Theme of the Crop | Marketing, Workflow & More for Restaurant Websites
Theme of the Crop provides carefully-designed WordPress themes and plugins that help attract customers to your café, bar or bistro. A blog all about building better restaurant websites, with smart marketing strategies, workflow tools and product updates to help you succeed.
I see a lot of restaurant websites. I see websites built and managed by the restaurant owners themselves. I see websites built by web developers hired by the restaurant. I see websites that have been custom-built and I see websites that have been cobbled together from whatever tools are available.
But there’s one thing that all of these websites have in common: they’ve all been built on a tight budget.
That’s not a surprise. Profit margins in the restaurant industry are tiny, and most restaurateurs hang on to every penny they can. Who can blame them? But as it goes with a restaurant’s food prep, dinnerware or interior design, so it goes with a website: when you finish a job on-the-cheap, it’s going to have some rough edges.
The issue I encounter the most on the restaurant websites I see is poor performance. Most restaurant websites take too long to load. Even when a site seems to load quickly at home, it’s painfully slow when you’re away from your wifi, loading it up on your phone.
This is a problem that’s not always very easy to see. Slower websites appear lower in Google search results, but how do you know how much you’re being penalized? We know that visitors abandon slow websites, but how many customers are you losing?
It’s even harder to diagnose the source of your problem. Every website is slow for different reasons. Some say bad web hosting can be an issue, but is your host one of the good ones? Bloated plugins can slow your site down, but how do you identify the worst offenders? Automated tools help, but unless you know what you’re doing, it’s not always easy to determine how you can improve your site’s speed.
That’s why I’m really excited that my friends over at WP Site Care have introduced a new service: SiteCheck. They’re offering personalized audits of your site, with simple, actionable checklists of things you can do to improve your site speed, security and stability.
They gave me a look at a sample report and I’m impressed. Their audits are thorough, the reporting is detailed, and the actionable steps are clear and helpful. Each report is broken down into sections, covering everything from your web hosting to the plugins you’re using:
Each report section includes a summary for quick info at-a-glance:
And if there are any issues they recommend you address, they’re provided in a short, actionable list:
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while now, you may remember WP Site Care. I interviewed Ryan Sullivan, the head of the company, a couple years ago about their concierge site maintenance service. Their new SiteCheck service is a great addition for restaurateurs who are working on their website themselves to cut down on costs.
If you hurry, you can get an audit of your site for $299, a $100 discount on their regular price. This price won’t be around forever, so I’d encourage you to act on it soon.
If you’ve purchased one of my products, you now have a user account with Theme of the Crop that you can access to manage your purchases. Once logged in, you’ll be presented with a list of all downloads you’ve purchased in the past.
Below that, you’ll find records for each of your purchases, with links to the Purchase Receipt as well as your license keys.
Managing your License Keys
When viewing the License Keys for one of your purchases, you can see whether it’s been activated and on which site(s) it’s been activated. This is useful if you activate the license on a development site, like dev.mysite.com, and forget to switch your license activation over to the live site before you delete the development site.
When your License Key has expired, you’ll find a link here to quickly renew it.
Today I released updates to The Spot and Plate Up. These updates bring many of the lessons I learned building Luigi back into the rest of my theme collection, integrating with carefully-chosen, best-in-class plugins for events, typography and contact forms.
This is a big update with new features, changes to my pricing and a long farewell to one of my themes. If you’re an existing customer, be sure to read to the end for important information.
Since I released my first theme, I’ve struggled to find an events plugin for WordPress that I felt comfortable recommending.
Many of the most popular options out there were bloated, slowed down your site, offered the wrong features for restaurants, or led to endless maintenance nightmares because they changed too much from version to version.
After much searching, I finally found Event Organiser. It’s lightweight, easy-to-use, and is highly customizable so that I can really make it fit in with each of my themes.
Both The Spot and Plate Up now come with complete integrations so you can manage events easily on your site.
The free plugin offers everything most restaurants will need out-of-the-box. But there are several commercial addons available if you need something special, from simple CSV import to Google Calendar integrations, booking forms and more.
(And if you dabble in code, the plugin has amazing documentation.)
Custom typography ready-to-go
When you’re building a website, the fonts you choose need to match the character of your restaurant, cafe or bar. But in the past it’s been far too difficult to tailor these choices to fit your needs.
There are plugins out there that can help, but you still need to spend a lot of time figuring out the right CSS selectors or working with child themes.
Luckily, Typecase, by the amazing folks at UpThemes, has a smart solution for that. They let me register all the right CSS code for you, setting up specific parts of the site.
Now all you need to do is find your preferred Google font and you can quickly apply it to one of the font slots I’ve configured in The Spot or Plate Up. You never have to see a single line of CSS — or even know what CSS means.
Here are a bunch of options I threw together with just a few clicks.
Those styles aren’t going away, but I’ve introduced additional support for Ninja Forms.
Ninja Forms is my preferred contact form plugin going forward. It may be overkill for many restaurants — it has a lot of options — but they’re soon rolling out big improvements which will make building forms much easier.
And if you need them, they have commercial extensions that integrate with mailing lists, take payments, accept file attachments, and tie into all kinds of workflow tools, from Trello to Slack.
Most restaurants won’t need these features, but I think it’s important that your tool-set can grow with your needs. Ninja Forms is the best contact form plugin I’ve found that marries features with performance and usability.
New pricing rolling out soon
Soon I’ll be increasing the price of The Spot and Plate Up to $79, matching the cost of Luigi.
In addition, I’ll no longer be bundling Food and Drink Menu Pro with each purchase of these themes. It will need to be purchased separately (for now — I’ll be rolling out more exciting bundles soon).
This is a price point I’ve been working towards for some time, but I wanted to ensure I was bringing value to these themes that justified their increased price.
I know my themes cost more than most that you’ll find on the market. But I work hard to ensure that they bring real value in places that other themes don’t, from their ease-of-use to their careful focus on local SEO and successful marketing strategies for restaurants.
If you’ve got an existing license to renew, you can save a bit of money by doing it before the price increases.
You may have noticed that CafeCultura is no longer available for sale. It has been retired.
All customers now have lifetime licenses so that you’ll never need to renew your theme. But I’ll only provide important maintenance or security updates.
What does this mean for you?
For now, you won’t see any change. I’ll continue to support CafeCultura for 12 months, making sure that it works well with any new versions of WordPress, and keep it running with the existing plugins it is designed to integrate with.
What you won’t see are any new features being brought to CafeCultura. After 12 months, I’ll do my best to monitor any vital security updates. But I won’t keep up with rolling changes in third-party plugins.
Customers who want to consider switching their site from CafeCultura to one of my other themes can request a free license any time in the next 12 months.
It’s never nice when a product is discontinued, and I haven’t taken this decision lightly.
I’ve learned a lot in the years since I started building commercial themes and plugins for restaurants. Today’s updates were, in large part, about applying some of those lessons to my previous themes, making sure that customers are getting the best restaurant websites I’m able to provide.
Building and maintaining a product like a theme or a plugin is a careful balance between making things as easy as possible for users and still giving them tools that help them accomplish their needs.
CafeCultura was my first attempt. I didn’t get everything right. I’m still getting better at this every day.
But after two-and-a-half years of looking at how customers were using my themes, and the sites they built with them, I’ve decided that it was too difficult to make a great-looking website with CafeCultura that really served a restaurant’s needs well.
I’ve seen some great websites built with CafeCultura. But these were the exceptions, and they were often deployed by designers or professionals who invested a lot of time in getting the content just right.
I took a hard look at CafeCultura and I decided I wouldn’t be able to get the user experience where I wanted it to be without making changes that would break customers’ existing sites. And that’s just not an option.
So from today CafeCultura is officially retired and twelve months from now it will reach it’s end of life.
Today I released Augustan, a theme for restaurants with a traditional elegance. Augustan has a classic color palette, refined typography and simple, bold lines that are great for high-class restaurants.
Today I released , an addon for Restaurant Reservations that allows you to send your booking notifications in beautiful email templates. These well-tested, mobile-friendly HTML templates will help you put forward a more professional impression when your customers make a booking.
Using the customizer
When you’ve installed and activated the addon, you can edit all of your booking emails in the customizer. This gives a live preview so that you know what your emails will look like as you upload your logo, change colors and select a template.
Four well-tested templates
The addon comes with four beautiful templates. Whether your restaurant is serious or playful, sophisticated or conversational, you should be able to find a template that fits.
Each design is based on an extensively tested template from Litmus, an industry leader in email testing, so you can be confident it will look great wherever your customer opens the email.
Increase in the bundle price
I’m releasing at a price of $30. But you can also get it in the bundle of all Restaurant Reservations plugins. To reflect the increased value of this bundle, I’ve increased the price to $59, an increase of $10.
Go get it now or let me know what you think in the comments.
Matt’s network is full of developers who work with clients to build great websites every day. They can be a jaded bunch. Some of them used it as an opportunity to joke about the awful websites they see every day.
@mattmedeiros stock photos of diverse business people coming together and laughing about nothing. That works every time.
These are some of the things I often see most prominently displayed on restaurant websites. Why do I call these inverted priorities?
None of them are what your visitors really want when they land on your website.
When a potential diner arrives at your website, they’re on a mission. Let’s group your visitors into three buckets. It won’t be all of your visitors. But it’s probably a bunch of them.
Bucket 1: The Already Committed
A lot of visitors to your website are probably already committed to your restaurant, cafe or bar. Maybe they’ve dined before and just want to make a booking for the night. Maybe they’re meeting a friend and want to find out where you are. Maybe they’re booking an event and want a number to call so they can iron out their details.
In each case, they don’t really care who you are. They’re looking for the quickest way to find out something simple about your restaurant.
Bucket 2: The Want-To-Be Committed
These visitors are hungry. They’re probably looking at a bunch of your competitor’s restaurants or cafes at the same time. They’re blowing through a list of potential places to go and they want to be won over as quickly as possible.
These potential customers might care about who you are. But they don’t want to read a long story about how your restaurant was founded. They want to know what’s on the menu, whether or not it’s in their price range, and whether it’s rowdy and vibrant or quiet and comfortable.
Bucket 3: The Idle Browser
Then there are the ones that need convincing. They may not be in such a rush to find a place right away. Maybe they’re new to town and looking for what’s available. Maybe they’re just tired of their usual spots.
You might think, “Ah, these are the ones who I can win with my lengthy history of the restaurant.”
That might work in a few instances. If you’ve got a famous chef, brag about her. If your cafe draws tourist traffic because of famous historical patrons, let them know.
But most of the time the Idle Browser wants to know the same things as the Want-To-Be Committed. They just take more work to distil your message and deliver it in the most effective way possible.
They want to know what you’re like. But they don’t really want to read about it.
They want to know what sets your restaurant apart. But they want it in a few crisp, well-crafted sentences.
They want to know what your menu is like. But they want to be guided there without having to go looking for it.
The Idle Browser wants to be impressed. And that’s why you need to deliver an outstanding browsing experience from start to finish.
And then, when you’ve got them on the hook, be sure to reel them in.
So what three things does a restaurant website need then?
First, you need straightforward contact information and it needs to be easy to find. I mean stupid easy to find. Put your address, phone number and opening hours right there in front of their face.
Second, you need to make sure they can quickly and easily access information about what you provide. What do you serve? What do you charge? What’s the environment like inside? Make sure they can find it right away.
Finally, you need to provoke their desire. Just like a good chef will plate his dish in an appealing way, you need to prompt your visitor to want to walk through your door. The best way to do this is to crunch everything you know about your establishment’s personality and the target market you’re trying to reach into a few short, simple calls to action.
Let’s be honest. The last one’s the hardest part.
Which calls to action are right for you will depend on what kind of profile you want to put out there.
You can surprise the customer with bold claims: “The best burger in town. Don’t believe us? Book a table today.”
Or you can inspire comfort and familiarity with understated claims: “We think our burgers are pretty good. Have a bite.”
Or you can go straight to a convincing social proof: “Best beer selection. Three years running. Yeah, that’s us.”
But you should avoid boring, or overly descriptive, approaches: “We make burgers, pizzas and fries in a family-friendly atmosphere.”
The Already Committed and the Want-To-Be Committed will probably blow right past such boring descriptions. But the Idle Browser wants to be excited.
I released Restaurant Reservations v1.7 today. This significant update brings the ability to ban abusive customers and a number of hot requests for controlling your bookings.
Ban abusive customers
Over the last six months I’ve noticed that more of my customers are using the plugin as their primary restaurant bookings platform. It’s exciting to see the plugin adopted for more critical roles in restaurants as it’s feature set has matured.
With that broader adoption will come some new priorities. One complaint I’ve heard with increasing frequency is restaurant owners who are struggling with fake or insincere bookings from their website.
It’s becoming more frequent for people to regularly book but fail to show up. In part, this is due to a rising trend for diners to book places at several restaurants in advance, to ensure a spot, even though they only intend to go to one on the night.
But it also includes malicious competitors or former customers and employees who see an opportunity to disrupt the restaurant’s operations. This can cost you hundreds of dollars a night in lost revenue.
You now have the ability to ban bookings from specific email or IP addresses. Before you employ this tactic, I strongly encourage you to read what the help guide has to say about when you should or shouldn’t ban a customer.
New options for common use-cases
Version 1.7 also comes with a few new options to satisfy common needs. The first is the ability to block same-day bookings.
In the past, you could block bookings up to 24 hours in advance. But this was a strict 24 hours. A customer couldn’t making a booking at 3pm for 2pm the following day. Many customers expressed a desire to block same-day bookings without blocking any bookings the following day, no matter the time.
Now you can with an additional option to choose from in the Late Bookings settings.
The other big customer request is for a minimum party size requirement. I get this request often enough that I decided to roll it into the regular plugin. You’ll now find a new option for minimum party size if you want to restrict small bookings.
What should I include in the next major update? Let me know in the comments.
This update has been in the works for a while now and brings exciting new features along with improvements that make it easier than ever to manage your menus.
One price, two prices, many prices
By far the most common request I get from customers is the ability to list multiple prices for their menu items. You can now add as many prices as you’d like to each Menu Item.
The plugin will then display them stacked in the price area.
If you’ve used the plugin’s templating system to write your own templates, they should still work. But prices will be tied together in a single list. You may want to update your templates to reflect the new price template.
New dietary icons for hormone-free and heart-healthy dishes
I’ve added a few new dietary icons to Food and Drink Menu Pro. These include two icons to indicate a meal is hormone-free or antibiotics-free, as well as a couple options for indicating heart-healthy dishes.
These icons were made by the talented Ben Usher Smith, who also transformed the icons into a font set. That means it’s now easier than ever to adapt the icons to your restaurant’s color-scheme using CSS code.
If you’re using the icons along with my Luigi or Plate Up themes, you’ll want to update the themes as well. They now take advantage of the new icon format so that they automatically adjust to your color selection.
Running similar sections across multiple menus
Another problem that has effected a lot of customers is the fact that you can’t have two sections with the same name. If a restaurant has multiple locations, it’s common for both locations to have a section for Starters, but for those sections to contain slightly different dishes.
And finally, there’s a new feature to use your theme’s page templates to display your menu. This should cut down on the need to use the shortcode just to show your menu in a template that fits the content.
These updates address the most common feature requests I get for the menu plugin, and represent the first major update to the plugin in a long time. What would you like to see in the future?
I’ve just released version 1.3 of the MailChimp addon for Restaurant Reservations. You must update before the end of the year if you want to continue subscribing customers to your MailChimp mailing list.
Why is this update so important?
On January 1, 2017, MailChimp will no longer support version 2 of it’s API. Only requests using the newest version of it’s API will be supported. If you don’t update your addon, your booking customers will no longer get automatically subscribed to your MailChimp mailing list.
How can I make sure I’m updated?
The latest version of my MailChimp addon (version 1.3) has been updated to support the new API calls. You can check which version you’re using by looking at the Plugins list in your WordPress admin area.
If you’re below version 1.3, you should get an update notification in your WordPress admin area. If you don’t get the update notification, make sure your license key is activated.
My license key is active but I don’t see an update.
In some cases, if you activated the license key at a development URL (like dev.mysite.com) and then moved the site to a live URL (like mysite.com), you may need to refresh your activation status. Try deactivating and reactivating the license.
If you have trouble reactivating the license, you may need to deactivate it at the old site. You can do this from the Customer Account area on this site.
My license has expired. Do I have to renew?
If you want to continue subscribing customers to your MailChimp mailing list, you’ll need an active license key to get the latest version of my MailChimp addon.
Since day one, Theme of the Crop hasn’t allowed any commenting on blog posts here. To be honest, I didn’t want the extra hassle of managing them when I started, and over the years I just never bothered turning them on.
I like chatting over email, and I’ve always encouraged people to contact me privately with any questions or comments.
But sometimes it can be nice to chat in the open.
The public support forums for my free plugins have been a great resource for people to search past answers and learn more about my products. Maybe we can do the same here.
For now, every new blog post will have a little comment section down there below. If you’ve got any questions about the topic, or anything interesting to add, I’d love you to leave a comment. If you’re struggling with something, or you’ve got a good tip, you can be sure that other people reading will feel the same.
So why don’t you get it started by saying hello in the comment section below.
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