Dine & Dash: Google Adds Restaurant Wait-times To Its Google Maps Service & Search Algorithm
Restaurant owners and managers, depending on their spot’s popularity, may either elicit a silent groan or a whoop to Google’s second-latest Search update which was announced late last month on Google’s, “The Keyword” blog. Although the announcement was made, Quang Duong, Software Engineer for Google Maps and writer for the piece, was rather vague in the blog post, noting the update is, “rolling out soon,” but the effects of the update were made clear.
Duong noted, “Wait times on Google Search (and coming soon to Maps) (will) show you the estimated wait at your favorite restaurants.”
This gives consumers insights that trump Google’s 2015 update that focused on helping users determine when the best time to visit nearby businesses may be.
Restaurant Marketing News expert, Ron Ruggles, expanded on this by noting, “Google,[…], said the wait times will be offered for nearly a million sit-down restaurants globally, similar to what it offers now for locations like museums and groceries.”
This latest update ups the ante yet again. Google is clearly intent on pandering to its modern users that desire more than just good query results—it’s all about a user’s experience after hitting the Search Button. Modern-day users want more: they want search results that offer insights; and Google is keen on offering just that, little by little, over the last few years with tweaks and algorithm updates to its Search and Maps feature sets.
Jessica Guynn of USA Today breaks it down, when she notes, “Google gathers this information from aggregated and anonymized data from users who allow Google to track their location using Google apps on their phones or other devices.” Whether you know it or not, as a consumer and smartphone user, whenever you have your location services turned ‘on,’ Google is silently gathering all of that important data and figuring out a smart way to use it.
Sarah Perez of TechCrunch highlighted the importance of this new feature in her 2015 piece on the first part of the roll-out when she explained,
“While the feature is not integrated into Google’s smart assistant Google Now, it’s the kind of data that could potentially be used in the future to better inform Google Now users of what to expect at the business they’re headed to after a Google Search. While there’s a good handful of apps that allow users to see the wait times for specific businesses, like NoWait which focuses on restaurant wait times, or those calculating wait times for lines at theme parks, Google’s ability to aggregate information from millions of consumers’ smartphones is what’s powering this new, and more broadly accessible, search feature.”
With both the 2015 and 2017 features now alive-and-kicking, it’s important for restaurant managers and owners to a) understand how they work, and b) understand how they could affect their business. The impact it could have on the millions of sit-down restaurants sounds massive because it is.
And the bigger question remains—how will restaurants react? What ways can restaurants mitigate the downfall of losing customers to nearby locales who just happen to have been around a lot less time, (and have less data for Google to judge them by), or how they’ll approach the competition which merely has faster, more efficient service during peak dining times. But first, let’s explain how the new feature actually functions.
HOW THE NEW FEATURE WORKS
For instance, with the 2017 update, in the case of restaurants, Google showcases a pop-up box that appears when you click on a time frame in the popular times’ chart during your search for a local dining hotspot. The box shows real-time data blended with historical data labeled as “busy,” “usually busy,” “usually not busy,” etc., along with the wait time perceived based on the history of pings coming from smartphone users who’ve been dining there.
According to Perez’s latest piece on the new update, she writes, “Below the Popular Times chart, there’s also a section that helps users plan their visit by offering info on the peak wait times and duration. (e.g., People typically spend 45 mins to 2 hr here).”
From the Google Developer Blog:
“Just search for the restaurant on Google, open the business listing and scroll down to the Popular Times section,” Google said. “There you’ll see the estimated wait time at that very moment. And by tapping on any of the hour bars, you’ll see the estimated wait for that time period. You can even scroll left and right to see a summary of each day’s wait times below the hour bars — so you can plan ahead to beat the crowds.”
HOW CAN RESTAURANTS REDUCE THE BACKLASH OF THIS TRANSPARENT DATA?
Nation’s Restaurant News (NRN) said, “Individual restaurants and multi-unit brands should keep an eye on the accuracy of the crowd-sourced data.”So, how can restaurant managers mitigate the risk that this data is incorrect? When the wait times roll out, if you notice it’s not correct, reach out to Google if you have a paid account with them, and discuss the issues you’re noticing.Restaurant Den offers the following advice, “If your customers love your food but find the service lacking Google + local lets them share their experiences. Comments and reviews are scored on a simple 5 star scale. This kind of system gives the end user considering your restaurant a concise, quick reference point and perhaps can offer an instant ‘feel’ for the place.”
In addition, Restaurant Marketing Labs offers reputation management services to keep ratings and reviews in-check which help Google aggregate data. That, at the very least, can be a contrast to any incorrect information about wait times. For instance, showcasing reviews that note prompt, efficient services are helpful for restaurants and those who use Yelp. Not all users seek out restaurant searches with Google only, so utilizing the power of Yelp and other review platforms is integral to promoting your brand positively. “With anything like this, it’s crowd-sourced information or data that Google’s aggregating from its users,” NRN explained. “Bigger brands have a harder time with that level of transparency where they are not in control of their message. Just like ratings and reviews, Google for years has been dismissive about how critical those are to the business.”
Other ways you can work with Google on this update:
- Claim your restaurant’s business listing with Google, so that Google will recognize you as the owner or manager if they need to update any information.
- Update your website with current information as often as possible. Doing this helps Google’s web crawlers recognize your page as current which equates to trustworthiness. Some examples of this could be updating your menu often on the site, showcasing specials or events happening in your business, or even having a weekly blog about your restaurant’s happenings.
- Good to know: “These wait times impact voice search,” NRN explained. “If you ask Siri or Alexa — and these technologies are now in cars and other places — it relies on the local listings. It’s coming from crowdsourced data. In the future, if you were to voice search for a restaurant that doesn’t have a wait, it will rely on the crowdsourced data to give you an answer.”
If you’re still unsure how to facilitate a good relationship with Google or how to manage Google business listing services, contact us here at Restaurant Marketing Labs and we’ll work with you to guide you through the changes and make your restaurant standout in all the right ways.