Google is the most powerful search engine available: it has more than 90% of search engine market share, with approximately 70,000 searches every second and over 2 trillion every year.
If you are a restaurant operator, odds are your establishment is showing up in hundreds of Google searches every month within your area, where people look for an answer to a simple question: Where should I eat?
For restaurants, the search engine has become even more important after the launch in 2018 of Reserve with Google. This feature allows hungry diners to reserve directly from a restaurant’s Google My Business listing and is integrated with Google Maps, Google Search, and Google Voice Assistant.
Combining Google My Business (GMB for short) with Reserve with Google can be a powerful way to generate more bookings for your restaurant. In this post we'll explain all you need to know to make the best of both.
Why your restaurant needs a Google My Business Listing
Simply put, Google My Business is a completely free marketing channel. When it’s set up properly, GMB can help restaurants:
- Be more visible in Google searches and easily display essential information such as hours, website, address, and phone number. This is particularly important if your website is still under construction
- Read and respond to customer reviews and post photos of the venue and the food
- Know how many people called directly from the listing, or how many clicks each part of the listing received.
GMB is optimized particularly well for smartphones. Here’s an example of what it looks like on a mobile screen when people search for a restaurant directly.
(click on the image for full size)
The listing shows up before search results on mobile, and to the right of organic search results on desktop.
It features a horizontal navigation menu with basic info, a prominent ‘RESERVE A TABLE’ button (we’ll explain how to use it in the section below about Google Reservations), reviews, more search results etc.
The reason why Google makes sure GMB is easily accessible on mobile screens can be best explained with this data:
- More than 80% of people search the web to find local information
- When visiting a restaurant or bar, 61% of people used their phone
- Restaurant and food-related searches like “restaurants,” “restaurants near me,” and “food near me” commonly appear in the top 20 searches for many retailers
- Travelers most frequently use their mobile devices to research activities or attractions, to locate shopping areas and restaurants, or to look up directions
If you haven’t set up a GMB listing yet (or you haven’t claimed it), you can do it from here. The process takes no more than 15 minutes and can be incredibly rewarding for your restaurant.
Google Reservations: what it is and why it’s important
Getting the basics of GMB right is very important to make your restaurant listing more visible and get people to open it. In the next section we'll give you a few recommendations on how to optimize your GMB listing.
Before that though, let's look at a powerful way to drive bookings to your restaurant: by adding a ‘Reserve a table’ button.
When users tap or click on it, they can book directly from the listing using a customized widget like the one pictured below.
Booking a table without leaving the GMB listing makes the booking process smoother, reducing the chance of a potential customer leaving before completing it.
A study by Google and PhoCusWright found out that 70% of US travelers use their smartphones when traveling, and that friction on a mobile site when completing a booking can lead to them trying another site.
It's important to note that this button is not a standard feature of GMB. You can only get one by working with restaurant reservation or table management system that is an official Google Partner. In that case, your RESERVE A TABLE button will automatically appear on your listing, without you having to do anything.
The Reserve with Google option shows its potential when it's combined with a table management system that shows live table availability, allowing guests to make reservations only when there are tables available and suggests different dates when you're fully booked.
Restaurant Manager by Eat is an official Reserve with Google partner. Sign up for a 14- day free trial to learn if our restaurant reservation and table management system is right for you.
How to optimize your restaurant's Google My Business listing
After setting their GMB listing, many restaurateurs make the mistake of forgetting about it for months at a time. But if you’re serious about boosting your local search presence, you’ll need to optimize it.
Let’s start with the basics:
1. Add high-quality images and videos. Photos and videos increase the appeal of your Google My Business Listing and give people an indication of what to expect. According to Google data, profiles with photos receive 42% more requests for directions on Google Maps.
You can add them by going to Home and clicking on the “+” sign. Make sure you follow Google’s recommended dimensions.
- Type: PNG or JPG
- File size: Between 10 KB and 5 MB
- Resolution: Minimum 720 px wide, 720 px tall
- Quality: Realistic, well lit, and without filters
- File size: Less than 75 MB
- Length: Up to 30 seconds
- Resolution: 720p or above
While you upload images, you’ll notice that there are multiple categories to choose from, including Exterior, Interior, Menu, Products, etc. Make sure to add relevant photos in each section to give people a detailed overview of your offerings, like the Dubai-based Al Dawaar Revolving Restaurant has done in its GMB listing.
You can also create a 360-virtual tour of your restaurant with the Google Street View app that’s available for both iOS and Android handsets.
2. Get your operating hours right. This is a no-brainer, but it’s so important that it’s worth mentioning. There’s nothing more frustrating for a customer than embarking on a long journey to reach your restaurant, only to discover that it’s closed. You may lose that customer forever and even receive a bad review.
To prevent any hiccups, make sure your regular business hours are accurately listed. You can use the “special hours” feature. If there’s any public holidays around the corner. For example, you’re a casual dining restaurant that will open for five days a week instead of seven during the Christmas season, or a QSR that’s planning to stay functional 24/7 during the holidays.
3. Put up a booking reservation link. One of the default features of Google My Business is the option to add a reservation link within the knowledge panel.
This link can redirect visitors to your website or to a custom booking widget of a reservation management provider such as Eat App, like in the example below.
Other than booking a table, you can also add links for other actions, such as placing a takeaway or delivery order, or viewing the menu.
4. Manage reviews. When it comes to influencing the buying decisions of potential guests, reviews are key. Not only do most consumers decide to buy from a business based on the reviews, but they also think that businesses should respond to them in a personalized way.
This is particularly important with negative reviews. Whether a customer was dissatisfied with your service or an item on your menu, do not ignore their opinion. Apologize for providing a subpar experience, ask for detailed feedback, and offer to make things right, like in the example below.
When you regularly respond to reviews, you provide customers with evidence of your authenticity and empathy. In addition, you give your listing a chance to win a position in the “Local Pack”, a section that shows the three local businesses that – according to Google – are the best answer to a customer’s query.
For example, if you search for the “best restaurants in Dubai” on Google, the Local Pack displays the name of three restaurants that you might find interesting enough to check out.
What’s intriguing is that this section appears on the top of search engine results. So, getting Local Pack status can generate lots of leads and customers for your business.
5. Use real-time messaging. If you have the capacity and staff to immediately respond to a customer’s inquiry, direct messaging is an ideal feature for your restaurant. Real-time communication can enhance a customer’s experience, especially if they don’t want to make a phone call and online chatting is their preferred method of communication.
Here’s what the messaging feature looks like in a GMB listing:
You have the freedom to activate and deactivate this feature. I recommend keeping it enabled during business days and switch it off when no one is at the customer service desk.
The individual who responds on behalf of a business (whether it’s the owner or a customer service representative) will display their Google avatar image and full name to the customer. Make sure to reply to the messages you get on the same day, as Google analyzes your average response time and shares it with customers.
Business owners can also set up a custom message of up to 120 characters to welcome the customer. You can say something like “Thanks for getting in touch with us! Please allow us a few minutes to get back to you. In the meantime – check out our brunch menu.”
You’ll be able to see all of your customers’ messages in one place from the “Customers” tab. You can even create custom notifications, so you can stay on top of activities that matter the most for your listing.
The direct messaging feature can be managed both via desktop and the GMB app, which is available for both iOS and Android devices. Downloading the app is very useful especially if you’re rarely at your seat and always on the go. From there, you can also send notifications for posts, product updates, the health of the listing, bookings, customer reviews, payments, and insights.
6. Update your social media profiles. A GMB listing can also display your other social media profiles on Facebook, Instagram, and other places. With hard work and consistency, you may be able to build a thriving community that generates word-of-mouth referrals for your restaurant.
Two important things to remember: make sure that the restaurant’s name on your social media profiles is the same as the one on your GMB profile, complete the verification process if required.
7. Use Google Q&A to answer customers' questions. You may not know this, but your Google My Business listing has a Question and Answers section called Google Q&A. This works in a similar fashion as the “Ask the Community” feature on Yelp, providing customers with the ability to ask questions and get answers directly from your GMB card.
The unique aspect of this feature is that anyone can give an answer to customers’ questions. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the business owner. However, it’s best if you answer most of these questions because no one knows your business better than you.
Questions and Answers can be seen in GMB listings on both mobile and desktop browsers via Google search, and on the Google Maps app for Android handsets.
If no one has posted a question, feel free to populate Google Q&A with the most frequently asked questions from your restaurant’s website. The best strategy is to treat it like your own personal FAQ where you share all the information you want people to know about your business.
8. Configure your delivery service area. If your restaurant is offering a delivery service to customers living in specific localities, you can list them as your “service areas” on your GMB profile. Doing this will help customers learn where deliveries are possible.
You can define a service area based on the cities, regions, and even postal/zip codes you cover. There’s no need to set a radius around your establishment. Also, these settings can be modified as required – so there’s no need to stress about being locked into any particular location.
Generate even more bookings with posts
Another way to generate restaurant reservations with Google is by creating posts directly in your GMB profile. These can be pictures, short videos, and even GIFs, with a short text description underneath.
Google posts are a great way to promote news and updates, like restaurant offerings, new menu items, one-off or recurring events, happy hours, holiday specials etc. For example, you can create a post for a 3-day wine-tasting event, with an image, a short text and its start and end dates.
This is what Google posts look like:
Visitors can read the entire post, and also share it with their peers directly from Google. Content can be published on the go using the Google My Business website or Android and iOS apps.
Remember that Google Posts are time-sensitive: after a week they get archived , unless a date range is specified. Here you can find some advanced tips on how to use this feature at its full potential.
4 reasons to publish posts in your GMB listing
Prominence. Google Posts are placed near the top of search results and take up a lot of space on the screen, especially on mobile.
Additional call-to-action link. With each post you have the option of adding a link at the bottom to book a table, call your restaurant, or any other action you’d like users to take. Although this link works like a reservation link, not like a Reserve with Google button (it means it won’t be possible to make the reservation directly from the listing), it’s still an additional and powerful marketing channel.
It’s shareable. Posts can be easily shared via Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, email, or by copying the link directly. This allows restaurant owners to create a direct channel of communication with potential customers directly from Google Search.
Few restaurants use this feature. If you look at other GMB listings of restaurants in your area, chances are that they’re not taking advantage of this feature. So, if you start using it, you will have a free marketing channel to put you one step ahead of your competition.
Google My Business is a powerful marketing channel for restaurants, but it won’t run on autopilot. You will need to actively work on it by getting the basics right, keeping information updated and interacting with your customers. GMB can be even more effective when you work with a Google partner that can allow potential customers to book directly from the listing using a powerful widget.