Yelp has arguably gone further than Google in providing specialized communication tools for local businesses during COVID-19. And Tuesday, the company announced a number of new features specifically for businesses and restaurants reopening now.
COVID update replaces the banner. Described as “phase two” of its COVID tools rollout, Yelp is introducing a new COVID-19 section on business profiles, which expands upon the previous COVID-19 banner rolled out in March. It offers a larger canvas to communicate changes, updates and important health and safety information to customers.
Restaurants, for example, can communicate whether they have resumed dine-in service or have outdoor seating. Other categories of businesses can also indicate whether they offer virtual classes or online consultations. The section includes a personalized message from the business.
New Yelp COVID updates business profile section
Yelp says that since March nearly 400,000 businesses have utilized the COVID banner. It’s not clear how many businesses on Google, by comparison are using COVID Posts.
The COVID update offers a range of new attributes such as availability of contactless payments, social distancing, mask requirements, whether hand sanitizer is provided on site, temperature check requirements and whether the venue or facility will limit attendance or capacity. Yelp will also indicate the date of the most recent update to let users know how current the information is.
Consumer ‘fact check.’ I’ve argued in the past that reviews in the reopening phase will also report on whether and how businesses are protecting the health and safety of customers. Interestingly, Yelp seems to be preparing to call this information out separately. The company said in its blog post, “Later this month, we’ll start collecting responses from consumers directly to better understand how businesses are handling their health and safety measures. Users will be able to share this information with us through the business’s Yelp page, which will be aggregated and surfaced as reassuring and informative content to further validate the information provided by the business.”
In other words, Yelp users are going to “fact check” these businesses in terms of whether they fulfill their own promise to consumers.
Yelp Waitlist seating capacity management
Front of the house management tools. Perhaps more interesting than the new COVID Update are modifications to Yelp’s Waitlist offering that will help dine-in restaurants manage crowds and capacity. The company said it has seen “significant interest in Waitlist as establishments prepare to reopen because it helps restaurants avoid crowded waiting areas or lines outside the door, as well as better manage their front of house in a time when reduced capacity has impacted dining room floors.”
There’s a new in-person (offline) way to join Waitlist, by scanning a QR code, which restaurants can display at the door on a printable poster. In addition, restaurants will be able to manually adjust wait times for customers, based on seating capacity restrictions or reduced staffing levels.
The company is also adding the ability to establish a maximum seating capacity, which will alert restaurant staff when they’ve reached 90% of their adjusted capacity. “When a business reaches their maximum number of guests, the host can then manually adjust wait times using Manual Wait Controls to seat diners more slowly,” says Yelp.
This will actually help them comply with local regulations. For example, half of Los Angeles restaurants aren’t complying with COVID reopening rules according to LA County health officials.
Why we care. Yelp is being pretty thoughtful about these tools and attempting to go beyond basic communication to customers. However, businesses may or may not like what I’ve described as a “fact check” function validating or contradicting their representations to the public about health and safety. We’ll have to see what that looks like.
More importantly, the upgraded Waitlist functions represent a path forward for Yelp: SaaS tools that help businesses manage daily interactions and relationships with customers. The use case for restaurants is pretty clear; it’s less clear how and whether Yelp can do this across different verticals. But it offers a way to deliver a lot of value to local businesses and generate revenue streams that are alternatives to advertising.