Thursday, April 5, 2007

Restaurant site leaves a bad taste

In order to stimulate tourism, the ministry of Tourism and the organization of restaurant owners have set up a website dedicated to restaurants and other outlets in Lebanon. It’s a sympathetic idea because many restaurants in central Beirut are either closed or with very little customers. Too bad, though, the website is such a disaster.

Here’s some free advice on how to improve the site:
1. Include all restaurants instead of only a very small sample of less than 90 places that are currently included on the site. If you search for Armenian restaurants, e.g., you find only 1 selection, Mayriq. It’s an excellent restaurant and highly recommendable, but what about offering choice? Naharnet offers already 8 Armenian eateries so how come the Ministry can not do the same?

The lack of restaurants is even more clear when you search for a Chinese restaurant in all of Lebanon: again, only 1 choice (Jardin de Chine). How can the ministry of Tourism think that this is the way to attract tourists: who would want to go to country where you have only 1 Chinese restaurant?

Also, the search criteria can easily be improved by including the option to search on more details, like why can't you search on vegetarian restaurants?

2. Visitors can buy coupons redeemable at restaurants. This could work but not under the strict conditions currently imposed upon them. You have to buy in quantities of 4, each voucher is 25 USD and once bought, you cannot change restaurants anymore. This narrows down the potential customer base to Lebanese who plan ahead their visits to restaurants…a rather small group. Why not let the coupons be valid in any restaurant?

Furthermore, it would be a good idea to let customers decide on the amount instead of demanding them to buy at chunks of 100 USD at a time. That’s a lot of money for people to spend on food, especially in days of crisis.

3. There’s no discount! You wonder about the logic of the people behind the initiative: if you want to stimulate business you have to make your goods attractive to buy. Giving discounts is the typical approach to increase sales. Why not sell each 25$ coupon for 20$? Then, you might attract customers who feel this is a good deal.

4. Related to the previous points: why exactly should customers go through the hassle of buying limited and yet expensive coupons on the internet when it offers no benefits for them? Right now, the only selling point used on the website is to stimulate restaurants and to save jobs. That’s great and no one will disagree with these noble goals, but customers don’t need the website to help out. Instead, they can simply go to restaurants.

5. The website looks old fashioned, is hardly interactive and does not use the latest technologies, such as mash-ups for Google Maps. Why not invest in developing an overlay for Google Maps so that visitors can ‘fly over’ Lebanon and see restaurant information pop up. And no, this is not too advanced or too ambitious. Nowadays, such solutions are the minimum requirements.

6. The information per restaurant is very limited. The most important thing you want to know about a restaurant, is the menu, right? But unfortunately, this information is excluded.

You know, forget about coupons and all that. What about a site that lists the menus and prices of each restaurant in Lebanon + contact info so you can make reservation or order in? Make it easily searchable and give suggestions similar to “if you like this food, you might want to try…”, like Amazon does. That would be really useful and it might stimulate restaurant visits.

I’ve send a link to this article to the contact on the website. Let’s hope they will improve the website, because it truly is a good initiative to stimulate restaurants visits and a good website is definitely lacking in Lebanon.

UPDATE: The contact form doesn't work...sigh