Serving The Hungry Searcher In A Mobile-First World

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With the closure of 22 restaurant and 1,000 job redundancies, Jamie’s Italian is one of the latest brands to add its name to the list of casual dining chains, including Ed’s Easy Diner and Giraffe, that have faced restaurant closures in 2019.

The news has prompted speculation that Brits are losing their appetite for casual dining. Recent research by Yext, however, has found that 37% of consumers are looking for a restaurant online every week. This suggests that rather than a general loss in consumer appetite, the decline may also be driven by specific restaurant chains unable to successfully tap this demand.

A familiar cause

The fact some brands appear to have dropped off consumers’ periphery is, as one might assume by now, a product of changing consumer behaviour.

Our study found just one fifth (20%) of UK customer journeys now start with the restaurant’s own website. Instead, half begin with a search engine, 12% begin on map apps such as Google and Apple Maps, a further 7% start on review sites such as Tripadvisor and Foursquare, while 5% begin on delivery sites such as Deliveroo and Uber Eats.

Third-party services such as these have enabled consumers to make more informed decisions on-the-go. This shift is impacting the restaurant industry more than any other. An average restaurant may see over 10x the amount of traffic happening across these new experiences compared to just 2.7x in other industries.

Missing ingredients

With consumers looking for restaurant information on-the-go, search terms are evolving. Today, 51% are searching for a place to eat by food type, such as ‘Italian food’. Alongside this, 81% of consumers include (attribute) terms like ‘takes reservations’, ‘has outdoor seating’, ‘drive-thru’ or ‘gluten-free options’ in their search query.

This is reflective of a massive paradigm shift going on in the world of search. Today’s customer journey starts with a question. And consumers expect answers. For search, this means transitioning from keywords to questions, from chaotic results to verified answers.

In this new landscape, restaurant chains have to start tackling some of the big questions when it comes to data architecting. It’s no longer enough to promote the brand on its own, or simply list menu items on a page inside the restaurant’s website. Restaurants have to be able to publish the information customers want across the whole network of sites and apps they use day-to-day.

Building the brand

There’s still a place for a really strong brand identity, but restaurants must realise this is entirely subject to what consumers find online.

A strong brand is constantly managing the latest information about what their company offers, along with relevant, correct and up-to-the-minute information on opening hours, menus, special offers, events and more to ensure their restaurants are discoverable for consumers.

We see that when this is done properly, there’s significant ROI for restaurant brands across all segments from quick-service restaurants to fine dining, especially around digital ordering transactions. Moreover, analysing the search data can yield significant business insights. For instance, identifying high demand months and the food, drink or other hospitality services that customers are purchasing allows businesses to plan accordingly and ensure they are marketing themselves efficiently.

The trends are apparent, and ultimately having the right marketing tools in place are critical to being successful in capturing customer intent in a mobile-first world. Even more compelling to hospitality brands though is that those who adhere to this paradigm shift and set up their online presence accordingly are seeing 15x return on their investment.

Lee Zucker

Head of Industry, Food Services & Hospitality at Yext

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