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Restaurant Menus in Google Search Results

In early February Search Engine Land reported seeing restaurant menus in some search results. Last Friday Google made it official with an announcement. They have not said much which got me interested in what queries trigger the menu in results, how Google is getting the data and what a restaurant should do.

How to Triggers

There are a limited number of articles on this topic and the information is scarce. The articles I have found all indicate that only searches starting with “show me the menu for” currently trigger the results. The example that Google provided in their announcement was: “show me the menu for Fonda San Miguel”

Restaurant menus in Google search result example

I was able to find another format that I have not seen reported – add “menu” to the end of the search (“Fonda San Miguel menu” or “Sweetgreen menu”). But starting a search with “menu” does not work though.

Data Source

More important than how to trigger this new feature with a Google search is knowing where the data is coming from. Because then we can help our clients take advantage of this new feature.

There are a few methods Google has used to gather similar information historically:

  • Extracting the data from each company's website
  • Partnering with a third-party that has already gathered and organized the data

The first option poses a number of technical issues. The first is that many restaurants are still using old technology (e.g. Flash), or put their menu in a PDF. Both of which are typically impossible for a computer to clearly extract usable data from. The third issue is the lack of a standard on how to markup a restaurant menu with HTML. Programming a computer to accurately make sense of a large variety of menu formats written in an unlimited number of ways would be an impossible task without a standard for the markup of restaurant menus.

Providing computers readable data through a website to search engines is not a new problem, and is a major reason Schema.org was created by the top search engines in 2011 (Google, Bing and Yahoo!). The most common Schema.org markup is probably the annotating of an organization's address and phone number so the correct information is displayed in search results and by other third-party websites.

There is a schema for restaurants. But, it is somewhat incomplete and does not provide a way to markup a menu (It does have a way to indicate the URL of a web page that contains your menu though.) When analyzing a number of websites that have their menus showing in Google search results, I saw very limited use of schema.org markup – but I was very entertained by a lot really pretty over-the-top Flash animations. So, while the use of Schema.org is important to all businesses, it is not how Google is gathering the data.

On to the second option, third-party data sources. This appears to be the the solution Google isusing. The first clue I noticed was a link to the restaurant’s menu from the business's “card” when you search for the restaurant.

Summary of business with link to menu source

The data source that others have reported in articles is allmenus.com. I repeatedly ran into this source and believe Google is partnering with them. But I also found instances where allmenus.com was not used.

Take our example of “sweetgreen menu.” While Sweetgreen has an entry in allmenus.com it does not match what Google is showing. It does match what you see if you click the viewmenu.com link circled in the above screenshot. This website is from a company called SinglePlatform.

Google appears to have at least two data sources (allmenus.com and SinglePlatform). But I am sure there are others that have not been discovered yet – and more will likely be added if Google sees success with this new feature.

Actions to Take

If you run a restaurant or your client does, there are a lot of user experience and marketing benefits to take advantage. I recommend you consider the following:

  • Implement Schema.org's restaurant markup – While it may not be directly used for displaying menus by Google, the benefits are numerous and are only going to grow over time. Schema.org's schemas are understood by Google, Bing, Yahoo! and a long list of third-parties that can help increase your restaurant’s visibility online.
  • AllMenus.com – Search for your restaurant on AllMenus.com, and make sure your listing is complete and accurate. If it is not already listed make an account and list it using their menu submission form. The more complete your data the better.
  • MenuPages.com – If your restaurant is located in New York City, make sure to list your menu on Menupages.com. The submission page is here.
  • Consider using a listing management systemSinglePlatform (mentioned earlier) and Locu are systems that will provide you a single place to manage your menu across multiple website. No system is going to provide you complete coverage though. There will be some important websites missing that you will need to manage by hand or use multiple management systems to handle. If your menu does not change frequent and have less than three locations, I recommend doing all submissions by hand and keeping a list of websites you need to update when your menu does change. This typically does not take long and helps you avoid expensive monthly charges from a management services.

Add those to the top of your task list. In addition to taking advantage of this new menu feature from Google you will be taking very solid step with in search engine optimization (SEO).

We have only scratched the surface on this topic and the related topic of restaurant website SEO. A complete task list should include a long list of websites that all restaurants should be listed on – but the above is a good start. If you are looking for consulting on marketing your business, and a talented web design team? Please contact us.

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