Google becomes player in restaurant ordering

A screen shot of the Google ordering platform for Jason's Delit

Written by James Shea

Google has quietly become a major part of the online restaurant ordering space, allowing customers to order directly through the popular search engine. In recent months, large brands, including Chili’s Grill & Bar and Jason’s Deli, have added the capability.

In 2018, Google worked with several online ordering companies to integrate ordering directly on its platform, according to Ed Barrett, chief growth officer at Zuppler, one of the platforms that worked on the project. Slice and Olo were also involved.

“It was basically like Google has done with travel and other retail products where you can buy them online through Google,” Barrett said. “They wanted to know if they could e-commerce Google-enabled food ordering online.”

Through 2018 and early 2019, Google and the partners tested the integration. Everyone wanted a smooth transition from Google to the online ordering platform to the point of sale and onto a delivery provider. In 2019, Google launched the service with little fanfare and a small blog post.

Rather than ordering through a restaurant’s website, the integration allows customers to order food directly on the Google platform. The service can be accessed through Google Maps, Google search, Google Voice and an app. When someone searches for a restaurant’s name, a window will pop up in search results and an “order online” button will appear. The customer clicks on the button and accesses the restaurant’s menu within Google’s ecosystem. The process uses the back-end technology of the restaurant’s website but never leaves the Google ecosystem.

“Think of it as a hybrid,” Restaurant Revolution Technologies (RRT) Chief Revenue Officer Robert Taylor said. “It is inside the Google ecosystem, but we are powering all the information into the framework.”

Barrett said Google has really stayed under the radar until recently with the service. Google has not heavily promoted food ordering integration but has quietly added new partners that can offer the service.

“In the food restaurant space, this is the biggest underwritten story,” Barrett said. “People are talking about the third-party delivery marketplace and online ordering on a client’s website, contactless ordering and loyalty programs. Somehow Google has been under the radar.”

A Google spokeswoman did not elaborate on Google’s plans for food-ordering integration. She only noted that food ordering on Google has experienced 230% growth over the last year.

Rigorous process

RRT completed its first Google integration in March for Jason’s Deli. Based in Texas, Jason’s Deli is a fast-casual restaurant chain that offers sandwiches and salads at locations in 27 states. RRT already built the online ordering system with Jason’s Deli, and was tasked with adding Google integration.

Taylor said restaurants understand the advantage of adding functionality with Google. Around 90 percent of all search activity is conducted on Google, so most likely anyone searching for a restaurant will use Google.

“We truly believe this is going to be a bigger and bigger thing,” Taylor said. “I believe it will become a meaningful transaction volume for every brand.”

RRT started to talk with Google last summer about added the capabilities. Taylor said his company had to go through a rigorous vetting process before it was allowed to work inside the Google platform.

“Having dynamic menu data is really hard to do right, and Google has been really smart,” Taylor said. “They have created a lot of requirements for companies like ours. We have to meet certain standards and criteria to ensure we create a great consumer experience and have a great operator experience.”

Tayor said the integration has worked well for Jason’s Deli. It has seen a steady stream of orders coming through Google since the integration was completed.

Customer acquisition strategy

Barrett said his clients have seen tremendous growth in online ordering since the pandemic through Google. He estimates that orders are up 500% through Google since the service was first offered in 2019.

“It was very slow adoption until the pandemic came, and then it really exploded,” Barrett said.

According to data provided by Zuppler, about 80% of customers who order through Google are new. They have never ordered from the brand before and are using Google to find different places to order food. People might type in the term “Food Near Me” and Google will identify restaurants nearby. When the person clicks on a listing, the Google integration will appear, and customers can order directly from Google.

“We are encouraging clients to use this as an acquisition tool – to have new customers interact with their brand who have never ordered before,” Barrett said.

Overall, Google integration has grown sales for customers by around 15%, according to Zuppler’s data. While the majority of sales are through a restaurant’s website, Google integration is helping restaurants connect with new customers and grow the online business, Barrett said.

Taylor said one of the key advantages is simplicity. He believes Google is trying to develop a platform that is advantageous to both restaurants and consumers. The company seeks to create a better customer experience and help make transactions easier.

“They are an awesome partner,” Taylor said. “They are first thinking about the brand and then the consumer’s user experience.”

Barrett said Google integration makes the online ordering process easier.

“For those who have Google enabled, it’s less friction,” Barrett said. “It’s just — add to your cart, check out and pay. You don’t have to go to another place.”

Keeping the data

One of the biggest complaints within the restaurant community of using a third-party delivery service like DoorDash or Grubhub is the lack of customer data. Most third parties do not share emails, phone numbers and other important information about customers. That makes it difficult for restaurants to communicate with customers and send offers to retain them as a customer.

As well, restaurants often pay 20% to 30% commission to the third-party platforms.

“I believe brands are starting to recognize the poor economics of the third parties,” Taylor said. “They know they can’t keep doing 20% of their daily transactions to a third party.”

Google does not operate that way. With the integration, customers keep the data. Restaurants design the confirmation email with their branding and can use the customer data to send offers. Barrett said the goal is to get customers to order directly on the restaurant’s website.

“With third parties, restaurants have to put stuff in the bag to get them to order from the website,” Barrett said.

While it is unclear what Google’s goal is in regards to online restaurant ordering, Taylor hypothesizes that it could be to increase the use of Google Pay. Google mentioned Google Pay in its original blog post. While a person can pay with a credit card inside the Google ecosystem, it is easier with Google Pay enabled.

“They are seeing this brilliantly as an on-ramp to more people using Google Pay,” Taylor said. “If you already have your payment credentials, it’s really streamlined for paying.”

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