Gone in a Flash: Restaurant websites abandoning Adobe's platform

Are we witnessing the extinction of Adobe's Flash platform? According to some, yes. The staggering growth of mobile has sent the multimedia software platform into a freefalling spiral, and many restaurant brands are abandoning the feature on their websites all together.

In 2013, for example, A&W, Rosati's Pizza, Culver's, El Pollo Loco, Wendy's and Jack in the Box, among others, underwent complete website remodels aimed at specifically becoming more mobile friendly. That translates to dropping the Flash feature.

"Our website was just outdated. We wanted to update it to make sure people could see the menu and food and locations as clearly as possible on their mobile devices; not just make it a mobile-friendly site, but optimized for mobile. That was the big kicker," said Liz Bazner, social and digital communications strategist at A&W. "Everybody's moving away from Flash specifically because of mobile. I think it will be extinct."

Marla Topliff, president of Rosati's agrees, calling Flash a "dinosaur; an 8-track player living in an MP3 world."

The downfall of Flash

According to Web Technology Surveys' website, the percentage of websites that still support Flash is about 16 percent. The spiral stems mostly from Apple, according to some.

"Apple and Adobe have both publicly stated that they aren't working to make Flash work on iPhones. How significant is this? Roughly 18 percent of traffic to our own website is from smartphones and tables," said Paul Sheng, CEO and cofounder of website builder FoundHere.com. "It's been a little tragic that some of the nicest looking sites have had the lowest traffic and are basically a blank white page on an iPhone."

Additionally, Flash-based sites make it difficult, or impossible, for restaurant operators to make routine changes and updates to their websites, according to Brian Casel, founder of RestaurantEngine.com, a website design company. To make routine changes on a Flash site, operators would more than likely have to hire a Flash designer, and that will get costly.

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"Also, Flash is not ideal when it comes to Google search. Google basically can't 'read' Flash sites, so they won't show up highly in search results," Casel added. "We always recommend avoiding the use of Flash. Redesigning your existing site with a new, non-Flash website is a smart move."

Emulating Flash's best features

Still, Flash was highly popular a few years ago for a reason.

"Flash sites became popular because you can create glossy video effects and interactive features," Sheng said. "This is the sort of problem that causes engineers to get creative."

Rosati's site, for example, features special effects likely created via HTML5, Sheng said. A&W's site features "Rooty's Corner," a 25-live cam on the brand's iconic bear mascot, Rooty.

"Flash is eye-catching, there is movement, you can get creative with it. We knew we still wanted those dynamic elements with the new site," Bazner said. "This trend sort of forces you to think outside of the box a little bit more."

Casel said non-Flash sites have advanced enough to include a similar look and feel, and to even include rotating imagery.

"Ultimately a site using today's web standard practices would result in a site that is easier to use and gives customers what they want — a simple, clean, easy-to-use site that presents relevant information elegantly," he said.

The cost of dropping Flash

A&W's website upgrade came at an opportune time for the brand, shortly after its divestiture from Yum! Brands. Because the company was updating everything, not just its digital presence, Bazner said it's hard to gauge the cost of the update.

"For us, the trend of moving away from Flash provided a good opportunity to not just tweak our site, but to start over from scratch. We looked at piecing together a new site, but that lasted maybe a half hour before we decided to just do the whole thing over. So, I can't speak about whether or not moving away from Flash is cost prohibitive," Bazner said.

Casel said the effort requires a website redesign from the ground up. The new site should be designed and built using the web standard HTML and "hopefully" a system for the owner to make their own updates. Hiring a web designer, he said, with mobile optimization and a content management system will cost an average of $3,000.

However, Sheng and Casel both added that while a complete makeover can be expensive, there are other options.

"You will always be able to spend thousands of dollars on a website, but now there are options to make DIY websites for the next best thing to free," Sheng said. "If you go to these companies, you can create a website for yourself using the same skills you use writing a document in Word. You don't need to know HTML code anymore to make a great website."

Read more about online initiatives.

Photo provided by Wikimedia.

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User Comments – Give us your opinion!
  • Womp Mobile
    I love it. No more Flashplayer plugin! Adobe wants this! They announced a discontinuing of Flashplayer in Fall of 2011 - anyone remember that? It will not be missed. Anyways, new restaurants looking for websites, especially mobile websites to be build please contact us at WompMobile. http://www.wompmobile.com/. We build adaptive mobile websites, they are the best way to build them and we have a patent-pending software, leading edge. Check out our website to learn more. We look forward to hearing from you!
  • Adam Bell
    I have to agree with Mr. Sheng. I once designed a Flash site for Acme Oyster House in New Orleans that won what was then Macromedia's site of the day. This was 2004 and I was just starting to explore mobile on a Palm Treo 300 (remember that?) and knew this might happen down the road. These days similar effects can be done using HTML5 and tools like Adobe EdgeAnimate, which is essentially the replacement for Flash-based projects. I've done some simple homepage animations for restaurants like California Monster Salads (http://californiamonstersalads.com/) and Big Fat Pita (http://bigfatpita.com/) which is likely to go under a complete redesign in 2014 and might have even more interactivity using Animate. The designs can be responsive and they show up on iPhones and iPad's. That's the key. As for Mr. Casel's comments, he's absolutely wrong about having to hire a Flash person to make manual updates on the site. Flash for years was able to be dynamic and I've done that. Not for restaurants, but for other business where I tied in PHP and MySQL into creating e-commerce, message boards and what not that the client could update themselves from a Content Management System. Yes, it cost more in the short term but they made it back in the long term. I've done a lot of work with restaurant websites and my big issue is to make sure there's some originality in the design and tying into the brand. I did a redesign this past year for gastropub/beer bar Hot's Kitchen (http://hotskitchen.com/) which was originally just some $49 restaurant template they stuck a logo on. Now it's completely their design with a few cool features like a social media wall tying in all their current and future feeds. If you want to know more, contact me thru my site at http://datatv.com/ as I've got a lot of opinions on this topic and restaurant web design as a whole.
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