An Introduction to Local Search for Restaurants - Local University

An Introduction to Local Search for Restaurants

[Ed. note: The following is a guest article written for Local U by Jackson Lo of Menu.ca.]

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Restaurants may not be the hottest topic in local search, but they are one of the most widely searched industries on a daily basis. Today, we still see only a fraction of restaurants using the web as a marketing tool to bring more customers through their doors.

The problem is evident: many restaurant owners aren’t exposed enough to the possibilities of the web, so they don’t think too much of it and carry on with business as usual. However, other eateries have seen great results from jumping onto the search and social bandwagon. By engaging with customers on their Facebook page, showing off their food and ambience via Instagram  and/or rewarding loyal customers that check-in with Foursquare, they are able to connect with customers and to bring loyal ones back for another meal.

The First Goal is Getting Restaurants Online

One of the most pressing issues that I've come across after having worked with hundreds of takeout and delivery restaurants here in Canada is the fact that more than half don't have a website. This makes it very difficult for customers to find them or learn what they want to know about them. As Matt McGee pointed out, "80 percent of consumers want to see a menu before they eat at a restaurant, and 70 percent want to be able to read the menu on a mobile device." No website, no menu, no business.

I cannot stress the importance of having a nice looking website in this industry. One of our clients, who owns a Sushi restaurant, told me, "food is art" and "food is meant to look sexy." A visually appealing website allows a dining establishment to showcase the art in their food and the experience customers can enjoy when they sit down at one of their tables.

Online Opportunities for Restaurants

One of the challenges that I experienced when I first started working with restaurants is showing them the impact of their website on their business. It's very hard to show results to a restaurant owner if the only things you can report on are visits and time on site, so you must think beyond those metrics.

Dine-in restaurants can now incorporate online reservations and party bookings through their own websites. For some, the number of reservations they get from their website is really all they care about. So implementing online reservations and inquiries and incorporating them into your overall tracking gives you a solid way to show how well you are doing for your clients. OpenTable is one of the most well-known online reservation systems that can be added to a website. For party bookings, you can also integrate a form and track inquiries about events, wedding receptions and other large gatherings.

Most restaurants offer takeout, and some offer delivery, too. Integrating an online ordering system - whereby customers can order food for takeout and/or delivery right from your website - is another proven way to show the value of online marketing to eateries.  Menu.ca (Canada; and my employer) is an online ordering system that integrates into an existing website. Just-Eat.com (mostly Europe) is another option and lists your dining spot alongside other restaurants in your city. Both work well on mobile devices, which is critical in this space.

Educating Restaurant Owners

We know how important it is for a restaurant to be online, but restaurant owners who haven't stepped foot on the web, often do not. Take the time to educate them on why it is important to have a website and how it can help to get more diners in the door. I often say, "Your website is like your business card online that people can search for and find 24/7."

Most dining establishments already have a presence on social review sites like Google, Urbanspoon and Yelp. These listings are often created by past customers who've either shared a great experience or a poor one. Not all restaurant owners are aware that customers are already talking about their food and service online or that they can take control of these listings by claiming and updating them. This is another area where education is often needed.

Closing Thoughts

Building a plan and a strategy to increase foot traffic and food sales should be the ultimate goal for any restaurant client, but many restaurant owners have a lot to learn about the web. So, often our first step as marketers must be to educate them on the value of a website and a good overall online presence.

Restaurant owners tend to be really busy. Marketers that find ways to make local promotion efforts easier, quicker and more effective for them will get more clients - and their clients will get more customers, too.

About Jackson Lo

Jackson Lo is the Analytics & SEO Manager at MENU.CA, an online ordering and marketing company for restaurants. You can find him on his personal blog, Twitter and Google+.

3 Responses to “An Introduction to Local Search for Restaurants”

  1. I was just thinking about this yesterday morning when I was looking for a breakfast sandwich that doesn’t come out of a microwave. It made me think of a good sales pitch to a potential local SEO client and enjoy a delicious breakfast. Of course most of my searches ended up with American fast food… 🙁

    This article will help next time o get that urge, thanks.

    Other possible metrics include requests for directions (on-site and through Google), call tracking, menu downloads, and the client’s own surveys.

  2. I travel quite a bit and am constantly amazed at just how poorly a lot of restaurant websites perform on my phone. Quite often, my reaction is to simply leave the site an try another. It seems to me that there may be opportunity in marketing user testing to restaurants. Do you have any experience with that, Jackson?

  3. @Tony – you’re welcome! Those are excellent conversion metrics to track, thanks for mentioning them.

    @Mary – I have not. My instinct is that if the most important information (menu, hours of operation and direction) about a restaurant is hard to find on their website, people will turn away and look for something else.

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