When most Americans think of either Idaho or Idaho food, they only think of potatoes.
Yes, for Americans, Idaho summons up images of endless potato fields and salt-of-the-earth potato farmers like some sort of friendlier version of “American Gothic.”
And while it’s true that Idaho produces 28% of U.S. potatoes (more than any other state), Idaho’s food culture has much, much more to offer than this humble spud.
The Gem State is also known for its fabulous huckleberries (Idaho’s state fruit) and a preponderance of wild, edible mushrooms like morels and chanterelles. In fact, Food & Wine magazine described Idaho as one of the best US states to find wild morels.
And when they’re hungry from all the skiing and backpacking the state also offers, Idahoans rely on fabulous Idaho restaurants to turn all these delicious ingredients into equally delicious foods like elk pizza over at PizzalChik or Red Light Garage's huckleberry milkshakes.
In fact, Boise’s restaurant scene is starting to receive national attention.
Boise’s Bar Gernika was featured in 2009 on the popular Food network show Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. Another well-loved Treasure Valley eatery, Flying Pie Pizza, was featured on Travel Channel’s Man V. Food. Chandlers, Boise’s destination for fine dining, was included in Open Table’s 2014 list of the 100 best steakhouses in America.
Of course, none of this publicity would be worth much without a well-designed website for people to visit, but Boise restaurants know how to deliver websites as great as their food.
In no particular order, here are four of the best Idaho restaurants:
These restaurants may have great food, but what also sets them apart is how they showcase their business’ USP (Unique Selling Proposition) on their websites.
1. Cottonwood Grille
Cottonwood Grille stands out for having a website that showcases their personality and their ability to emotionally connect with customers.
Their homepage is attractive and appealing. The colors are soothing and inviting, and they don’t detract from the main focus: their beautiful food.
The top slideshow features a series of appetizing photos like the above image of one of their handmade breads. But the homepage’s real strength is how it establishes the warmth and personality of the head chef, Jesus Alcelay.
Below the slideshow, you’ll notice that there’s a video of Alcelay where he talks passionately and expertly about using the freshest ingredients he can find (like seasonal morels). Even the slideshow font, which looks like someone’s handwriting, suggests the chef’s personal touch.
The “Meet The Chef” page (and the fact they have one at all) attracts more attention to Alcelay’s individual role in making your dinner.
There is a large photo of Alcelay himself along with a work history peppered with personal touches (like the fact that he developed his passion for cooking from his mother).
Knowing what the chef looks and sounds like as well as knowing what he values makes me feel more emotionally connected to Cottonwood Grille as a business because putting an attractive character on your business helps customers better connect with your brand.
Of course, knowing who the chef is is nice, but as someone with food allergies that make dining out difficult (a kind of eater’s roulette), what I care most about is not what the chef looks like or what he cares about, but whether or not he will kill me by accidentally giving me foods I am allergic to.
This is why I was so happy to see that Cottonwood Grille’s online menu section contains a downloadable, six page gluten-free menu.
While Celiac disease and food allergies are not the same thing, they both require the same level of care and attention to food prep to ensure there is no cross-contamination.
Eating out and eating out well with a restricted diet are also dependent on a competent waitstaff. If a waiter or waitress isn’t sensitive to food allergies, or if they are simply not super-attentive to my instructions, they won’t effectively communicate my needs to the chef.
But a great restaurant with a dedicated gluten-free menu like Cottonwood Grille also knows how to talk about their excellent service:
Phrases like “friendly, relaxed atmosphere,” “attentive service,” and “impeccable service” sprinkled in their copy makes me feel I would be taken care of -- like Cottonwood Grille wants to do nothing but attend to my needs as a human being.
All of this helps illustrate their dedication to emotionally connecting with their customers because great customer service is about people who understand the needs of other people around them -- like a chef understanding the pain points of someone like me who has severe food allergies.
After all, it’s humans, not businesses, that respond to the problems of other humans. This is especially important since emotionally connecting with your customers can drive sales. So Cottonwood Grille’s empathetic website persona is actually a smart marketing strategy.
However, when I visited their Facebook page I definitely missed that personality and emotional connection as their Facebook page contains stock-like photos and impersonal posts.
Cottonwood Grille, if you’re reading -- bring some of your fabulous photos to Facebook!
2. Bar Gernika
Boise has a large Basque population (the biggest U.S. concentration), and it influences our food culture through things like the abundance of sheep’s milk cheeses (Petit Basque or Manchego) found in our the local supermarkets.
Their authentic Basque heritage is certainly the USP of Bar Gernika, and it is cleverly displayed throughout the website. For example, their homepage contains many elements of Basque culture embedded in the content and design.
A Basque symbol, the lauburu (or Basque cross), is located in the upper left-hand corner.
Additionally, the site’s white, red, and green color palette mirrors the color combination found in the Basque flag.
There are also phrases in the Basque language like “Ongi Etorri!” (welcome) and “Kaixo!” (hello) peppered throughout the homepage copy.
Bar Gernika wants to showcase what makes makes them distinctive, and Basque symbols and phrases in their native language do so. It’s important that your website distinguish what makes you and your business unique if you want to hold you own against your competitors.
Using their native language also helps establish their authenticity (which, of course, is also part of their branding). They further illustrate their connection to their Basque heritage through a resources page with links to other Basque businesses and organizations in the area.
Referencing places like The Basque Market and the Basque Museum & Cultural Center on their webpage makes Bar Gernika look equally authentic (the old adage of “You’re only as good as the company you keep”).
As such, I was disappointed to see that their site is not frequently updated. The reviews they include on their "Reviews" page are several years old, and their “News” and “Events” pages are both completely blank.
Chandlers is a steakhouse that focuses on high-quality steaks and seafood. They’re considered one of the best fine dining destinations in downtown Boise. Their website is sleek and sophisticated, with an elaborate and striking color scheme of blood red and cobalt blue.
Your eye is first drawn to the lush blue interior, then down to the bright red “Make A Reservation” CTA button, and then down to the row of red icons at the bottom of the page.
Their food is equally opulent, with most of their prime steaks running in the $50 range. This is expensive, so Chandlers works hard to showcase why springing for their food is worth it.
For example, their seafood menu contains pricey offerings like $39 bouillabaisse or $68 lobster tail. Since fresh seafood is not something normally associated with Idaho, (it’s far from a lot of water, being high desert), Chandlers works hard to relay the quality and freshness of their seafood through things like this website copy:
Despite the high price tag, knowing that Chandlers flies top-quality seafood in everyday from Honolulu makes me more willing to try it because I know it will be good (too fresh not to be!)
They also work hard to show they’re worth the price by showing off the awards they've won.
Providing proof in the form of awards or testimonials on a webpage helps establish consumer trust with a brand. And the more you trust a business, the more you are likely to buy from it.
For example, Wine Spectator gave Chandlers an Award of Excellence for their extensive wine cellar (the biggest in Idaho).
The fact that this award is “bestowed to only those restaurants that best exemplify a commitment to offering wines from all of the world’s great wine growing regions” makes me want to try some of the wines from their cellar (and having this award on the page where that wine list is located doesn’t hurt either).
And when they’re not tirelessly promoting their value on their website, they’re out promoting it on social media. They have a frequently updated Facebook page and Twitter feed. They also have videos of all the live bands that play in their live music series on Youtube. With such a strong social media presence, Chandlers makes it easy to stay connected to their brand.
Located in downtown Boise, Barbacoa is an edgy and theatrical take on the ranching culture of the Pacific Northwest. It’s known for it’s quirky and bizarre decor as much as its steaks or Latin cuisine. However, what it should be known for is its awesome interactive website.
For example, when you first visit the homepage, you are greeted with this:
An elaborate keyhole beacons you to click on it. When you do, the image enlarges and you are taken through it to the actual homepage:
The homepage features a slideshow of photos of their restaurant’s cool decor. My first impression was that the restaurant looked like it was designed by someone on drugs -- a kind of half-acid, half-cubist explosion. (I mean this only as a compliment.)
Interactive design features like this keep visitors entertained and engaged. However, it doesn't stop there. In the upper right-hand corner is a tiny, brown rectangle with a map of the floor plan inside.
When you click on it, it enlarges.
It’s actually an interactive layout of the restaurant. You can click on any room on the map and be taken to a specific landing page for that room with images of what it looks like, along with food and drink menus, how many it seats, and other specific information.
For example, if I click on the upstairs room in the left-hand corner, I am taken here:
I am directed to a new page with an image of what the space looks like. If I click the “Luna Bar” button in the right-hand corner, a tab opens with a menu and basic information for this space.
An interactive map helps me visualize what it would be like to eat at the restaurant. And if I can see myself there, I’ll be more likely to go there. It’s a great way to get website visitors to want to visit their restaurant.
It’s also fun to play with the interactive map feature, and it makes me feel that if Barbacoa has such a fun website, eating there will be even more fun.
Of course, many people visiting Barbacoa’s website will just be looking for menus, not what it’s like to experience their restaurant. So all the menus are also easily accessible by clicking on the menu tab on the homepage:
The site is also mobile friendly. So, no matter what kind of visitor Barbacoa gets to its website, it still serves that visitor’s needs.
Having a great restaurant website is important, and with Boise (and Idaho’s) food culture finally receiving some national attention, its no wonder that there are so many great restaurants and restaurant websites to visit.
Each of these four websites is attractive and highlights that restaurant’s USP.
Unfortunately, with mobile phones changing the way we view and use websites, it’s important to have not just a great website, but a great website that’s also mobile-friendly. While Chandlers and Barbacoa passed Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test, Cottonwood Grille and Bar Gernika did not.
Since mobile is now the number one way we surf the internet (with mobile accounting for around 60% of web traffic), not having a mobile-friendly website can seriously hurt your business.
Have an opinion about Boise’s popular restaurant scene? Share it with me in the comments. Or send me a tweet at @HRodabaugh.