In short, PDF menus are bad for your business
In order for your visitors to decide if they want to dine at your restaurant , they actually have to find your menu first, which leads us neatly into the first issue:
PDF menus are less visible in search results
Sure, you added a link to your PDF menu in your website's header; what's the issue?
Unfortunately, PDF menus are substantially less SEO friendly than alternative approaches.
You're missing out on a considerable amount of organic search traffic using a PDF menu. You're also making it harder for people to book a table with you — and making it easier for your competitors.
The problem is that search engines have more difficulty understanding PDF content than a typical web page. Because of this, your PDF menu is far less likely to perform well in organic search results.
For example, If someone's wants to eat steak and your restaurant happens to serve an incredible filet mignon — but the only reference on your website to steak is within a PDF menu — then you could be missing out on that business entirely.
A PDF menu is a dead-end for your visitor's journey on your website
Technically speaking, your PDF menu isn't even a part of your website — it's just a file — and it sits there, completely separate from the rest of your site.
By using a PDF menu, you're effectively trapping your visitors in a dead-end, with the only way out being to go back or leave your site entirely.
Sure, you can open any links to your PDF menu in a new browser tab, but why make it more difficult for visitors to go beyond your menu?
Ideally, your menu should be a stepping stone to your table reservation system or a contact page.
Since search engines tend to prefer to prioritise larger websites in organic search, you need to consider that using a PDF menu makes your website smaller. This could mean that a more substantial competitor website could rank higher in search results than you.
Due to much larger file sizes, PDF menus also tend to load substantially more slowly than an HTML menu— and we've talked about why this is an SEO issue in another post.
As your menus are critical parts of your website, you don't want to make them hard to find, or slow to load.
PDF menus are far more difficult to update than you realise
Because PDFs are static files, you'll need to create and upload a new version if your menu changes - even a single price change will necessitate the creation of a new PDF.
Whilst it's reasonably easy for your graphic designer to update your menu, it usually comes with a cost and takes a days or two.
As a result, changes to your menu can be slow to propagate through to your website and be potentially costly over time — especially if you run multiple or limited-run menus.
You also must completely remove any old versions of your menu from your website. By that, I mean physically delete any old PDFs from your website, because search engines won't realise that the old PDF is no longer relevant.
So even if you're one of the lucky ones, and your PDF menu appears in search results, if you don't remove the old versions, people are likely to see out of date information.
Frustratingly, these older versions may remain in search results for a long time. They may even rank more highly than the new version for a while.
The easiest way around this issue is to directly overwrite the old PDF file with the new version — keeping the URL of the file the same — or to implement a '301 redirect' from the old menu's URL to your new menu.