WordPress as a Platform for Restaurant Websites

When designing a website for a restaurant, WordPress along with the right theme, can deliver the goods as far as page organization and content management. And what is the most important content in a restaurant’s website? Well, the menu, of course! WordPress does a fantastic job of categorizing your menu items, and then displaying them in the manner you want, and where you want them, within the site.

It does this by using a post system that can be categorized. This categorization allows certain WordPress themes to create pages dedicated only to a specific category. Regions can also be designated within a page, and designed to display posts of other specific categories. For instance, an area on the home page could be designated to daily, weekly, or today’s special, perhaps. The categorization system would allow the owner, manager, or designated staff person change what appears in the special area, simply by re-categorizing items as “specials”. Items may have two categories at one time, so designating one item special, making it appear on the home page, would not make it disappear from the area of the website it is normally on anyway.

As an example, we can take one item, lets say a ham and cheese omelette. Normally this would appear on the breakfast page of the website, or perhaps on a page just for omelettes. So lets say it is already designated with a category called “Omelettes”. If I designate it the category “specials” also, it would then appear on the Specials area that I designated on the home page. And so you have one item showing up in two places, which is pretty nice because if you make a change to the item, for instance, changing the price to reflect the special, the price change will occur no matter where the item is displayed.

Sites designed to display a restaurant’s menu can also be designed to adapt itself to mobile devices, especially mobile phones. This setup requires no effort on the part of the user other than navigating to your site on their device. There is no app to download to make the site user-friendly on mobile devices, it simply converts to the correct format when someone views the site on their particular device.

A Word About Directories

Many directories will now publish menus of local restaurants as part of their regular listing. The problem is, however, that sometimes this information can be wrong. It is important for any restaurant to have firm control over their internet presence with their own, user-friendly, and accurate website.

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Content Management Systems

This post is an attempt to explain Content Management Systems (CMS) to people new to the term, or possibly unaware of what CMS means in terms of website design and development. It is a pretty straightforward term, as that a CMS is a website where the administrator of the site can manage the content through admin panels, or some sort of input form (as opposed to working directly on the page, writing in raw HTML).

There are a number of CMS packages available “off-the-shelf”, and completely open-sourced, as in, there are no mandatory sign-up fees, or monthly payments to worry about. Any decent hosting service these days will have easy-install packages available to quickly launch a blank (or standard) version of these packages. Now, that sounds easy, but there is a lot of work usually involved from that point on to get your new site to look like you want, and do what you want. But once configured properly, appropriate and functional for your business or organization, a website should be very manageable in terms of deploying updates of timely and relevant content.

Of the many content management systems, the most popular are Drupal, Joomla, and WordPress, not necessarily in that order. Drupal and Joomla have been regarded as full-fledged CMS packages for quite some time. WordPress is now widely recognized as such, but is later to the game that the other two. WordPress began as a much simpler blogging software. But with the addition of static pages, navigation menu systems, and categorical post system, began taking on many of the characteristics of the more recognized CMS packages.

WordPress is generally recognized to be easy-to-use. Conceptualized as blogging software, it was designed to easy to use by the general consumer, not web professionals. It needed to be used effectively by writers, who may know there way around a word processor, but have not the faintest clue of web design and development. But as WordPress has gained so much in functionality from its early days, its ease-of-use has remained.

In contrast, the other CMS packages, Drupal and Joomla, were designed to be content management systems from their origin. Designed by web developers for other web developers, these systems interfaces tend to be on the “geeky” side, often confusing, not nearly as intuitive as WordPress.

But regardless of my personal preferences toward CMS packages, there is no denying that every package mentioned above is well-represented in the world of website design and development, as these systems are used by large corporations and small mom and pops alike. For instance, many of the online magazines are built using these systems, since they were all originally designed to categorize content, exactly what a magazine does. But that is not all, with plug-ins and possibly additional features custom-written by programmers, CMS packages can be modified and molded into almost anything you can imagine.

Another advantage of using these systems is that they are open-sourced, that is, basically free. You will always encounter developers trying to sell different plug-ins or specially designed themes for these packages, but the underlying structure is always free for anyone to use. And there are many free plug-ins and themes as well, so you don’t have to spend any money on these things if you don’t really want to. But if you do end up spending money, it is usually not very much, and it most likely is a one-time fee. I will very often shell out a few bucks for a desperately needed feature, but never do I sign up program where I will be charged regular fees.

In comparison to these open-sourced CMS packages, there are many advertised content management systems that are proprietary, developed and controlled by a large corporation, that require some sort of regular, ongoing payment. Though small, this fee will continue until the large corporation has made quite a tidy sum from you, and from everyone else enlisted in their program. These systems are limited to the software developed by the corporation, whereas the software developed by Drupal, Joomla, and WordPress are literally worldwide communities, all working in the common language of the internet to provide unlimited possibilities. You may even work with your own developer to create a brand-new plug-in feature, if you can’t find the one you need, or does exactly what you want. But even this expense will be a one-time deal.

And that is where Outward Image can be of assistance in getting your website project off the ground, and helping your business grow. We can discuss what type of content you need to manage, and work out easy-to-use solutions to allow you to manage it efficiently. We can discuss useful features, and you will be aware of all the costs right up front. And once its done, you should be able to manage it yourself for its life, for free, except for hosting and domain name fees, of course.

Though the cost of the initial development of your site may seem expensive, it is truly a minimal cost in the life of your business, and considering the benefits of a well done site can bring to it, the real expense becomes even smaller. So the right question may not be, “can I afford an effective website for my business,” but rather, “can I really afford not to have an effective website for my business.”

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Preparing to Launch a Website

Preparing, and launching a website is a confusing issue to many business owners, especially the ones who came of age before the explosion of computer and digital technology. They see many offers on television of easy do-it-yourself services that supposedly help you prepare a beautiful, design quality website with little effort, and it somehow gets found by the masses. Or they have already tried these solutions, and have found them wanting, hard to update on a regular basis, lacking certain useful features, etc. Having the right third-party solution can relieve you of some of the headaches of building and maintaining a website, but only if it is the right third party.

There is a huge discrepancy between the skill level, and the overall quality of web designers and developers. Web designers of different skill levels may be capable of providing high quality service, as long as they only promise what they know they can deliver competently. Because lets face, all websites are not created equal, and for their particular purpose, a designer may possess the ability to deploy specific software packages that enable a website the functionality requested by the client. And as long as that proves to be an effective solution for the client, it ends up being a good deal.

To protect themselves, clients looking to have a website designed and developed for them, must make sure that the designer/developer has the skills to achieve their desired objectives. Have the developer demonstrate desired functions on sites that he/she has worked on in the past. This will what they see as a practical solution, and also will show their experience, bad or good.

Of course, to adequately judge whether a developer has the skills to build your website, you must first know what features would help your site accomplish its goals, and/or serve specific functions that make your business more efficient. So before you ever decide to look for a developer, you must first identify the site you are trying to build. Is it an e-commerce site, is it some sort of social network type site, does site perform a service to paid subscribers, or is it a business or organizational site, meant to share general information about your business with your clients for members. These sites are often equipped with ways to update specific information, specials, etc., on a very regular basis. And they may have some online product sales as well.

Many small businesses can have attractively designed, and with features that are quite useful in communicating your message to your customers through your website. Open-source technologies that experienced developers can use and integrate into your site that will provide many useful and easy-to-use solutions to communicate your message. These site will rely on open-source structures that can be molded and adapted into the configuration your specific sites need.

Where the real programming heavy-weights are needed, is in the other types of sites mentioned. A corporation with thousands of product on an ecommerce site, let’s say, is going to need a very sophisticated, and most likely, a custom programming structure that is going to account for very complex mathematical calculations, customer interactions and tendencies, buying behavior, etc.

Social networking site are also very complicated as they have to manage relationships, and any site like this is going to be very innovative to make any dent the current list heavyweights. Likewise, any site designed to perform a service, whether it be an education site, and legal advice site, are going to have very specific programs designed to handle what that business model requires, and it better be something that no one has already done, or it has no chance.

Conversely, many small businesses or organizations have the need for many of the same functions on their websites, mainly in regards to communication. These clients need marketing platforms that can maintain constant communication with clients to maintain their retention. If your clients find your site, or more specifically, the information you choose to display on your site useful, it will benefit your business immensely.

For sites like these, Content Management systems can often adequately do the job, and are adaptable enough to make similar functions service different requirements from specific clients. Packages designed to integrate an event calendar, or a scheduling solution, may have a plethora of display options in terms of data fields, and aesthetics. There simply would be no need to design a custom event calendar when such capable solutions are available at the ready.

For the person looking to have a website developed, it is important to some research, but don’t looking for developers. Start researching other sites similar to yours, and try to dissect them a bit, find out what useful features these sites have that you might useful on yours, and that fits nicely with your specific business or organization. If you have a good idea of what you want in a website, it will be easier to make an assessment of prospective developers, based on their work and how it matches what you are looking for.

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