In feature battle with Google, Yelp improves restaurant waitlist functionality

Over time, Google Maps and Google My Business have increasingly encroached on Yelp’s core value proposition: local business search and reviews. And Yelp has tried to fight back with new features and capabilities to stay one step ahead of Google.

Waitlist upgrades. This week is a case-in-point: the company added new capabilities to Yelp Waitlist, which allows diners to join a restaurant waitlist before physically arriving at the property. Yelp originally launched Waitlist in 2017. Google introduced similar functionality, albeit more limited, in 2019.

Yelp is now rolling out its Notify Me feature to Android and the web — it launched for iPhone last September — which supports Waitlist. Notify me uses restaurant wait-time data to alert users to join Yelp Waitlist. Users provide their party size and desired dining time and then receive a notification to join the online waitlist. This helps differentiate Yelp’s Waitlist from Google’s.

Better data than Google has. Note how Yelp discusses the feature in its 2019 blog post announcing Notify Me: “Yelp’s in a unique position to deliver accurate wait times for diners because restaurants across the U.S. are using Yelp Waitlist to manage their front-of-house. By using actual wait time data from the restaurant, not your location data, Yelp Waitlist will show you the best times to dine at a restaurant.” The not-so-subtext is: our data is better than Google’s.

Two additional features were also just added to Waitlist:

  • The ability to input a large party (7 or more)
  • Select a seating preference at the restaurant (i.e., first available, indoor, outdoor, bar)

The pitch to business owners. Waitlist is a SaaS product that allows restaurants to manage “the front of the house.” This is where the data to enable Notify Me and predictive wait times originates — directly from the restaurant.

Yelp says that “guests will wait 15% longer with Yelp Waitlist” and that it creates more customer loyalty and diner frequency. Waitlist costs $249 per month for restaurants.

Waitlist is a microcosm of Yelp’s larger product strategy:

  • It benefits both consumers and businesses simultaneously
  • It provides subscription revenue (part of Yelp’s effort to generate new and more diverse revenues)
  • It helps differentiate from Google Maps

Why we care. Although Google has numerous competitors, Yelp is really it in the U.S. from a broad local search perspective (Apple Maps is powered substantially by Yelp). Google Maps and GMB are increasingly transactional, matching Yelp feature for feature. Google also now has more review volume and velocity than Yelp. However, Yelp would respond that its reviews are more reliable and that it doesn’t have the fake reviews problem that Google does.

Yelp has been diversifying away from advertising as a lone revenue model and introducing subscription-based products. This is good for Yelp and for business owners, provided the products are effective (e.g., Waitlist). But Yelp will need to continue to innovate, and innovate in creative and unexpected ways, to maintain user and business owner engagement.

About The Author

Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor to Search Engine Land, a member of the programming team for SMX events and the VP, Market Insights at Uberall.

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