SaveTable.com is a website that allows Alaskans to quickly make reservations at restaurants, and find specific diners and cuisines.
I’m going to review this in my ordinary fashion, with my initial experience fully written followed by my suggestions for improvement at the end of the post.
The Front Page
The front page of SaveTable.com seems to put strong emphasis on a large search bar, one of the first elements I see on the page because of its size and position. I assume pretty quickly that this is a site to search for restaurants in Alaska. Interesting.
It’s not evident that this site is intended to be used as a tool to reserve tables at restaurants or find specific foods except for a subtle meaning in the name of the website (and the logo features utensils). It honestly feels like a site that lists local restaurants on first glance—that’s it. A problem that may cause viewers to lose interest with the front page is that there is no benefit communicated with me for using the service.
Directly underneath the search there is a “Latest Update” which is simply the most recent update from a SaveTable Twitter user. This seems like it may be more fitting at the bottom of the page, or taken off the site altogether as it really seems to add no value to the majority of viewers. What is this update going to mean to all of the viewers outside of Anchorage, Alaska? Wouldn’t it be more beneficial for those viewers to see the links below the “Latest Update”?
The links I’m speaking of are a mix of Popular & Latest Added Restaurants, Menus, and a few seemingly random Restaurants. They’re nicely displayed in a 3-column format that is easy to parse, but it doesn’t seem like it would be that useful to a majority of viewers. Again, how will a link to a Restaurant 50 miles away from a user benefit that individual?
This site was clearly meant to be searched. On sites of this nature, it would be much more natural for a majority of the users search instead of browse. There are several things about the site search that make it difficult to use.
Ideally, I never have to think about how I need to use a search. Many sites have learned from mistakes of the past where it was common for a site search to contain multiple input fields in order to narrow search results. This was eventually replaced on many sites by a simple input field and “Search” button that greatly simplified the process, leaving the website to handle more of the processing.
It appears that SaveTable attempts to simplify the process by offering a simple search field and button as is the usual. This might work fine for a lot of viewers, but I would argue that this is an extreme case where an additional default field would be beneficial to a user. Since SaveTable helps Alaskans find restaurants in their city, it’s kind of a given that they will only be interested in nearby results—rendering results outside of a users city useless. Therefore, adding a field for a zip code or city would simply enhance the users experience.
A popular example of where adding an additional field in site search actually helps is Meetup.com, a site that helps users find meetup groups on certain topics in their area. Like SaveTable, results outside of a users locale wouldn’t be of any use to them.
There currently is a drop down menu with a list of cities from Alaska, but it require you expand a menu, click a save button, then type in and submit a search. Actually, there are quite a few extra options both above and below the actual search field. When all the options are fully expanded (See image on right), things get a bit messy.
There is a “Default Location” dropdown, and a “Where” field. At least one of these could be removed (and as I stated before, a zip code/city field could be integrated as a second field in the search to enhance the users experience).
Once SaveTable connects me with a restaurant that looks like it might be a match, the experience is carried out quite well. The typical things I would be looking for are all listed in a way that is easy to understand. There are even tabs that let me view viewer reviews, a full menu, coupons, and locations.
On some listings, there is an option to reserve a table online. This is a nice feature that might require additional explaining (and attention). It should be more clear to me as the viewer that SaveTable doesn’t make the reservations, but a third-party service called OpenTable does.
In the top right of the site, and the footer links, there is an option to login. It’s clearly not intended for viewers in anyway, so why make it available? It shouldn’t be displayed as a security measure and to avoid confusion.
SaveTable is a very neat idea, and offers a service that is undoubtedly beneficial to a targeted audience. If this benefit were made more clear to users, it could greatly increase the overall usefulness of the site by getting more people to actually use it. These are just a few things that might help improve the user experience:
- Explain the search by clearly labeling what should be searched for. Should a user search for a restaurant? a food? either? Explain the action you want the user to take.
- Enhance the search experience by ditching the “Where” and “Default Location” fields with a simple required Zip Code field. Restaurants outside of a users locale are probably useless, so in this case it makes sense to have a way to restrict the search.
- Remove the login link.
- It might be worth removing the Twitter updates, or repositioning it below the other links on the front page. Maybe run a A/B test to see if one way or the other results in more user activity.
- Explore other ideas for front page content that connects with users from multiple cities more effectively. Maybe list 1 popular restaurant from the 10 most popular cities?