‘Yelp Now’ Debuts, As Local Guides Compete On Searches For Reservations, Food Orders

“Discovery” is the name of the game for local search and Digital Presence Management. For Yelp, focusing on Food Services is just a part of its On-Demand strategy.

Reservations tools Yelp SeatMe is being expanded.
Reservations tool Yelp SeatMe is being expanded.

The rollout of the Yelp Now restaurant reservation and online ordering service is part of the local guide platform’s evolving response to the rise of the “On-Demand Revolution” that has blurred the lines between digital and physical marketing.

Yelp, which is scheduled to report Q1 earnings this coming Wednesday afternoon, is introducing the new search discovery tool by concentrating on the Food Services category. The Yelp Now program is being offered in a handful of “selected cities,” said Vish Prabhakara, the GM of Yelp SeatMe, the company’s existing in-app reservation program, which it acquired almost two years ago.

And while the food ordering aspect comes just two months after Yelp bought e-commerce based takeout/delivery service Eat24, Prabhakara said the company’s interest in presenting such tools to its users has been going on for a while.

“Yelp Now adds a new filter to the existing Yelp search functionality, making it easier and more efficient for consumers to discover and transact with businesses on Yelp,” Prabhakara said, noting that now, consumers don’t have to exit the Yelp confines to access these kinds of booking and ordering services. “Users can now search for and book restaurant reservations by day, time and category. Users can now also search for takeout and delivery options by address.”

Over the next few months, Yelp Now will be expanded to allow users to search across other verticals like spas, hotels, plumbers, and dentists to help them easily find and book available appointments, rooms and more, Prabhakara noted. The program comes as Google, Foursquare, and Yelp reservations platform partner OpenTable, are all expanding their respective search and discovery offerings for consumers and small-to-medium sized businesses.

It’s part of a larger trend toward local Digital Presence Management, which seeks to ensure the accuracy of businesses’ locations and vital information so they can be more easily and immediately be found across all interactive channels.

Yelp's Vish Prabhakara
Yelp’s Vish Prabhakara

Changing Mobile Patterns

Well-established on-demand services  like Uber and OpenTable, as well as emerging players like, Curbside, Bringg, are particularly associated with on-the-go consumers and mobile apps.

Most notably, Yelp’s new search product is designed keep users engaged with the company’s mobile apps for longer periods. It’s also reflective of the changing dynamics in what Yelp’s users do on its apps.

For example, over 60 percent of the searches that happen on Yelp are now coming from mobile devices, Yelp’s Holloway pointed out in February. Furthermore, among the statistics that caught investors’ eyes during Yelp’s Q4 earnings report was a trend toward slower desktop activity and higher mobile downloads. Overall, Yelp has told investors it will spend roughly $20 million into marketing this year — with a large portion of that to be used for increase engagement and downloads for its mobile apps.

In outlining Yelp’s growth strategy in March, Darnell Holloway, Yelp’s head of local business outreach, told GeoMarketing that the company’s plans are heavily centered on building up services related to restaurant bookings and mobile payments — and not just the reviews and ratings Yelp is often known for.

A look at the way Yelp users’ review habits have changed also explains the launch of Yelp Now at this moment.

Over the past several months, the shopping/retail category has become the largest vertical of reviewed business on Yelp — even more so than restaurants. Shopping/retail represents 23 percent of the reviewed businesses on Yelp, while restaurants are now 19 percent, followed by home local services as its third largest attraction with 12 percent.

“We are always exploring ways to make Yelp a more efficient way for consumers to transact with great local businesses,” Prabhakara said. “We initially rolled out the Yelp Now reservation feature across Yelp SeatMe and Yelp Reservations businesses so that we could better ensure a first rate consumer experience.

OpenTable Gets Booked

Once Yelp was secure that the new feature was performing well in initial tests, Prabhakara’s team decided to include information about additional providers, such as OpenTable, which provides consumers with more available reservation and delivery options.

The release of Yelp Now could also provide a big boost for OpenTable, which has partnered with Yelp since June 2010, by making its booking services even more accessible to consumers outside of its own native platform. In addition to Yelp, OpenTable has nearly 600 partners, including Bing, Facebook, Google, TripAdvisor, Urbanspoon, Yahoo, and Zagat. In aggregate, partners account for 5 to 10 percent of diners seated each month via OpenTable, a rep for the reservation app provider told GeoMarketing.

“For this feature, we’re using an algorithm to model potential availability at a restaurant taking reservations through the OpenTable platform,” Prabhakara said. “OpenTable has exclusive access to real-time data on restaurants using their booking service.”

Yelp SeatMe on iPad
Restaurants can plan for booking times on their iPads.

The Proof

To demonstrate the value of Yelp Now and consumers interest in on-demand services in general, Yelp and Nielsen analyzed data from an ongoing Harris Interactive Poll of national restaurant goers generally and New Yorkers specifically. Among the topline findings from Yelp and Nielsen:

  • Nearly 4 in 10 (39 percent) Americans researched or checked reviews of a restaurant before their last dining experience
  • Nearly a third of Americans (28 percent) researched or checked reviews of a restaurant before they placed an order for takeout or delivery
  • 15 percent of Americans made a reservation last time they dined out. In Atlanta and DC, men made reservations three times more often than women.

And of people who made a reservation last time they dined out:

  • 42 percent did so online or using an app
  • More men than women went online or used an app to make that reservation (47 percent vs. 37 percent)
  • 75 percent of people who made a reservation last time they dined out did so within 2 days of their dining experience.
  • More men than women made a same day reservation (46 percent vs. 33 percent)

As for New Yorkers and their online connections to restaurants, Yelp and Nielsen found:

  • 18 percent of New Yorkers made a reservation last time they dined out:
  • In the NYC Metro, more women than men made a reservation last time they dined out (20 percent vs. 16 percent)
  • Of those in the NYC Metro who made a reservation last time they dined out:
  • 41 percent did so online or using an app
  • More women than men made the reservation online or using an app (42 percent vs. 40 percent)
  • 46 percent did so the same day as their dining experience
  • 100 percent of men did so within 2 days of their dining experience vs. 62 percent of women

For Prabhakara , the survey results “back up what we already know — more and more people are turning to online review sites like Yelp before making a transaction.”

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

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