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Google Maps Could Be the Do-It-All Restaurant App of the Future

Kristen Hawley
Google Maps Could Be the Do-It-All Restaurant App of the Future

As rumors surfaced last month that reservations platform Resy was up for sale, Google was on our short list of best guesses as to a potential buyer. The company’s dominance in local search and discovery is well-proven, and its interest in the restaurant business has only increased in recent years.

“When I’m in a city or in a place that I’m not familiar with, I’m opening Google Maps. I’m not opening anything else, and I think that I’m not unique in that way,” Resy CEO Ben Leventhal said at Skift Restaurants Forum in September. “I think that’s the point: the funnel has changed. You used to have a service like OpenTable at the top of the funnel, and it turns out that Google’s at the top of the funnel now.”

Resy has denied reports of an impending sale. But Google, and increasingly, Google Maps, remains a vital part of the company’s interest in the restaurant business.

Skift on Tuesday published a deep dive into Google Maps, comparing it to the lines of so-called superapps, the best examples of which, like WeChat or Grab, hail from China. As the Skift piece notes, “a superapp can do it all, or nearly everything, relatively speaking, and obviates the need to whip out specialty apps to perform specific tasks.”

Google Maps certainly fits the bill. What once started as a kind-of three-dimensional database of the world has evolved in to a moneymaker for its parent company. According to the Skift report, ad revenue from Google Maps could reach around $8 billion by 2021.

So is Google Maps the next superapp? Experts who were quoted had varying opinions on the ultimate future of Maps, but the company’s interest in restaurants shows up loud and clear within the app itself, perhaps giving users a look into the future.

Who Does What?

While there’s no exact American counterpart to China’s massive businesses like Meituan and Grab, Google Maps could be on its way to becoming a one-stop shop for consumers’ online interactions with restaurants. In the U.S., this looks like a large amount of restaurant data — hours, address, location, popular times, images, reviews — coupled with support of third-party restaurant actions: reserve a table, call ahead, or order takeout or delivery.

Reservations services are an easy example. Most now integrate directly with Google, allowing diners to book reservations via OpenTable and similar services directly within the Maps application.

Last fall, Joel Montaniel, SevenRooms founder and CEO, told Skift Table that, among his company’s clients that use Google integrations, 10 to 30 percent of reservations are booked this way. (This number encompasses all reservations booked via Google; it includes those booked via Maps, but also via search.) OpenTable, which has been piloting a Google integration for the past year, sees about 10 percent of seated diners coming from all its partner programs combined, including Google, according to the company’s most recently provided data.

What remains to be seen is whether Google wants to also assume the oversight, control, or investment it would take to own and run a reservations or other restaurant-facing service outright. Instead of working directly with restaurants, Google largely relies on its partners to manage those relationships. In fact, these third parties, like OpenTable, are probably Maps’ best way into the restaurant business.

Restaurant-Specific Programming

As noted in the Skift report, the combination of local discovery and mobile device usage is very powerful. “Local mobile searches are growing faster than mobile searches for us and have increased by almost 50 percent in the last year alone,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai said during an earnings call with analysts in July. “And we are continuing to invest in building a local experience that benefits merchants, users, and advertisers.”

Google’s history with restaurant content may not necessarily be indicative of its future plans (or hopes) for the business. The company bet early on restaurant review content with its $151 million purchase of Zagat in 2011. It got out of that business last year when it sold Zagat to the Infatuation for an undisclosed amount (though almost certainly took a big loss on its investment.)

But while Google might be out of the Zagat business of editorialized restaurant ratings and reviews, it’s certainly not out of the recommendations business, and it has the algorithms to prove it. A year ago, Google announced a match feature, which Dane Glasgow, Google Maps vice president of product, explained in an email  interview with Skift. Your Match is a “numeric score that shows you how likely you are to enjoy a particular restaurant based on your own unique tastes and preferences, so you can quickly make a decision about where to go,” Glasgow said.

And how does Google know what you’d like in the first place? You tell it, with your ratings, reviews, preference settings, and location data (that is, if you give the app permission to know where you are).

There’s also the revamped Explore tab, offering fast access to nearby restaurant and bar listings, complete with images, star ratings, and descriptions. Tapping on a restaurant listing also offers plenty of ways to interact with quick links to directions, menus, reviews, and, in many cases, reservations.

Google has been testing ads in Maps for some time. The monetization of Google Maps also provides great opportunity for restaurant businesses, which can invest in ads that target consumers as they search for locations. Ads within Maps list one restaurant above others in search results. Promoted Pins direct searchers to restaurant advertisers like Denny’s or Dunkin’. Ads for delivery services like Caviar or DoorDash target hungry consumers looking for local restaurants.

The Future

What comes next for restaurants and Google Maps?

Google may or may not make a play for Resy or a similiar service in the future, but it does look to be taking its involvement with restaurants a step further. A recent job posting hints at a forthcoming food ordering platform, though offers little detail about what consumers could expect. (Is it an aggregator? A product that interfaces directly with restaurants? Its own service with its own drives?)

“One area we’re focused on is making it easier for users to order food across Google products and services like Search, Maps, and Assistant,” reads the listing.

At the very least, Google Maps stands to continue to benefit from its parent company’s growing interest in restaurant locations, bookings, and ordering. As the Skift report notes, “Google Maps has the potential to be the superapp that never quits as it keeps making inroads into consumers’ daily habits as it learns their behaviors.”

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