Yelp and Urbanspoon have cornered most of the market on online restaurant ratings and info for the past few years, but now both sites may be threatened by a new Google menu searching feature. With the help of an unnamed date partner, Google has made it possible for users to retrieve the menu to their favorite restaurant with a quick search. If this sounds like a familiar feature, it might be because sites like Yelp and Urbanspoon have offered it for years. Unfortunately for those sites, as well as smaller menu sites, many users find them from beginning their search at Google, so they may find themselves in jeopardy.
Because this feature has just launched, only time will tell if it will replace or even threaten similar sites. As of the humble beginning of this feature, the amount of results available are not remotely comparable to competitors, but by the time it becomes more established, people may changes the way they look for restaurant info. Now that a new market has been entered, it stands to reason that Google might, at some point, expand this very basic feature to include the rest of the information offered elsewhere. Yelp and Urbanspoon currently offer a wide array of features include a rating system, reviews, menus, location information, the chance to network with friends in order to compare notes on restaurants, and the ability to book tables online.
One benefit users may find with Google is that the info in their new search feature will be standardized. Google has certainly proven themselves as a worthy place to search, so with their solid track record of organization, those looking for quick info might forego the sites who have been in this business for longer. But for those who have a moment and do not feel the need to get right down to business, Google will have a ways to go before catching up. Those wanting to give Google a try for menu searches can type in “show me the menu for” and insert the name of the restaurant. Be warned, the information that is currently available may be disappointing as information is still being compiled. A clear answer is not currently available as to where the retrieved information is coming from, so accept search results with a grain of salt.
In the event that this new Google feature takes off, there may be a few indicators of whether that will be a problem for Yelp and Urbanspoon. Yelp has presented itself as a frontrunner since the beginning; in addition to striving for accuracy, they have taken great care to mine their data effectively, and they even employ a team to handle that aspect of their service. Urbanspoon does not have their data practices published online, but their reservation system was purchased by OpenTable Inc this past summer, proof that some of their systems are worth copying. Will Google’s menu searching capabilities be the downfall of Yelp and Urbanspoon in spite of how well-established both sites have become? Google has a long way to go in order to catch up, but the idea that other sites should feel threatened might be premature at this point.
By Bonnie Sludikoff