Google wants to be the way people search for and access any information, including a place to eat. Google’s search engine is now entering the restaurant site arena in a much bigger way, a search move that will clearly put competitors like Yelp and Urban Spoon on its menu of sites to beat.
Google officially announced via its blog that its search results for restaurants will now include menus. Users will even be able to type “menu for …” in the search bar and access the information. It will not look like the actual menu. Google is culling the information and displaying it in a OneBox-type of display. The menu OneBox is divided into tabs with food options for different categories like lunch, dinners and the like depending on how the restaurants organize their menus. The announcement implied that the service is up and running, but results are still spotty and limited to the U.S. at present. Like other Google search features, it is likely that the results displayed will become more robust with time.
It is unclear what source is used by Google search for the menu information and how it will be updated. What is clear is that the company wants to give users the knowledge they are seeking without having to click to other sites. It sounds similar to the way that Microsoft’s Bing search was trying to differentiate itself, offering additional localized information along with search results.
People who have used basic search engines to pull up menus for various restaurants know how valuable and time-saving it can be to offer the menu information directly beside the usual search results with a link to the restaurant (and presumably a menu link therein). While not exactly new, as Google puts more menu boxes on its search display, this could be the latest way the company is trying to take down Urbanspoon, Yelp and other sites that offer menus.
Google’s move is not a big surprise. The company has telegraphed its intent to enter the restaurant app arena for several years. The search giant tried to buy Yelp in 2009 and then acquired competitor, Zagat, in 2011.
Yelp offers reviews across a variety of price points that are added by a younger, tech-savvy crowd. Its list of top-rated restaurants in the U.S. includes haute cuisine along with taco stands. Since spurning Google’s 2009 offer, Yelp believes it was targeted by Google. In Fast Company, Yelp’s CEO and cofounder Jeremy Stoppelman says that the company tried to kill his firm by launching Google Places (now Google+ Local). Stoppelman also testified in the Senate that Google threatened to remove Yelp from its search index. Eventually, Yelp made a deal to integrate its reviews in Apple’s Maps app (which replaced Google Maps on iPhones and iPads). Its stand-alone apps are among the most popular ones in Apple and Android app stores. Reportedly, 40 percent of Yelp’s traffic now comes directly from the apps. Still, the majority of the site’s users are typically driven there by search engines, which the change to Google search clearly wants to counteract.
Google purchased Zagat in 2011 for $125 million. Zagat was widely respected for its iconic maroon restaurant guides on different cities. Zagat builds its ratings by curating opinions from consumers on the food, service, décor and cost using a 30-point rating scale that typically favored more high-end fare. Now online as well as in print, the company was the original provider of user-generated reviews back in the 1980s, when its data was compiled from lengthy surveys participants patiently filled in by hand with ratings and commentary on restaurants they visited. The books were revolutionary, but today Zagat is just one of the many restaurant review apps available.
Urbanspoon is also a popular restaurant guide (with an app) that aggregates reviews from professional food critics, bloggers and regular diners. Beside Yelp, Zagat and Urbanspoon, there are allmenus.com, menupages.com and more. There are also sites that try to differentiate themselves, like Open Table, through which users can make reservations, and Grub Hub, that allows ordering for delivery. TripAdvisor and others sites for tourists list restaurant information as well.
Google’s latest announcement shows its continued desire to be users’ one source for everything. In the meantime, its menu addition to search clearly put Yelp, Urbanspoon and other comparable sites on the list of firms fighting to keep up and compete with tremendous Google search capabilities.
By Dyanne Weiss