PDF Menus vs. Responsive HTML Menus: It’s Not Even Close

Don CrosslandWeb DesignLeave a Comment

We’ve covered the highlights of this topic in previous posts, including 7 Deadly Sins of Restaurant Websites. Having your restaurant menu displayed as only PDF menus on your website is bad for you and bad for your customers. So why do so many restaurants do it?

In talking with restaurateurs I’ve encountered two main reasons with a third reason brought up occasionally. The main reason is it’s easy. Your designer updates your printed menu (or worse, you do it in a basic Word or Publisher document), you get a PDF file of the menu and upload it to replace the old one. So easy. The second reason is it looks better, or at least it looks the same as the printed menu. The third reason is to make it easier for people to print or share the menu.

They sound like pretty good reasons, right? Wrong! Having your menu displayed as a PDF menu hurts your business in many ways. We will drill down to show you exactly how.

PDF Menus Are Bad For Your Restaurant

How can something that’s easier and potentially less expensive be bad? Imagine that. The cheapest, easiest option isn’t the best one. You should be used to that by now.

The key reason it’s bad for you is that it’s bad for your restaurant’s website. More specifically, it’s bad for your restaurant’s SEO (search engine optimization).

You want to give search engines as much content to search through as possible and search engines don’t read regular PDF files. Not only are you missing an opportunity to tell search engines more about your restaurant, but PDF files also take longer to load than HTML text. This will adversely affect your SEO ranking as well.

Let’s say you have an American-style bistro. Ironically, one of your specialties is poutine (if you don’t know what poutine is, look it up, it’s awesome). No one is going to search for ‘American bistros’ if they’re looking for poutine.

But, if you have a searchable menu (a.k.a. HTML text), the search engines will see that you have four different kinds of poutine. So if someone searches for ‘poutine near me’, even though your restaurant is listed as an American bistro, it will show up in the search.

Quite simply, you want to give search engines as much information about your restaurant and what you serve so that you can rank higher in more searches. Ranking higher means more people are finding you which dramatically increases your chances of attracting new customers.

PDF Menus Are Bad For Your Customers

As bad as PDF menus are for your restaurant, it’s even worse for your customers. This is the hospitality industry, why would you make your customers work harder?

I track web traffic for my clients, and every single one of them has over 50% of traffic coming from mobile devices. Many of them are up around 70%.

If you don’t have a mobile-friendly site it’s time to get one (past time, really). If you have a mobile-friendly site but still have PDF menus it’s not really a mobile-friendly site.

Here’s why:

PDF Menus navigation flow for your restaurant

PDF menus need to be downloaded to the phone before they can be viewed (this takes extra time and data). They are also not optimized for the smaller screens of mobile devices. This means there’s a lot of pinching and zooming in and moving the PDF around in order to read the menu. Instead of someone being able to easily scroll through your menu, they must now hold their phone with both hands to navigate through your menu.

Solution: Responsive HTML Text Menus

Responsive HTML text menus are optimized for any size screen and download much faster than PDF menus. Responsive is the term for website design that detects and adapts to whatever size screen on which the site is being viewed.

Responsive HTML Menus navigation flow for your restaurant

For example, if your menu is set up in four columns when viewed on a computer, it would collapse down to two columns when viewed on a tablet, and down to one column on a phone. This ensures the type is large enough read no matter what device the viewer is using. In addition to being easier to read, HTML text menus only require scrolling which comes naturally to mobile device users and can be done with one hand.

Using a PDF menu because you like the design of your menu is slightly more forgivable. You should like the way your menu looks. If you don’t, it might be time for a redesign. But, your love of the look of your menu should not get in the way of a good customer user experience.

Example of responsive HTML menu matching the printed restaurant menu

A good web designer will be able to create an HTML menu for your site that is consistent with the look of your printed menus while still being responsive to the size of the screen your site is being viewed on. The layout will change based on the screen size, but the look of the menu will stay true to your brand through the use of type fonts and design elements.

Another example of responsive HTML menu matching the printed restaurant menu

PDF Menu Sharing

I didn’t forget the last point: having a downloadable menu for people to print and share. You don’t have to choose between the two. Most of my clients have a menu download button at the end of the responsive HTML menu for the people who would like to print or share the menu. Most people will share a link or print the web page so it is definitely not a necessity. Just make sure your PDF menu is 8 1/2” x 11” so it can be easily printed.

The main purpose of your restaurant website is to give potential customers the information they are looking for as quickly and easily as possible. After location and hours, the menu pages are the most frequented pages on a restaurant website.

Having responsive HTML text menus rather than PDF menus will rank you higher in more searches, making it easier for customers to find you. Once they do find you, HTML text menus will make it quicker and easier for them to peruse your menu, which is the most frequented page of a restaurant’s website after the home page.