Back at Google I/O 2019, the company announced a few new features for Lens to help you when you're dining out. One of them is the ability to point your camera at a physical menu and get dish recommendations and reviews powered by Google Maps. While this particular feature doesn't seem to be live (at least for me in Lebanon), a similar one is showing up in Google Maps. The app now lets you scan uploaded images of menus and get all the info you need about each dish.

The feature relies on Maps content from contributors who have already uploaded, tagged, and reviewed dishes at a restaurant. By simply detecting the dish's name in the menu, Lens can associate that with the existing reviews and pics and point you toward that content, so you don't have to dig in the thousands of photos from a place or search in reviews to find whether a platter is worth ordering or not.

To try it out, open a restaurant's listing in Maps, go to the Menu tab (if it exists) then View menu, and tap the pages. Once opened, you'll notice a new Explore dishes bubble at the bottom with the Google Lens logo. It scans the entire menu with Lens and highlights all the detected words and dishes. In the screenshot below on the right, you can see at least two of the dishes (Ensalada Vallarta and Tostada Salad) were properly identified. Tapping the food icon (fork and knife) shows all other Lens modes, including translation, text selection, and shopping; these could be handy if the menu is in a foreign language or you want to know more about a specific ingredient.

Left: "Explore dishes" Lens bubble in Maps's menus. Right: Identified dishes, plus other Lens modes.

In certain menus, a platter might be highlighted with an orange star, denoting a popular item. Otherwise, tapping any of the identified dishes in Lens' results shows more images taken by diners at the same restaurant, their reviews of it, plus more general related searches and pics. If a dish isn't properly detected, you can still highlight it and get general images of it (not from this particular restaurant), to better know what to expect.


Left: Popular dish. Middle: More info for identified dishes. Right: Searching an unidentified dish.

This is a nice first step to help diners pick the best dishes in a restaurant, but it still requires users to open the Maps listing and look for the Lens bubble on the menu photo. Hopefully, it'll come to the live camera viewfinder, where people usually interact with Lens, so you could simply scan a menu with your phone and get all this info without opening Maps first.

Google Maps
Google Maps
Developer: Google LLC
Price: Free