Your business card still may be stapled on to-go bags and tacked to coffee shop bulletin boards. But these days, people are most likely to see it pinned to the top of their Google results. Most of your customers at some point have found your restaurant through a web search, surveys show, and you should plan to meet them there. Their ability to gather essential, at-a-glance information on Google searches — hours, websites, reservation links — can determine whether a first-time visitor books a table or a late-night regular decides to check back for lunch.
Whatever you do, don’t get overwhelmed. You have more control over some of those search results than you may realize. And, no, for once we’re not talking about mastering the ticklish arts of restaurant SEO.
The info Google displays when someone looks up a restaurant (or any other business location) can be controlled through a Google Business Profile —a dynamic tool that connects business owners and web users. Whether you’re launching a business or just want to get savvier about making Google work for you, it’s worth diving further into what the tool does and how you can get the most from it.
A Google Business Profile is a free tool Google offers businesses that lets you offer would-be customers a fast, accurate glimpse of essential information. Well over 150 million businesses have created profiles using the tool (which rebranded in 2021 from Google My Business). Setting up your profile is one of the cheapest, easiest ways to dig into content marketing and to take control of your restaurant’s digital marketing.
Keeping your restaurant’s profile up to date can pay off when people in your area search the web. Google will show them photos from your establishment, customer reviews, a short description of what you offer, your hours of operation, a link to your website, and your physical location on Google Maps. The tool also displays real-time feedback on the information owners provide and details aggregated from user data and other web services.
All it takes for someone to find your profile is a Google search, either for your specific restaurant, or for a category that you fit: “dive bars open past 2am” or “italian party subs” or “where can I get tequila shots on Thanksgiving.” It’s a powerful way to reach people who may not even know you exist yet.
So how can you optimize your Google Business Profile? Local search pro Krystal Taing says restaurant operators need to understand what existing and potential customers hope to find, and what your profile shows them.
“A lot of their decision is going to be made on what they see and what they have access to on Google,” said Taing, a certified Google Business Profile Product Expert who works for local search firm Uberall. “You're going to think about things like images, and how much more important they are to restaurants than they would be for a doctor. That’s such a huge part of the experience: showing users what to expect.”
Start by getting strategic with your images, Taing said. Google’s tools are smart enough to detect what’s in your images, information the search engine uses to populate searches from potential customers in your area.
Let’s say you’re starting to serve breakfast. Taing suggests adding photos of your new menu items. Google can detect the difference between your new chocolate croissants and that standby hummus appetizer.
“That's an opportunity for business owners to highlight unique menu items, features, drinks, anything that they have that just otherwise might not be available on that profile,” Taing said.
Think broadly, in other words. The more information you add to your Google Business Profile, the more likely you are to pop up on a user’s search results, especially on mobile devices.
It may seem like a no-brainer, but keeping your restaurant’s hours up-to-date — especially after years of pandemic variability — is a kindness to your customers and staff. That goes for all the ways your hours may vary.
“It is so frustrating for a consumer to show up to a location, or try to schedule a delivery order, or whatever the case is, and find out that the restaurant's kitchen is closed, only the bar is open at this time, or pick-up stopped at a specific time,” Taing said.
Even before the pandemic, the world was moving toward more deliveries. So imagine the different ways your customers want to approach you — for pick-up, for delivery, for brunch, for a late-night menu, for happy hour specials, whatever the case may be. You’re going to save your front of house a headache if people are getting the best information online, for whatever they want.
To add supplemental hours information, set your main hours and then look for the “More Hours” option when editing your Google Business Profile online or in the Google Maps app.
Consumers’ increased pandemic-era reliance on Google Business Profile search results influenced the way Google presents that information. As users posted reviews (i.e., complained) about incorrect hours, Google adapted. The search engine now notes whether a business’ open and closed times have been updated recently.
“Either the business owner logged in and changed those hours,” Taing said, “or Google has a number of automated systems where they will have their Google Assistant call the business and see what their hours are. Then they will proactively update that.”
The pandemic propelled delivery to new heights, which was a mixed blessing for restaurants. The struggles of restaurants to turn a profit even on expensive orders underlined for many diners the need to choose their delivery app responsibly.
Further, knowing some restaurants and consumers have had frustrating experiences with the plethora of food delivery services out there, Google now also lets restaurant owners indicate a preferred pick-up and delivery link on their Google Business Profile.
You can also make your own experience better, too, by steering customers to a delivery service of choice. Whether one service is cheapest for you, or reliable enough to nail down a five-star review for you every time out the door, you can nudge a customer toward the version of an order that sets you up for success. In many cases, that may be your own in-house service.
The pandemic will have lasting impacts on how Google treats your info. Taing said the search giant is also actively fine-tuning how it handles address data to account for ghost kitchens and other shifting business models that Covid spurred.
Any Google user knows the company constantly encourages user feedback to help it tweak its products. That’s also how it enlists users to refine your profile information. Think of it as a specific form of customer data. Some static elements of your Google Business Profile likely won’t change, but users can suggest changes that may require you to step in to confirm or edit elements of your profile. “The way that Google encourages users to interact,” Taing said, “you still need to monitor it.”
Google will surface those items as “suggested edits” in your Google Business Profile. Log in to review and accept or discard edits.
Outside of items that may require your attention, being proactive to respond to the data and reviews you get from your Google Business Profile can help you fine-tune your own operations to reach new customer bases or find out who’s walking in your doors.
“Some of the strongest key performance indicators for restaurants are typically going to be clicks to driving directions,” Taing said. “That’s a pretty strong indication someone wants to know how far they are from you or if you’re on their way home from school or wherever they’re going.”
“Anytime you can measure clicks like that, that’s going to be important,” she said.