In less than 10 seconds, a big percentage of the people who visit your restaurant’s website will bolt. With little hesitation, they will click the back button or type in a new URL. Some will realize that what they are looking for isn’t on your website, but many users who bounce (a web analytics term) will act impulsively, giving up on the website before they find the information they seek. At the end of the day, it is the website’s fault for not drawing these visitors in.

The fact is that most people browse the Internet on automatic pilot, scanning text, photos, videos and websites with their brains half-engaged, until something sparks their interest. About 90 percent of these decisions come from the subconscious areas of the mind where decisions are made in a split second due to past experience, attention-getting features, answers to questions or intriguing visuals or information.

Since most people navigate the internet this way, a website design has to go beyond the substance of the information to how the information is presented. It is the internet equivalent of plating food; the food may taste the same without plating it, but a customer’s desire to enjoy it is less.

Who Are You Targeting?

No matter what kind of information on your website, it has to resonate with the type of restaurant customer you’re targeting. If you’re marketing to a youthful, urban crowd, a picture of a family dinner probably won’t capture the right customers’ attention. Young people enjoying a party and dressed to impress in the trendiest fashions probably won’t attract families looking for budget dining.

A restaurant website conveys a powerful impression even at first glance, but the subtext often defines your brand and affects how customers use the site. Restaurant owners hear lots of information about engagement, but what makes one website engaging while another is difficult to use?

Mind Control 101

You can’t really control people’s brains, but you can give them what they want so that they use your site and respond to your content. It doesn’t take a brain scan to gauge subconscious responses, but it can be difficult to determine unconscious responses. Once people start thinking about their subconscious behavior, it becomes conscious and has different set of rules.

Unconscious behavior tells the real story of how people react. Restaurant websites, which deal with key areas of social behavior and core desires, need to address these subconscious needs. For example, younger customers might want edgier verbiage and sensational visuals, but these attitudes might not extend to layout, design and connectedness. Young customers want easy and obvious ways to share information with their friends and read reviews from their peers.

If your site has tiny text and scrolling features, customers won’t get good images on tiny smartphones. If you own a fine dining restaurant, your website shouldn’t have a lot of flashy colors and fun fonts but should use restrained typography, soft colors and elegant design. If your website’s subconscious signals work at cross purposes with the content, then your site needs work to bring the two areas into alignment.

Your Website’s Subconscious Profile

Every element of your website should be there for a reason, but you also need to consider what unconscious statements your design and content choices convey. Words, pictures, videos, colors and design affect emotions, so taking some time to consider how each element might affect a random customer is worth considering. Do your words support the restaurant’s brand, such as rich and formal for an upscale restaurant or friendly and personable for a neighborhood pub or casual eatery? Other concerns include:

  • Are images relevant, optimized for the Web and mobile devices and of the best quality?
  • Does the site appear cluttered or look busy?
  • Are colors used effectively to make a design statement?
  • Does the most important information appear above the fold (a newspaper term that means on the main website display without scrolling)?
  • Is everything consistent so that visitors can anticipate where to find information?

Website designers understand these principles and apply them when creating websites. That’s why it’s important to choose a designer who understands the restaurant industry and how design elements, visuals and colors affect customers for different types of restaurant concepts.

Conduct a Blink Test

You can get a good idea about your website’s subconscious statement by conducting a blink test. You can’t do this yourself because you’re too invested in the material. Get some friends, customers or staff members to look at your site and various competitor sites. Don’t let them look very long — one second tops. You’re testing for an initial reaction, so that’s all the time you need for people to form a first impression. Ask your test subjects what impressions they get from the site’s design. The answers can be very revealing and go against what you thought your website conveyed.

Find Out What Viewers Do

After getting your test subjects’ first impressions, you can let them study your site (and even your competitors’ sites) more leisurely to see what draws attention, which articles they read first and what sections they ignore or quit reading. Google Analytics records this information in ways that you can access and analyze, so you should conduct a study of visitor behavior if you have an existing website.

Opinion surveys tend to reveal conscious behavior while actions and responses are generated by the subconscious mind. If viewers aren’t spending time on key areas, ordering from your website or calling after their visits, your conscious and subconscious signals are probably at odds, or your content and design aren’t appealing.

Your website should convey consistent conscious and subconscious impressions that match your core audience’s culinary, design and reading tastes. Subconscious signals on your website should attract your targeted customers and make them want to stick around. Only then can useful content and relevant information keep customers on your site and encourage them to visit your restaurant.