The hungry searcher

Last month, it was revealed Jamie’s Italian restaurant chain collapsed with 22 restaurant closures. This is the continuation of a trend which has seen a number of food outlets – including Ed’s Easy Diner, Giraffe and Gourmet Burger Kitchen (GBK) – close their doors, and has prompted speculation that Brits are losing their appetite for casual dining

Yet recent research by Yext, has found that 37% of consumers are looking for a restaurant online every week. With consumers’ appetite for casual dining remaining strong, how can restaurants best capitalise on this business opportunity?   

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The moment of intent 

As commerce moves further into the digital realm, restaurants must ensure they have the right marketing tools in place to successfully tap into consumer demand both online and offline.  

Online search is currently undergoing a massive paradigm shift, from chaotic results to verified answers. Consumers are now searching with questions rather than just keywords. We can see this is very much the case for restaurant searches, where only 20% of customer journeys beginning at the restaurant’s website. 50% of hungry searchers actually turn to a search engine, 12% to map apps, 7% to review sites and 5% to delivery sites to find a place to eat. 

Hospitality marketers must not only consider where consumers are searching, but also what they are searching for. 51% of consumers are now searching for a restaurant by food type, for example ‘Spanish food’ or ‘Chinese food’, with 13% of consumers using specific food items as search terms such as a ‘burger’ or ‘pasta’. Consumers are clearly searching for restaurants with the intent of eating a specific dish or food. If restaurants and marketers fail to meet consumers at the moment of intent, they are missing out on potential revenue.  

Now more than ever before, the customer journey starts with a question. In addition to searching for specific food types or dishes, 81% of consumers are taking it a step further by including attribute terms in their search query, such as whether the eatery ‘takes reservations’, ‘has outdoor seating’, ‘has a drive-thru’ or ‘has gluten-free options’.  

This shift in search raises important questions around how restaurants are marketing themselves online. As the ways consumers look for places to eat are changing, the strategies that brands use to reach, and most importantly, engage with these potential customers must reflect this.  

Engaging the hungry searcher 

In order to feed into a successful customer engagement strategy, brands must ensure that their restaurants are discoverable across the digital ecosystem.  

The shift from desktop to mobile search has impacted the hospitality industry more than any other, as the average restaurant sees around 10x the amount of traffic across these new search experiences, in comparison to just 2.7x in other industries.  

Brands must ensure they are publishing the information customers want by providing relevant, correct and up-to-the-minute information on opening hours, menus, and special offers across the entire digital universe of sites and apps consumers use day-to-day.  

Now more than ever, consumers are expecting answers from Google, Siri, Alexa, TripAdvisor and ultimately the business itself. They are seeking the latest information on what a restaurant offers, including details of food types, food items, and attributes at their fingertips one hour before they visit or pick-up an order from a restaurant. Businesses need to manage this information to ensure they are answers-ready. 

It’s no longer enough for restaurants to promote the brand on its own or simply list menu items on a page inside the restaurant’s website. They must move beyond classic marketing tools and be able to identify and promote the food, drinks or other services that customers are searching at the exact moment they are searching for them. 

Brand reputation 

The need for brand reputation management is not entirely new but it is more important than ever – especially for the hospitality sector. Today 96% of partial service restaurants now receive reviews compared to just 27% in 2015. 94% of full service restaurants today receive a review. In the UK, the quantity of reviews within the digital ecosystem has increased 176% between 2015 and the end of 2018.   

A restaurant, hotel, bar or other hospitality service can easily lose a potential customer following just one bad experience. But beyond the customer experience, research shows a higher star count and greater number of reviews will improve click through rates for a restaurant brand’s website and “get directions.”

Improving online listings is thus crucial to ensuring a positive brand experience and reputation. If marketing with the hungry searcher in mind, the hospitality sector could see a significant return on investment.  

By Lee Zucker, head of industry, food services and hospitality at digital knowledge management platform, Yext

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