Restaurant Menus: PDF vs. HTML

Many restaurants still have their menus available on their website only in PDF. Here’s a list of reasons why you should have your menu in HTML.
HTML or PDF restaurant menus

HTML or PDF for restaurant menus? The customers have spoken.

There’s always a balance of SEO and editorial to be met when building any website. Yes, having your restaurant’s menu — or spa’s list of services, or hotel’s rates — in PDF is easier to manage and takes less time to code, but many users find PDFs cumbersome and won’t even bother to download them. In fact, PDF-only restaurant menus are such a bane that satire site The Oatmeal mocked them in an infograph on mistakes restaurant websites make.

Don’t get me wrong: PDFs have their place and can be very useful on websites, restaurant or otherwise. But PDFs should not be the sole means of sharing your menu with your customers. Here’s why.

  1. Users can’t copy and paste easily from a PDF. Many times, people want to send a portion of a menu to a friend. It’s a lot harder (and sometimes impossible, depending on security settings) to copy text from a PDF than from an HTML site.

  2. Not every device can read PDFs. Although this is a truth that is quickly becoming outmoded, some devices still require users to download special software in order to read a PDF. Why require this extra barrier for users to get to your content?

  3. You can lose site visitors. Because PDFs open in a special reader, users are drawn away from your website and all of the structure (such as the navigation bar) that keeps them within your restaurant experience. Because the menu is often the most visited page of a restaurant’s website, this is a huge drawback.

  4. PDFs can take a long time to download. If your PDF has lots of images or you don’t have the right compression software, your file could end up being several megabytes — which is tantamount to a crime if your users are on mobile devices. If your menu takes too long to download, they may just look elsewhere.

  5. PDFs are not as SEO-friendly. That’s not to say that search engines can’t index PDFs. As Search Engine Journal put it: “Thus to the question if Google can index Adobe PDFs there is a definite answer: Yes, it can. But it actually does not like to.”

That last bullet alone should be reason enough for restaurants to make their menu available in HTML.

What are your thoughts on PDF menus: love ’em or hate ’em?

Written by

Jenna Rose Robbins started her life as a nerd on her Commodore 64 coding Mad Libs games for her friends. After graduating from the University of Michigan, she parlayed her digital talents into a career and went on to work at AOL and launch multi-million-dollar websites for Disney. After heading up FIJI Water's marketing department, she opened up shop under the Siteseeing banner, which helps small businesses improve their local presence on the web. When she's not getting eyestrain at her computer, Jenna can generally be found trying to avoid emergency rooms around the world.

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