My SaaS Project

A hosted website platform specifically for restaurants and cafes

Frustrated by terrible restaurant/cafe websites that don’t have the info that you need, or simply don't work on mobile, I wanted to make something that enables owners to get a great online presence, fast. So for the last few years I’ve been occasionally working on my own product; a service for restaurant/cafe owners to take their business online. A hosted website platform tailored specifically to restaurants and cafes.

Still in progress, I wrote up a small summary of the work I’ve been doing.

The product

The Minimum Viable Product is a hosted website platform with website builder, featuring customisable/brand-able responsive templates. There’s heavy use of Microdata and semantic markup, to ensure great accessibility to users and robots alike.

Eventually, the website itself might become a lesser part of the product, as the product will be the central point of an online presence, linking with Social Media, checkin apps, and other services, making sure important information is available in the places their customers are searching.

Requirements

I managed to distill my ideas down to a list of User Stories and requirements for both website owners and their customers.

To summarise: a visitor would like to quickly get a visual impression of a place, figure out where it is located, and if (and when) it’s open for business, maybe even give a phone call to reserve a table.

The business owner has different goals, mostly related to accurately representing the restaurant and their values online. They should be able to easily enter information that’s important to users (opening times, contact information, news, the menu).

These requirements were then translated to a customisable and responsive design.

A couple of design sketches for determening possible templates, and finding parameters for customisability.

Back-End

The backend takes a source of data (initially a freeform JSON file, later a structured Postgres database), and generates the HTML and CSS for the website based on it.

The HTML for the pages is generated by a React setup on the server side. Components are customisable and modular, so they can be shared amongst other “themes” (templates), and also offer customisability by the user.

React is not used on the front-end for performance reasons, but modules can have their own client-side code that will be combined and shipped to the front-end.

Content Management System

With the front-end design and the backend mostly done, my current project is the system that allows the business owner to manage the website. This is the heaviest design project that I’ve ever done by myself, and it requires constant balancing between User Experience and pragmatic implementation. Naturally, these designs should also be responsive.

A couple of wireframes for the Content Management System that backs a website.

At this stage, I’m almost done with the interaction design. The visual design and technical implementation are next.

Up next: Branding

The next step would be creating the visual language of the project. I’ve already settled on colours and typography, but I must still expand this to a UI language for use in the Content Management System. Because I haven’t settled on a name yet, I don’t have any visuals I feel comfortable sharing yet.

A reflection…

I’ve been thinking and working on this project for a long time, and it’s been a constant exercise in determination and focus. There are services that do the same thing or that do parts of it way better. Some companies are staffed by more than a 100 specialised people, and I’m doing all the disciplines by myself, that can be a bit hard.

That said, I still think I have some nice solutions that might help people, and in any case it’s teaching me a lot about what it takes to build a product. I’m learning tons during the design process and technical implementation. I hope to call the Minimum Viable Product “done” soon, and bring it to the attention of some people who need it. Because my frequent travelling shows me that a lot of places could still use a product like this.