In just over 20 years, Google became one of the world’s largest companies and arguably the most recognized brand. At the very least, it’s one of the few companies that legitimately doubles as a proper noun and a verb.
The company has also evolved significantly beyond its search engine roots, planting seeds in industries from retail to education to enterprise. Google also has a burgeoning Food, Beverage and Restaurants vertical. Although many of the company’s integrations may be subtle because of our habitual use of Google products, its presence is becoming quite ubiquitous in the restaurant space.
In late 2018, Google redesigned its signature Maps site, adding star ratings for restaurants on the map view, for example. About eight months later, Google Maps started testing a new feature that shows users images of the most popular meals at a restaurant, pulled from machine learning based on reviews and photos.
The company also introduced new features for Lens, including the ability to recommend the most popular meals at restaurants by pointing a mobile phone camera at a menu. The update also enables Google to split a bill or calculate a tip after a meal by pointing the camera at the receipt.
Further, the company has added a food ordering function through a partnership with Olo, and adelivery option within its Maps, Search and Assistant platforms through partnerships with delivery.com and ChowNow.
be one of the fastest-growing search terms,” Olohan said.
Of those one billion searches per month, about 89% are done on a smartphone. Therein lies a big opportunity for Google, particularly as more consumers shift their ordering habits to digital–a habit forming prior to the COVID-19 crisis, but expedited because of it.
“Our investments in the restaurant space are allowing consumers to find what they need faster and even order delivery or carryout right from Google if the customer chooses,” Olohan said. “This is a massive advantage for hungry consumers and restaurant owners.”
Indeed, Google Maps is by far the most popular navigation app and the preferred app for three-fourths of mobile navigation users. Further, Android’s share of the U.S. mobile market is about 54%, so elevating ratings on this default map platform, for example, is significant for audience capture alone.
What’s the full potential here? Well, Google gives restaurants the ability to tap into the 1 billion mobile users each month who are looking for food options, and it drives an action, whether that action is helping a consumer find a restaurant near them, order delivery or drive awareness of a new product.
“Restaurants can use first-party data to have specific strategies to drive new customers versus increased frequency of their current customers,” Olohan said. That data includes “what’s trending” aggregation, to show where customers are most likely to search for plant-based burgers, for example.
That first-party piece is especially a big deal in an environment bogged down by third-party vendors, some of whom charge massive commission fees that erode restaurants’ already-thin profit margins. Olohan insists that’s not Google’s objective here.
“Our job is not to sell Google products, but to understand our partners’ business objectives, the dynamics of their organization and to ensure we are all rowing in the same direction,” Olohan said. “We want to make sure consumers are finding the information they need and have the most frictionless experience.”
So, what’s next? The potential is significant in the nearly $900 billion restaurant industry for a company as dynamic and diverse as Google, especially as the use of digital channels accelerates in a post-pandemic world.
“We have come a long way in just the past five years so it’s exciting to see what the next five years will bring with machine learning, 5G and more digital-savvy consumers. [Or] voice search, frictionless ordering experiences, food delivery, visual search for finding popular items on a menu, and sustainability measures to reduce food waste,” Olohan said.
It’s worth noting that Olohan wears another hat as well – as the owner of an ice cream and coffee shop called Seven Scoops & Sips. This role enables him to realize some of the benefits Google is working to create in the vast restaurant space.
“In a few seconds, our customers can read our reviews, get directions and even order online through Google’s food ordering program,” Olohan said. “While this might not be a big deal for a large chain like McDonald’s, I’m incredibly grateful that Google has leveled the playing field for countless mom and pops.”