Google wants to take the mystery out of ordering a meal. Over the weekend, the search giant rolled out a feature that now lets you search for the specific menus of assorted eateries and restaurants.
A Google+ post on Friday first alerted users to the change. If you type in restaurant searches prefixed by a "show me the menu for" command, your search results will feature the menu for the specified eatery displayed in a tabbed interface that breaks out items by appetizers, entrees, and more. Or as Google says:
Just search Google to show you the menu for the eatery you're considering and you can see it right on the top of your search page--complete with tabs for different parts of the menu (like appetizers, brunch or dinner) and, often, prices--before you make your reservation.
Note that this hasn't rolled out to every restaurant just yet. Fooling around with Google's new restaurant search capability on Sunday night, only around half of the eateries I like to frequent turned up a menu result when I used the "show me menu for" command. Presumably, Google will roll out this search capability to more restaurants as it ingests their menu data.
Google is a little late to the table when it comes to offering menu information for inquisitive diners. LocalEats--one of my favorite mobile apps for finding nearby foodie favorites--added menu data to its restaurant finding tool in late 2011; AT&T's mobile YP offering followed suit roughly six months later. Both of those apps tap into data from SinglePlatform, an online business listing management company that specializes in promoting local businesses. It's unclear who the source is for Google's menu data, but it will be interesting to see if the search giant can differentiate its listings from what other established food-finding services already offer.
Then again, because of its search muscle, Google is something of the 800-pound gorilla when it comes to finding restaurants--it can dine anywhere it wants to. As much as I may like some of the other mobile restaurant finders for tracking down a place to eat, most users will be content to turn to the search engine they're already relying on when it comes to finding out what's on the menu. For Google, the key will be to present more comprehensive data than what's initially available and to format that information in a way that's particularly useful to mobile users wondering if the eatery down the street is worth their time and trouble.