Is Your Restaurant Offering WIFI?

by Herb on October 19, 2010

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picture with words WiFi ZoneShould Restaurants, Cafes and Coffee Shops Offer WiFi to their Customers?

Last week I had an e-mail from a friend unhappy with the lack of WiFi available in restaurants and coffee shops in his town and suggested that I write an article alerting our small business friends who own restaurants or coffee shops in the downtown area that they may be missing some good opportunities to draw in customers.  As a WiFi seeker myself especially when out-of-town on business I thought I would do a little research to see if offering FREE WIFI to customers was in fact a good idea or not.  Here’s what I found:

Weighing WiFi in Restaurants in HTmagazine.com by Cihan Cobangulu   Good summary of how wireless access has grown in many public places AND the fact that consumers are coming to expect it, especially in restaurants and coffee shops.  A good point to his article however is that for the small restaurant or coffee shop just offering WiFi is not enough.  He outlines 3 basic business models for these businesses to consider before deciding to add WiFi to their offerings:  a Fee model, a Free of Charge Model and a Hybrid.  Cobangulu also cites a recent survey of consumers and found that

  • 70% of the respondents use WiFi enabled devices such as laptops or PDA or smart phones
  • WiFi access is considered an important amenity in restaurants and cafes by consumers especially the more “tech” savvy
  • Customers prefer free-of-charge WiFi
  • Availability of WiFi made it more likely those surveyed would return to that establishment that offered WiFi as long as it is free

According to Cobangulu small restaurants, cafes and coffee shops can see a positive return on their WiFi investment especially if they are seeking to attract a specific demographic of customers who use these devices. 

customers using WiFi in restaurant

In Quid Pro Quo: Evaluating Free WiFi in Restaurants that was published in Foodservice.com by Henry Kurkowski, the author looks at access to free WiFi as a marketing issue to get more “butts in seats”.

Says Mr. Kurkowski, 

There are a large number of independent and franchise restaurants that are offering free WiFi to get butts in seats. The way they do this varies, but the most valuable way to do this includes building customer loyalty and involves a true quid pro quo. A newly published survey indicates that consumers don’t mind this approach and as my grandpa used to say: “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”.

I have been in many casual dining restaurants that offer free WiFi. When asking the waiters about it, too often he or she says “ I think you are supposed to look for the name Linksys and connect to that.” Shame on you! (Not you the reader, shame on the restaurant manager) When the waiter says this, it tells me several things:

1. They bought an off the shelf wireless router from the local Best Buy

2. They didn’t even bother to set it up to make the network name be the name of the establishment

3. If they did not bother to do #2, they probably did nothing to secure their own private network or provide security for their guests.

4. They are just putting WiFi out there without getting anything in return.Starbucks advertises Free WiFi

Most studies and surveys show that people are not willing to pay for WiFi especially when many establishments are offering it as a free service. They are willing however, to see a few advertisements for goods and service in exchange for that free connection. This is where the quid pro quo comes into play. With the advent of search engines, Gmail, and Facebook a whole generation has been trained to expect some things at zero cost to them. Because of that, they have simultaneously been trained to expect to see a few ads in exchange.

The bottom line here: if you are trying to attract the “connected generation” there are some easy ways to not only get them in the door but also some great ways to “market” to them using your WiFi connection.  They understand there is no such thing as a “FREE LUNCH” and so are willing to let you do some marketing there as well.  Good article for our small business friends to consider about incorporating WiFi as part of their customer service.

However to be fair not all restaurants and coffee shops are rushing into the WiFi option and some who did offer Free WiFi have pulled back.  This article from the Los Angeles Times indicates that for some small businesses the rush to join in the WiFi market isn’t all Win-Win. Pulling WiFi in Coffee Shops

So should our small restaurants, cafes and coffee shops in rural Northeast or North-Central Arkansas be jumping on the WiFi bandwagon?  I will let you decide.  What do you think?  Does availability of WiFi make a difference in the restaurant or coffee shop you patronize?  It does for me.  Let me know your thoughts especially if you are currently offering WiFi and whether it has made a difference.

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