Almost two thirds of internet searches within the restaurant category are now coming from mobile devices, according to Google. Moreover searches for "restaurants near me" have grown 7,200% in the past five years.
Speaking at The Caterer's casual dining conference in association with Barclays this morning, Google industry head Harry Walker said growth in cuisine-related "near me" searches had outstripped growth in price-related searches by 35 times over the same period.
Google search data shows that almost two in five of people dining out are now deciding on the spur of the moment, said Walker. He said 37% of people searching within the food category seek information that they want to use immediately, which is the highest proportion of any search category.
Analysis of search data by time and device shows "mobile spikes from 3pm to 10pm, so people are clearly waiting until the very last minute to make decisions" about what and where they eat, said Walker. He added that 38% of people searching for restaurants want information on outlets "within a few hundred yards… so location plays a huge part in what people are looking for".
Google's data underlines the increasing importance of mobile strategy for food business.
"If you are using a mobile device [to search], you want to take action now," said Walker. "That has to change the way [food operators] are presenting information … which presents challenges and opportunities."
To take advantage, he said food service businesses had to "be there" on mobile screens at the right moment.
"You have the ability to own the screen of the smartphone in your perimeter. [The person searching] clearly has a huge amount of intent, so own it."
He urged operators to "be useful" in terms of the information and content they provide to customers. "If you are not adding value, they will leave [your site]."
Thirdly, relevant content must be available at speed.
"Be quick [in delivering useful content]," said Walker. "We have terrible attention spans. If we don't quickly get the information we need, we move on."
Walker also had some positive news for independent operators. While searches for food have historically been dominated by brands "that is changing to discovery". Whereas brand searches had grown 15-20% since 2013, growth in generic restaurant or food searches had grown 38% over the same period, he said.
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