Heavy Table

Amid the hobby shops and shuttered storefronts that comprise the Faribo West Mall grows a hopeful green shoot: a relatively new barbecue-focused eatery called Smoqehouse, which is serving one of the best sandwiches in the state.

The dish is a porchetta sandwich, an adapted Italian classic that has become a North Country staple. The Smoqehouse version is a marriage between tender, earthy pieces of pork and the substantial herbal kick of a bright, garlic-heavy salsa verde. Bread plays a critical role, too. The Brick Oven Bakery ciabatta that the sandwich arrives on is light and crispy, substantial enough to hold the thing together, but not so doughy or massive that it buries the flavor within.

“While researching butchery, my husband (Andy Kubes) came across an Italian butcher (Vito Bernabei) who specializes in porchetta,” writes co-owner Heidi Kubes. “He became really interested in the process and made it a few times at home for our family. We knew if / when we ever opened something we would want it to be on the menu. The pork belly is topped with our fresh salsa verde to contrast and enhance the richness of the belly.”

James Norton / Heavy Table

James Norton / Heavy Table

Our lunch companion (a farmer, Tiffany Tripp, from Graise) vouched for the place across the board, and we’re sold on it. Beyond the porchetta are dishes including pulled pork, a brisket burger, and Cajun chicken, plus crispy, beautifully hand-cut fries ($3, or $5 for a large order) that could stand up proudly in a trendy North Loop bistro. The fries are cooked in lard and come with fry sauce (a Utah-beloved mix of mayo and ketchup). The result is heaven on a plate.

Smoqehouse has regional ambitions. Its second location opens in Northfield later this month. The quality food on its streamlined menu merits a visit the next time you’re within detour distance of either spot.

Smoqehouse, 200 Western Ave, Suite C5, Faribo West Mall, Faribault, MN; 507.334.1901. Or 212 Division St, S in the historic Archer House, Northfield, MN (opening soon).

James Norton / Heavy Table

James Norton / Heavy Table



The Tap: February Restaurant Openings and Closings

Banner for the Tap: Food and Drink News

This week in the Tap: A look ahead at upcoming restaurants, notes about spots that have closed, and about those that have recently opened.

The Tap is the metro area’s comprehensive restaurant buzz roundup, so if you see a new or newly shuttered restaurant, or anything that’s “coming soon,” email Tap editor James Norton at editor@heavytable.com.

NOW OPEN

  • Jun, 730 Washington Ave N, Minneapolis | Szechuan gone upscale in the North Loop.
  • Tiffin Man, 1415 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis 
  • Come Pho Soup, Medical Arts Building, 823½ Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis
  • Bearcat Bar, 1612 Harmon Pl, Minneapolis | The former Third Bird is reinvented to be more accessible and affordable.
  • Station Pizzeria, 13008 Minnetonka Blvd, Minnetonka | A former Bar La Grassa chef does upscale pizza.
  • Can Can Wonderland, 755 Prior Ave N, St. Paul | Artist-designed mini-golf with beer, noshes, and Bittercube cocktails.
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

  • Pajarito, 605 W 7th St, St. Paul | Via Dara: Opened by Tim McKee acolytes “Tyge Nelson and Stephan Hesse, most recently of Chino Latino and Libertine, respectively.” Receiving early accolades. Here’s our review.
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

  • Revival, 525 Selby Ave, St. Paul (former Cheeky Monkey space) | A second location for the popular fried chicken spinoff of Corner Table. The original location will also be expanding and offering takeout. Our review of the new location is here.
  • Jellybean and Julia’s, 530 W Main St, Anoka | Barbecue and breakfast!
  • Khun Nai Thai, 2523 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis | A new spot in the old Krungthep Thai space, opened by former Krungthep employees.
  • Esker Grove, Walker Art Center | A Doug Flicker / Culinaire project is the latest crack at a dining solution for the Walker. We recently reviewed its lunch and dinner service.


The 2017 Minneapolis-St. Paul Valentine’s Day Cheatsheet

Courtesy of St. Croix Chocolate Company

Courtesy of St. Croix Chocolate Company

The stakes are higher on Valentine’s Day.

That’s not an endorsement of the holiday, mind you — it’s a statement of the facts. By fiat, we’re supposed to pull some kind of romantic rabbit out of a hat, our moods, resources, and other preferences notwithstanding.

Fortunately, this is precisely the sort of problem that creative restaurants and merchants live to solve. If you are in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, you’ve got options.

Kate N.G. Sommers/Heavy Table

Kate N.G. Sommers/Heavy Table

At the top of our list is a dinner that brings together a few components that we’re always pleased to tout: the culinary firepower of Chef J.D. Fratzke (who designed this menu), the easygoing excellence of beer stronghold Republic, and the artisan brews of Fulton Beer. For $38 (!), you’ll dine from 5-10 p.m. as follows:

SOCIAL — baguette, olives, and butter — paired with Lonely Blonde
SOUP — celery root and black truffle bisque — paired with Standard Lager
SALAD — broiled baby carrots with honey vinaigrette and brie — paired with 300 IPA
ENTREES — paired with Culture Project #1:
pork loin au lait with braised spinach and caramelized onion
or
roasted trout with winter squash and sauce citron
or
vegetable ragout with fried polenta
LE SWEET – Chocolate custard with creme chantilly, cocoa nibs, and Luxardo cherries — paired with War and Peace

This is a stupid good value. Reservations at republicmn.com.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The Kenwood is doing a three-course prix fixe for $55 a guest with optional wine pairings. We can’t say enough good stuff about Chef Don Saunders (above). He dials it in every time. Seatings are at 5:30 and 8 p.m., and check out this first course: a beet veloute with creme fraiche and tarragon-smoked salmon mousseline with cucumber, dill, and roe. Call 612.377.3695 for reservations.

The St. Croix Chocolate Company regularly elevates chocolate into art, so if you’re looking for treats that go above and beyond, this is a good place to start. The artfully decorated chocolate heart box (pictured top) is $7 for the 2-by-2-inch size and $10 for the 5-by-5-inch, and it’s a perfect vehicle for another little something special.

Elsewhere on the chocolates front, B.T. McElrath has a chocolate gift set, normally $36, on sale for $14, which is thrifty as the dickens. And Chocolat Celeste is introducing a new collection for Valentine’s Day featuring raspberry habanero, 64%, blood orange, 74%, ginger citrus, whiskey, and praline.

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

The independent-producer-focused wine shop Henry and Son has a detail-rich post on its blog about wines that pair beautifully with love. Owner Gretchen Skedsvold also writes, “We’re refreshing our 12 Under $12 rack to feature cheap rose wines in honor of Valentine’s Day.”

Courtesy of Bittercube

Courtesy of Bittercube

The Cafe Alma Bar is offering a special Valentine’s Day menu that includes a couple of cocktails by the Bittercube crew. The Old Fashioned Love features Copper & Kings aged brandy, beet syrup, hibiscus-infused Orange Bitters, and chocolate truffles; the Lover’s Carvings is made with Abyss gin, candied rose syrup, Meyer’s Lemon, sparkling rosé, and Bolivar Bitters.

If you’ve got $143 lying around, grab two burgers, two orders of fries, and a bottle of Dom Perignon at Burger Jones. “The Dom is at our cost!” writes Kip Clayton, Parasole’s vice president of marketing.

Courtesy of Minnesota Opera

Courtesy of Minnesota Opera

More affordable than burgers and Dom is the Minnesota Opera Valentine’s Day dinner and live performance at The Dakota. It’s an evening of 20th-century American love songs, featuring (as per the press release) “music by composer William Bolcom, including a preview of Dinner At Eight, his new opera with librettist Mark Campbell, based on the play by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber. Soprano Bergen Baker will be performing a selection from the opera, which will see its world premiere with Minnesota Opera in March.” The dinner is at 6 p.m. It’s $110 a seat and includes some high-rolling tastes like veal aspic, crab Newburg, and leg of duck (there’s also a vegetarian selection).

Courtesy of Nordic Ware

Courtesy of Nordic Ware

We’re all about keeping it real and cooking (or baking) your own V-Day experience for the loved one of your choosing, and Nordic Ware is right on target with these two ideas. First, the 12-cup capacity Tiered Heart Bundt pan is right on the money for a celebratory mid-February dessert.

And the Conversation Heart Baking Pan bangs out adorable cakelets six at a time. Why eat a slice of dessert when you can eat an entire frosted cake? Or two? Or possibly three?

Courtesy of Draft Horse

Courtesy of Draft Horse

Draft Horse just killed it on a pre-Febgiving dinner that we attended this month, so we’re pleased to talk up their Local Lovers Valentine’s Dinner with Dangerous Man and Modist Brewing. It’s a six-course dinner with beer pairings on Feb. 14 from 7-10 p.m., and is $75+tax per person.

Red Stag‘s Cheap Date Night is a mere $36 a couple and features two entrees, dessert and a bottle of wine or a few beers. Hidden Stream Farm St. Louis ribs with baked potato, slaw, and peach barbecue sauce is your meaty entree; the vegetarian option is roasted vegetable lasagna. Reservations available by calling 612.767.7766 or through OpenTable.

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

The adorable Broders’ mini-empire is doing V-Day three ways: $50 three-course prix fixe reservations at Terzo, last-minute, no-reservation dining at the Pasta Bar, and a special Cucina takeout-and-reheat dinner for two for $43 (call 612.925.3113 x4 to preorder for pickup on the 14th).