Google Maps is the ideal tool for local businesses that want to reach potential customers in their area. It’s not uncommon for consumers to search for “restaurants near me” or for people to look at possible places to stop while using the Google Maps app for directions. Google Maps has grown considerably since its inception, and the tool has even more benefits for business owners than ever before. To help make restaurants on Google Maps more eye-catching, a new feature was added that automatically shows the most popular dish at a location.

Knowledge can be liberating. When consumers are searching for restaurants on Google Maps, they are limited by how much information is provided by Google Maps. Even if someone discovers a new restaurant, they may be hesitant to try it out if they don’t know what to order. By automatically including the most-popular dish at a restaurant, Google can help restaurants grow and increase their revenue.

The way the new feature is set up requires little or no action by the restaurants. Google doesn't need a copy of the menu or access to sales data. The favorite dishes are determined by a machine learning algorithm that relies on other data sources. Specifically, Google Maps will matches dish names that are provided by Google Maps users, with related photos and reviews that have been uploaded. The result is an arrangement of a restaurant's most popular meals that's easy to see by people on Google Maps.

When the feature was first announced last week, Google explained its value by saying, “Whether you’re craving a tea cocktail in Brooklyn or sampling Pacific Rim cuisine in London, Google Maps now highlights a restaurant’s most popular items on the menu, so you can place your order with confidence.”

The most-popular dish feature is currently available on Google Maps for Android, with plans for an iOS update in the coming months. All users need to do is pull up a restaurant's Google Map listing to find its most-popular dishes in the overview tab. Consumers can also go to the menu tab to scroll through all the most-talked-about meals, and tap on a popular dish to explore reviews and photos. The feature is especially useful for travelers who don't speak the language, as Google Maps will also translate the reviews for you.  

The fact that the system relies on machine learning and user-generated content could lead to problems down the road. It seems like it would be possible for a group of people to affect the most-popular dish selection by adding a bunch of reviews and photos that give glowing reviews to a particular dish. Presumably, Google has taken precautions to ensure that business owners or online vandals don't abuse the new feature.

Though much of the process for selecting the most-popular dish is automated, there are a few things business owners can do to get the greatest benefit from this new feature. First, make sure to know what Google thinks is the best item in the restaurant. It would be unfortunate if the restaurant became famous for a particular item, only for them to run out when people come to try it.

Restaurant owners should also encourage their customers to take photos of their meal and to leave reviews. The machine learning algorithm will factor in these photos and reviews when selecting the top item. And adding more pictures and reviews for a restaurant is beneficial on its own, so it's something restaurant owners should be encouraging their favorite customers to do.

The new update to Google Maps is part of a more extensive campaign by Google to make the platform more useful for travelers. For more recent information about updates that can help businesses with online marketing, read this article on useful new features for Google My Business.

Published on: Jun 3, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.