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Have you heard about the most recent Google update to add restaurant menus to the SERPs?  It has definitely rolled out after being seen tested over a week ago, but the new feature is having mixed reviews.

As most things with Google, the roll out of a new feature is often limited in many ways.  It usually rolls out in the US first (for testing reasons), no one knows how it’s going to work or affect them, and we’re all left with questions until we figure out what this actually means for the industry.  But instead of just leaving you hanging and saying “Yay, now your menu is showing in the SERPs, but we don’t know how to control it,” I’ll give you a list of things of we do know about.

First up, this new restaurant menu roll-out is indeed limited to the US alone.  Unfortunately, all of the other countries will have to wait until the details are ironed out, but don’t feel left out quite yet, we Americans are still trying to figure all of this out ourselves.  Hopefully, this will mean by the time it does roll out in other countries, there will be a lot more know-how available.

The menus will only come up when you specifically type into Google (or vocalize over your phone) “show me the menu for [insert name of restaurant]” or “what’s on the menu at [insert name of restaurant].”  The format that is shown will be similar to the knowledge graph results that you see; as in, it’ll be a white box format at the top of the SERP.  If the restaurant has multiple menus, those menus will be split by different tabs; i.e. breakfast, lunch, dinner, and appetizers, main dishes, etc.  Prices will also be listed.

We don’t have a definitive answer as to where Google is pulling the data from, but we do know that Google has been dipping their toes in the restaurant world since their acquisition of Zagat back in 2011.  Actually, interest goes back to 2008 when Google attempted to partner with Yelp, but Yelp already had their eyes on Yahoo.  There have been rumors that the menus are being pulled in from third-party websites like All Menus, Open Table, Single Platform, and Locu; however, there are no confirmed statements on this.

Why is Google so Interested in Restaurants?

There are a few potential answer to this.  For one, it comes down to money.  If they can keep you on the SERP, instead of clicking through to the restaurant’s site, there’s a higher potential that you may click on one of those money making ads they have.

There’s also the reasoning that they are forever trying to make their product more user friendly.  If all you have to do is ask a question and your answer is returned, then it’s just one step closer to being your go-to-resource.  Where other menu websites, like Urbanspoon, Foursquare, and Yelp, need you to click through to get the content, Google simply needs you to do a search.  But this isn’t going to just affect those big name companies, it’ll also affect the restaurants whose menus are being shown.

How this Affects Restaurants

Now, those restaurants will also lose that traffic, which means in the analytics tracking, they’ll likely see a decrease in traffic as users get savvier on this new update… but that’s not the only loss.

Because Google isn’t sharing (at this time) where those menus are being pulled from, it makes it hard for restaurants to update their menu when there are changes – there are plenty of restaurants out there that update their menus on a monthly, if not weekly (or even daily), basis.

Those changes could be anything from changing the list of ingredients of a menu item, adding/deleting menu items, or changing prices.  If the restaurant is unable to make these updates, then the information being shown to the public is, well, obviously out of date.  Where Google is trying to create a better user experience, it could end up badly for the restaurant-consumer relationship because of bad information.

But Google Isn’t Unwise

Because this move is to improve the user experience, it’s likely that this disconnection of menu updates will be fixed.  As much as restaurateurs want to give their customers the most up-to-date information, as does Google (to ensure the searcher gets that information as well).

We’re expecting a lot of news updates coming out about this, and quick responses on what those restaurants can do to ensure their menus are correct; even if that means that Google ends up working on doing all of this in-house or through Google+.

What Restaurants Are Showing Menu Results?

Again, we can’t tell you for sure who is showing and who isn’t showing in the US, but we can tell you what we’ve seen from online responses.  A Google spokesperson said that the majority of the popular restaurants in the US should be showing up in the SERPs with their menus.  However, looking over at Google’s own Google+ page where the new update was announced:

“Next time you’re planning a brunch or a date night, check to make sure the menu has something to satisfy everyone in your group, without having to browse through several restaurants’ websites. Just search Google to show you the menu for the eatery you’re considering and you can see it right on the top of your search page—complete with tabs for different parts of the menu (like appetizers, brunch or dinner) and, often, prices—before you make your reservation. Menus are available in the U.S. only for now. Bon appétit! “- shared publicly Feb 28, 2014

There are plenty of comments from users where they weren’t able to find their favorite restaurants listed.  So, the short answer is, some are showing.  The longer answer is a complicated one that involves knowing how to get those menus up in the first place!

The comments go on to say that a lot of users are happy about this new move and find it to be very useful from a user standpoint (user as in, not the restaurant owner), but there are plenty that are still unable to get the menus to pop-up when they do their searches – many from major cities.

From the restaurant owner standpoint, we’re already seeing commenters being frustrated with the update of the menu issue; unfortunately, Google has not commented on any of the complaints.  Other questions being asked for restaurant owners, includes:

  • Who is this third party app that the data is being pulled from?
  • How often are they planning on updating the information; i.e. if they know who the third party app is and update the menu, how soon will Google show the new updates?
  • Will there be a future update that includes opportunities where the restaurant can ensure the data is accurate?
  • What is the future of this?  Will Google better streamline this so restaurants can better manage what shows in the search menu results?
  • What if a restaurant’s menu isn’t showing, how do they get it listed?

A lot of researchers on this have sided with the menu results being pulled from, so for now, that’s what we’d recommend staying on top of.  Of course, if we hear of new updates, we’ll let you know as soon as we can.

In the meantime, we also know that there are a lot of restaurants out there that do a poor job of ensuring their menus are up to date on these third-party sites, let alone providing something other than a PDF on their own sites.  It’s something that we see a lot with restaurant websites, and with this new update, it could be even a harder battle to tackle.

What’s the Future of This?

As with most Google updates, there’s always something new tomorrow.  As I write this, there are changes being made to improve this update.  It’s most likely that Google will soon be sharing with us, just how we can ensure our restaurant clients can maintain these menus.

There’s also those dreamers out there that are chatting about bringing quick online ordering to the SERPs, as well as, ratings and reviews.  Dreamers are where possibilities arise, and as Google is always trying to improve, there’s a possibility that these types of changes could come.

The future of this lies in the hands of Google, but we hope that the answer to this is that it’ll be easier for restaurateurs to get their menu in front of customers, even faster.

Kasy Allen

Kasy brings years of experience in search engine optimization (SEO), content strategy, Internet marketing, and overall web-geekery to the table. She enjoys writing on the web and improving user experience across the Annapurna site, as well as with our clients. When Kasy is out of the office, she can often be found volunteering her time to help non-profit organizations build a better online presence and exploring the great outdoors with her family.

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