Newsflash for Restaurants: Forget the Flash

By on Saturday, July 31st, 2010

As a chef and/or restaurant owner, you’ve spent countless hours working on the color scheme, the feel, the graphics, the typeface for the menu and the soundtrack of your restaurant’s website. You’ve just spent a bundle of money with that very creative agency or hipster graphic designer to build it. The result is the ultimate reflection of your philosophy and style. It’s cost you more than a Pacojet or two, but it’s slick. But here is the thing: It’s also costing you business.

Why? Because Adobe Flash, the much-heralded plugin providing video, music, animation and interactivity to websites isn’t supported by many mobile devices.

So right now, if you have that flashy website, do yourself a favor and look at it on an iPhone or iPad. Chances are good you will see something like this:

Menus and Mobility

Flash was once the savior of the Internet by providing experiences that HTML could not. Now, apart from playing video on the Internet (from sites such as HULU and YouTube), the days when Flash was necessary to create much of this content are passing. And passing rapidly. Apple has sold nearly 100 million devices that can access the Internet but do not have the Flash plug-in to see that fancy website you blew all that money on. That’s like turning away customers because they don’t have a tie or a jacket.

So why has something that was once a de facto standard on the Internet under attack? Apple has basically declared war on Adobe’s Flash, refusing to allow it to be installed on their new devices, such as the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad (of which more than 3 million have already been sold). This new class of device differs from the old smartphones such as the Blackberry, in that they offer a truly useable Internet experience, far better than previous devices and far better rendering (what the Internet pages look like) than browsers such as Internet Explorer. Despite the ranting of the Adobe-sponsored bloggers – who make Gordon Ramsay appear well-balanced – Adobe only recently released a Flash player for mobile devices having promised it for several years. But Flash, a technology that is now very mature for desktop and laptop computers, still crashes often on my machines.

Apple’s Steve Jobs has a point when he says Flash is a memory hog and the single biggest reason browsers crash on Apple computers. While Jobs loves his little ecosystem selling you music, applications, TV shows and books from their own store, when it comes to the web Jobs sees open standards such as HTML5 (the latest incarnation of HTML) as the future – and that’s a future where Adobe’s Flash is relegated to the ‘remember when’ category, just like when RealNetworks and their Real player was once the standard method of delivery for video and audio on the Internet. As it stands Google, Microsoft and Apple are right behind the adoption of HTML5 as the technology that ‘runs’ the web.

The days when Flash was necessary to create video, audio and interactivity are passing. And passing rapidly.

Flash Forward

Regardless of the outcome of this battle (and my position is that Flash, like a soufflé, will not rise twice) you need to stop blocking people at your front door if you have a Flash-only website to promote your business. Even when we do have Flash-enabled computers, Flash can be buggy and painful to use. If I’m writing about a restaurant and just want to check the chef’s CV, I don’t want to sit through a pointless animation. I don’t want to have to roll over the entire screen with my mouse or finger looking for a hidden menu to get to the actual restaurant menu. I want to get the name of that little Basque place that the chef worked at in the south of France right when I write about it. I want the correct name of the dish that I loved so much that I’m willing to put the whole description of it in my story. If I like your place enough to write about it, make my life as easy as possible. Food and travel writers that I’ve spoken to loathe Flash websites. Designers and programmers using Flash to build restaurant websites appear to enjoy making it as painful as possible just to get the damn address and phone number of your business. So how is that helpful?

If I’m out and about and someone recommends a restaurant in the town that I’m visiting, I want to be able to check it out online and maybe make a reservation. If I’m using an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad I can’t ‘see’ your business if your website is in Flash only. Recently in New York, a high percentage of the websites of restaurants that I wanted to visit were done in Flash – entirely useless to me if I want your phone number or opening hours. Sure I’ll find it through Google, but a blue lego brick does not make me salivate in anticipation of dining there.

There are other more practical reasons to not use Flash or provide a simple alternative. For example, when you expand to Dubai or Vegas (and you probably will soon), you must go back to the design firm to get the original files. You can’t just ask someone else to update the website. So your flexibility is greatly limited.

Open Your Doors

When you commission someone to design your website, ask two questions:
“Will customers be able to see it on all devices?”
“Will I be able to see it on my iPhone, iPad or Blackberry?”

Get them to show you websites that they have done and view them on various devices. If all you see is the ‘blue lego brick’ instead of a web page, you are not doing your customers or those writing about your restaurant any favors.

Written by Terence Carter

Terence Carter is a travel and editorial photographer and travel writer. He literally lives out of a suitcase accompanied by a couple of bags of photography gear. He’s often found making a nuisance of himself in the kitchens of chefs whom he's meant to be interviewing or photographing.

75 Comments

  1. LeeReedy says:

    Interesting article on flash in a #restaurants site. Our take is to always provide alternate content for non-flash peeps http://ow.ly/2l5gn

  2. Interesting article on flash in a #restaurants site. Our take is to always provide alternate content for non-flash peeps http://ow.ly/2l5go

  3. Jesper says:

    Restaurant Websites Should Drop Flash Technology – Toque http://instapaper.com/z8eu9i11g

  4. Gary Brewer says:

    Check this out about Flash and Mobil Phones http://fb.me/tj7R9wys

  5. Jaime says:

    I still believe that it should be adopted some how and be a gradual transition. Real player was not dropped over night and refused on an operating system. It should not be a choosing of one application over the other. Adobe just needs to get with the program if they do want their flash player to survive. And I highly doubt that a lot of restaurants will like the letter from Apple stating that they will need to revamp a new website because they refuse to support Flash.

    I also have not gotten crashes that often from flash. If it was it was because I was doing way too much. If thats the case I can say I have gotten just as many crashes on my apple computer.

    Nothing is perfect.

  6. @JR Prospal @slaphost Thanks for your comments. Just a little background, I used to be a web designer/developer until I decided that travel writing/photography was a hell of a lot more fun.
    I’m aware of the ability to send people to an alternative HTML site via a Javascript, I just didn’t want to confuse the issue by spending a paragraph on Javascript redirects, which as you pointed out, most developers – not all – don’t appear to use anymore. Remember this article is written for non-tech people!
    The point stands – restauranteurs need to check that the developer that they’re using *is* providing alternative content for the new slew of mobile devices – because most of these devices do not have Flash on board, nor is it likely that they will.
    Thanks.
    T

  7. Lawrence Lee says:

    two types of websites still holding on to Flash that annoy to no end: restaurants and bands. http://bit.ly/9Vqlij

  8. Jamie Alden says:

    Apple vs. Adobe Flash – the battle as viewed by a non-design industry http://ow.ly/2lqgV

  9. IDDECO says:

    ¿Debería usarse #Flash en websites para #restaurantes? (inglés) Interesantísimo: http://bit.ly/bgpU2Y (traducido) http://bit.ly/aPtnl6

  10. Voiyk TR says:

    Restaurant sektöründe hizmet veren firmalar mobil internet kullanıcı müşterilerini kaybetmemek için son 10 yılda… http://fb.me/DjVgRuuU

  11. @Jaime,
    THanks for your comment.

    As far as Apple ‘refusing’ to support flash, when was Flash for mobile devices released? Yes, a couple of months ago. And it’s still buggy. So until recently there HAS NOT BEEN any way that Apple could have put Flash on their devices. Adobe has not refuted that Jobs asked to see a good build of Flash running reliably on one of their mobile devices and they couldn’t deliver.

    But it’s not just about Apple, ask RIM how Flash is running on the BlackBerry. It’s not.

    Adobe thought that the iPad would be a failure because it doesn’t have Flash. They were wrong. There are now over 100million mobile devices just from Apple alone that do not and are not likely to ever run Flash. And many of these devices are being used on the move to find places such as restaurants. A blue lego brick on these devices might equal an empty table at the restaurant.

    The question you have to ask yourself is do you want to be a developer who just complains about the blue lego brick on these mobile devices or are you going to be one of the ones who is developing sites for this emerging market?

  12. Anne says:

    Hey Terence, the fact is that HTML5 right now is at a level where flash was 10-12 years ago. Just look at this boring prehistoric site of yours, hope your food is tastier than your site.

  13. @Anne, shame you don’t have the intestinal fortitude to post a link to your work or an email address. Charming.

    PS: I don’t want HTML5 to become Flash.

  14. Chris Dickman says:

    So you’re annoyed that you can’t view Flash-based sites on your Apple products and blame not Apple for this, which would be appropriate since it’s their fault, but the site designers? Wow.

  15. Commenter called Grantourismo site 'prehistoric' in a comment on my Flash story: http://bit.ly/cVN7M5 Should I redesign using Flash? LOL ^TC

  16. @ Chris Dickman Actually, I’m typing this on an Apple product that runs Flash right now. It’s called a MacBook Pro. I’ve designed Flash websites on this exact same computer, so it’s not that I’m anti-Flash, but it’s a fact that Flash didn’t even run on mobile devices until a couple of months ago – and only on a tiny segment of mobile devices.
    Given that, you think it is Apple’s fault that Adobe can’t make a decent Flash player for mobile devices – any mobile devices? Wow. Nice rewriting of history there.
    Are you blaming BlackBerry too? Palm as well? And how long have the iPhone and the BlackBerry had web browsers for? You appear to making the argument that Flash is a web standard. It’s not. It’s a proprietary technology owned by Adobe.
    The most wildly optimistic forecasts say that 10% of smartphones sold in 2010 will run Flash – no saying on how well and how much this will effect battery life on these devices.
    But back to the original thrust of the article. You can’t currently see Flash websites on smartphones running Windows mobile, any Nokia phones, most Android devices, Palm devices, no BlackBerry’s and no Apple mobile devices. Even if this changes, the weight of the sites that were designed to run well on desktop or laptop computers with super fast broadband need to take into account the speed of mobile processors, their battery life and the network speed that these devices will be receiving data over.
    Site designers who are designing Flash-only sites have a responsibility to alert restaurateurs that the sites will not be seen on these device unless they create an alternate HTML site. It’s not that hard, I’ve been doing it for years. That’s what I’m annoyed about – designers and developers who don’t have the clients interest at heart.
    A manager for one prominent chef and restaurateur who has more Michelin stars than I care to mention told me that it’s a nightmare that he can’t see his website on his iPhone or his BlackBerry and wonders why no one ever told him that the Flash-y site he paid a lot of money for is difficult to update and can’t be seen on the devices that everyone uses at the restaurant has. He’s as unhappy as the potential guests that can’t see his site.
    So back to your point. Is this the designer’s fault, you ask? Yes, it sure is.
    It’s a head’s up for the industry. You can keep your head buried in the sand if you like. By all means, restaurants can have a Flash site that has bells, whistles, soundtracks, unfathomable navigation, but they need to provide a simple alternative that gives the address, phone number, opening hours and a sample menu of the restaurant. Even if mobile devices end up running Flash well (which I really doubt), I don’t think that’s too much to ask to provide an alternative that doesn’t mean I have to sit through a ‘loading…’ screen and a ‘click here to enter’ screen. But clearly you do.
    And I think you’re increasingly in the minority.

  17. Stephanie says:

    Terrence~ you’re exactly right and you did what you obviously intended… to warn restaurateurs of the negatives of flash for their websites. I’m currently in the construction phase of a new restaurant, as well as making some changes at an old one and I found this information extremely beneficial. Thanks for sharing. And for taking bullets from a bunch of people who completely missed your point.

  18. @Stephanie, thanks for that! I don’t mind taking a few hits, just wish they were better aimed – I enjoy a good debate ;-)

    Good luck with the restaurants!

  19. RT @ToqueMag: Newsflash for Restaurants: Forget the Flash http://bit.ly/92i5k8

  20. Cameron says:

    I’m glad to read the restaurant industry is catching on to the scoop on Flash — Don’t do it –

    A flash site might cost you 30% of you audience because of accessibility –>

    BUT –> It can cost so much more in terms of SEO because Flash sites have many elements search engines can’t read.

    So flash is really not the best choice for almost any design… Especially when it has to be used as a marketing vehicle for something like a restaurant.

  21. Cedric Sysco says:

    86 the Flash on your restaurant's website http://ow.ly/2sX3j

  22. I'm now getting journalist requests to discuss Flash restaurant websites after my rant about them for Toque. http://bit.ly/an0RGV ^TC

  23. Newsflash for Restaurants: Forget the Flash – http://ow.ly/1sVV6x

  24. I copped a lot of flack for writing this article on Adobe Flash & mobile devices, but I was right. http://t.co/OQJfqqGk

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