Pity the poor restaurateur. Back in the day, all it took was a flowerpot and a well-swept foyer for an eatery to entice a potential patron. But now the art of seducing a diner has a new dimension: a digital one. No longer does it suffice to have a handsome, well-maintained entryway; restaurant owners are also expected to create an equally captivating virtual front door.
In Cleveland, more eateries are launching websites every day; in fact, in the past year, it has become almost de rigueur for the hottest spots to have their own home page. While a few of them are amateurish (slow to load, hard to navigate, and with a paucity of up-to-date data), plenty more are imaginative and informative.
For instance, the snazzy site for the Fulton Bar & Grill (www.fultonbarandgrill.com) in Ohio City not only contains a wealth of info about seasonal specials and the wine list, but emanates a mellow, cozy mood, treating visitors to a loop of jazzy rhythms while they read up on the kitchen's slow-food philosophy.
Lola's site (www.lolabistro.com) includes evocative photos of chef-owner Michael Symon's culinary creations, as well as reviews from national publications and diversions like Smash Your Server and the Lola Memory challenge. While the games (which involve smacking pop-up servers with a mallet -- let's hope that doesn't reflect on their labor-management relationship -- or remembering the location of pairs of Symon family photos) initially sounded pretty goofy, they actually do a good job of conveying the playful eccentricity of the restaurant itself. The only complaint? The use of teensy type font, in both the menu and in the photo captions, makes these pages hard to read.
The website for downtown's recently opened Pickwick & Frolic (www.pickwickandfrolic.com) is still a promising work in progress. Although it's painfully slow to load, the opening page is particularly impressive: a moody, animated view of the East Fourth Street building at twilight, complete with a marquee that lights up, searchlights that pan across the exterior, and the sounds of crowds and passing traffic.
Other sites worth looking into belong to The Harp (www.the-harp.com) in Ohio City, Fire (www.firefoodanddrink.com) on Shaker Square, and South Market Bistro (www.southmarketbistro.com) in Wooster. Although all these sites steer clear of games, music, and other cyber SFX, they are quick-loading, logically organized, easy to read, and packed with info. They provide an attractive and welcoming presence, and whet the appetite for a first-rate meal.