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How Google Maps’ Menu Listings Will Change The Way Restaurants Are Found

Google My Business’ restaurant clients will be able to attract customers who are searching for food items even when they’re not looking for a specific brand.

It may seem like a mundane feature, but the ability for restaurants to publish their entire, detailed menus within their search results across Google could change the way eateries are ultimately discovered by patrons interested in specific meals.

The ability became available to businesses that use the Google My Business API at the end of April. Restaurants and food services outlets that have signed up with GMB can publish their entire menu to Google —itemized with descriptions, photos and prices.

Prior to this GMB update, which covers all its food service client search results in Google as well as Google Maps, restaurants could include a link to their branded website’s menu. They could also insert a link to menus organized by third-party directories like MenuPages or AllMenus (both of which are owned by Grubhub/Seamless) or Zomato/Urbanspoon.

A Big Difference For Food Services And Patrons

While it may seem like a small difference, considering the amount of time consumers place on finding faster information and images can’t be underestimated. The GMB change takes the friction out of having to leave Google Maps, wait for an outside menu site to load, and then have to return to the main app for directions and other details such as reviews, directions, and hours.

It all stems from Google’s determination to offer users a complete walled garden where they don’t have to lose the ease of staying in its search app functions, whether it’s to hail a car or book a fitness appointment.

Arby’s, Denny’s, Quiznos, Panera Bread, and Bloomin’ Brands (the parent for Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Bonefish Grill, and Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar), are among the restaurants who first tried out the embedded menu search in GMB.

For Arby’s, embedding their menu listings within Google is about control.

“We update our menu every month with new and limited time offers,” said Sonja Uppal, Arby’s Digital Marketing Supervisor, in a Google blog post. “With the new Google My Business Menu feature we now have control over our menu data. “We are able to provide our menu updates directly to Google via the Yext platform, and our updated menu populates on Google almost instantly. We no longer have to worry about old, unavailable menu items from third party sites showing up.”[Full disclosure: Yext is GeoMarketing’s parent company. More details on that relationship here.]

A Google Maps’ search for the words “Bourbon.” “Bacon,” or “Burger” might pull up results for this Denny’s menu item, which is named for those main ingredients.

The ability to manage menu items for multiple locations had instant appeal to Denny’s, John Dillon, the restaurant chain’s SVP/CMO, told GeoMarketing.

“The ability to highlight different menu items via an internet search based on geolocation certainly has its benefits,” Dillon said. “However, as a brand with 1,700-plus restaurants—over 90 percent of which are franchise owned—it’s also very important for us to ensure that our featured menu items are consistent across the board.”

Quiznos began its use of GMB’s menu embed to promote its most recent “limited time only” lobster specials as well as its new slow-roasted, BBQ pulled pork subs.

For Quiznos, controlling how customers find its menu items and making sure patrons find the correct information is crucial and fundamental, said Tim Kraus, Quiznos’ director of Interactive and Innovation. “Not just for SEO strategy, but also for the user experience.

“We want to make sure the consumer gets accurate information about what’s on our menu and it’s easiest when that comes direct from Quiznos,” Kraus told GeoMarketing. “There is value in 3rd party menu data services, but it can be difficult to update information with 3rd parties to ensure the right information is available to consumers.”

That said there is a clear SEO strategy at work here, Kraus noted. For one thing, adding menus and related information across Google’s platforms helps send people searching for specific menu items  to the correct landing pages, “so brands can focus on conversions versus ranking a landing page,” Kraus said.

Quiznos Pulled Pork Subs

Brands Need To Be Everywhere

The Google My Business API lets restaurants and their developers publish menu data to each of their business locations. They can also create separate menus for breakfast, lunch, dinner and add sections (salads, entrees, dessert, drinks, etc.) that include individual menu items, each with a description, photos, and prices.

Most restaurants still use those alternative menu options. And when it comes to consumers who are searching for a particular food item, the restaurants that stick to the previous menu listing methods could find their tables a little more empty versus competitors taking advantage of the upgrade in GMB.

In addition to Arby’s, Denny’s, and Quiznos, Panera Bread, and Bloomin’ Brands (the parent for Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Bonefish Grill, and Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar), are among the other restaurants who have been rolling out the embedded menu search in GMB.

A cursory Google Maps search in the NYC area for McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Jersey Mike’s, Duncan Donuts, KFC, Chick-Fil-A, Starbucks, Papa John’s, Domino’s, Subway, Pizza Hut, Little Caesar’s, Panda Express, Dairy Queen, and Chipotle showed links to their respective, branded website menus. Taco Bell locations either use Urbanspoon or an offer to place an order via on-demand delivery platform DoorDash.

While there are advantages in using the menu embedding, Marc Ferrentino, Yext’s chief strategy officer, noted that there are important distinctions in the ways benefits can be extracted by restaurants using either discovery method.

“A brand’s website is just as important as its presence on Google,” Ferrentino said. “And that’s what makes it so challenging to be a marketer in today’s digital world. The facts about a brand live in so many more places — beyond its own website and beyond Google. And because no one can control a consumer’s path to purchase, a brand has no choice but to be the best version of itself everywhere consumers could possibly find it. A brand needs to be awesome everywhere.”

The Meaning Of Structured Data And Unbranded Search

When it comes to what this change in how Google menus can be placed within its apps and platforms, “this update is particularly exciting because consumers can access and tab through a brand’s menu directly from Google’s search results and Google Maps listings — without ever being redirected,” Ferrentino said. “If anything, this new capability streamlines the path to purchase and as I mentioned above, presents a multitude of new opportunities for brands to rank in unbranded search.”

The ability for a restaurant’s product to appear higher in the search rankings even when the person looking for an item doesn’t mention the place’s name is what gives restaurants an additional way to be discovered. And that’s all due to the use of structured data.

“Google is constantly investing in new ways to leverage digital knowledge,” Ferrentino said. “With the launch of Google My Business API V3.3, Google has started accepting and indexing structured menu data.

This is incredibly exciting because if you use Yext to manage your menus, you can control the way your menus appear directly in Google’s search results. And arguably, the most powerful component to Google indexing structured menu data is that every single item on a brand’s menu presents a new keyword opportunity to be discovered.”

In other words, brands are no longer limited to their business description, or even location attributes, to optimize their business with these types of keywords.

“By Google accepting structured menu data, for the first time, brands have the potential to rank for unbranded food searches, like ‘tater tots near me’ and ‘ice cream near me,’ that on-the-go consumers use to decide where to eat next,” Ferrentino continued. “If you’ve ever been in a car with hungry kids that want tator tots or ice cream, you know just how important these unbranded food searches are.”

The Age Of Added Discovery

The rise of social media the last few years and now the emergence of voice-activated connected intelligence through Amazon’s Alexa and other machine learning devices and programs, presents an even greater, more immediate way for consumers to find exactly what they’re looking for, noted Denny’s Dillon.

“As a restaurant brand that serves up breakfast, lunch and dinner all-day, every day across our 1,700-plus restaurants, it’s critical for us to be able to continue to leverage new technology to make it more convenient for our guests to find information about our restaurants—especially when it comes to our menu,” Dillon said. “Having the ability to put our menu, in its entirety, at someone’s fingertips with a quick Google search certainly helps in that effort. In addition to helping our fans make possible decisions on what they may want to eat before they even set foot in our restaurants, it also gives us the ability to expose new audiences to Denny’s extensive lineup of classic diner fare.”

The Google My Business update for restaurant menus comes as the search giant is experiencing greater challenges to its search and mapping dominance as Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Snap, and others demonstrate their own individual abilities to match users with brands’ products based on location.

And as it often does, Google itself is able to keep ahead of the encroachments in the area of search and geography. And in part, it’s the demands of its users and  business clients who depend on Google to help fulfill those customer connections.

“Google maps will continue to be a valuable piece to drive traffic to Quiznos, in not just web traffic but also direct traffic to Quiznos locations via ‘directions’, ‘call ahead’, ‘order ahead’ and other features & functionality that consumers continue to employ from Google Maps,” Quiznos’ Kraus said. “We will continue to use and find ways to boost traffic from Google Maps for Quiznos.”

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of GeoMarketing.com. A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.