Foursquare keeps moving into local search with Open Table reservations

Foursquare might have started out as the ideal way to keep up with friends checking into bars near you, but if the company’s recent moves are any indication, it’s quickly checking into the local search scene, gaining a wider audience than people who just want to be mayor.

Foursquare Open Table ExploreAs CEO Dennis Crowley explained at GigaOM’s recent Mobilize conference, Foursquare is quickly evolving from a simple check-in service to one that’s aggregating the best of local businesses to challenge traditional search recommendation tools like Yelp or Google(s goog). Friday’s announcement that the company will partner with popular restaurant booking service Open Table is just another step in that direction, allowing users to check out menus and book reservations right from the app.

Personally, I was never a huge Foursquare fan until I moved to San Francisco this year. I didn’t understand the point of becoming “mayor” of something, or seeing where my friends were hanging out. But living in a new city, I found that Foursquare is actually a pretty good resource for finding nearby restaurants and businesses when I don’t know the area well, often much better than Yelp, which provides an overwhelming amount of information. I like the more limited options that Foursquare suggests, and it’s helpful to see what local friends have recommended.

A big part of Foursquare’s increasing utility is the recently-updated “Explore” feature, which allows a user to search the nearby area for popular restaurants or stores, partly based on where someone’s friends have checked in, but also based on Foursquare check-ins overall. At Mobilize, Crowley noted that the site’s 25 million active users have produced more than 2.5 billion check-ins, a staggering amount of data that can inform recommendations for others. The company has already worked to monetize the app through promoted suggestions in the Explore tab, so connecting users from searching to booking seems like a logical step.