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By Dana Krook
You need wifi to connect your POS system to the cloud, accept online orders, stream music, and more.
But should you offer it to your customers?
The decision to be one of the many restaurants with wifi isn’t as obvious as you might think.
Today the expectation is so ingrained that many customers might just assume you offer free wifi, approaching your staff with one question they love: What’s your wifi password?
While customers think that restaurants with wifi are the new norm, restaurant owners have to weigh the pros and cons carefully.
This article covers both sides and – if you do decide to offer free wifi – provides strategies to help you deal with those pesky “campers.” You know, the ones who use your venue as their own personal office for hours on end, without ordering much of anything. Yeah, those guys.
Let’s get started.
Say hello to some sweet benefits.
With the rising gig economy and remote work options, offering public wifi helps you capture a share of this market. Think of all those freelancers who work remotely in co-working spaces, coffee shops, and restaurants. Or, what about people who still have an office job, but are given the freedom to work from “home”?
Offer fast wifi, and these people will flock to you. They’ll become regulars, coming to you for breakfast, lunch, and coffee breaks, because they know they can stop in without interrupting their workflow.
These regulars are also going to conduct business meetings in your restaurant. But they won’t come alone.
They’ll bring work colleagues and clients and prospects and collaborators. And not only will these connections order something, they’ll also tell their friends about the great experience they had at your venue. And then their friends will tell their friends. And so on.
Word of mouth marketing might sound old fashioned, but it’s one of the best ways to drive sales.
Many restaurants with wifi just give customers the password and that’s it.
You’re leaving money on the table by not capturing their contact details!
The solution: social wifi marketing.
Here’s how this type of marketing works:
Social wifi marketing is a mutually beneficial exchange. Diners benefit from the convenience of free wifi – helping them save on data costs – and you benefit with increased revenue and brand awareness.
Each time someone signs in to use your wifi, you capture customer information: location, number of visits, even demographics like gender and age. Instead of sending mass produced emails that’ll land in your customers’ spam folders, you can use this wealth of data to send personalized promotions, coupons, updates, and more.
For example, you can use your splash page – what the customer sees when they log in – to promote new menu items that increase you average check size. You can also send automatic email responders to first-time customers several hours after their visit, giving them a 10% discount coupon to encourage return visits. Or, you could set email triggers that include incentives for customers who haven’t returned to your restaurant in the past 30 days.
Don’t miss out on branding opportunities and the potential to build your social media following. You can redirect customers to your social media page after they sign in, helping you gain more followers and reach more potential customers online – long after they leave the table.
Pro tip: If you’re thinking about implementing a social wifi marketing strategy, follow these four simple steps:
Offering restaurant wifi is not without its disadvantages.
Restaurants, cafes, bistros, coffee shops – these are all social settings where people chat face-to-face. But many of these establishments have transformed from social spaces to quiet places, with people silently typing away on their laptops. Library vibes, anyone?
This transformation has led to anti-social behavior in restaurants, which impacts the overall ambiance and could even deter other diners – those who value face-to-face conversation and don’t enjoy seeing every second person on their phone – from making your restaurant their usual haunt.
The anti-social trend has become so prevalent in cafes, for example, that some restaurant owners have banned wifi or even electronic devices altogether in an effort to rekindle the power of human connection. Not surprisingly, many customers are warming to this move. But it’s not everyone’s cup of T-Mobile.
For security reasons, your guest wifi and your restaurant wifi should run on two separate networks – one is public, the other private. We can’t stress this enough.
Two networks are good for keeping your operations safe from hackers. But it’s bad for keeping money in your bank account. You’re stuck paying for the set-up and then monthly costs of both.
In general, the monthly cost of wifi varies depending on your internet service provider, bandwidth, and speed. If you’re a large restaurant with more seating, public wifi costs can quickly escalate – expect to pay more to ensure your chosen internet package can accommodate all these customers. You can go with a slower speed, but be prepared for more than a few complaints.
Public wifi can open up your guests to hackers who target bank details, account passwords, and contact information from unprotected or less secure networks – bad for customers, but also potentially damaging for your brand.
So how do you protect your public wifi network?
Here are a few tips:
While wifi may lure more customers into your restaurant, you’ll likely attract two types of customers, both of whom contribute to slower table turnover and lower overall revenue:
It’s this last customer you should be especially wary of. Known as campers, they contribute not only to slower table turnover but occupy valuable real estate another paying customer could use.
Laptop users are among the slowest to leave restaurants. If you want to provide a great experience that encourages them to return – because, let’s be honest, they’re still paying customers who bring in other customers – then find a way to create dedicated spaces for them.
Provide outlet access, wifi password signs, and charging stations, but only for one area. The remaining areas in your restaurant can be laptop-free zones. You could even place a self-ordering kiosk in the laptop-friendly area to help solo customers order additional items without being disturbed or having to leave their laptops unattended.
Adding long, shared tables or counters helps remove the private corners where people like to camp out at a table for four and lets customers make the most of every seat in the house. Plus, it creates more open space and encourages conversation, adding to the social atmosphere of your restaurant.
But creating these spaces for laptop users can be a challenge for restaurateurs – especially in places like New York City where restaurant owners have limited real estate.
However, a handful of restaurants like Sweetleaf, Stumptown, and Café Grumpy are making it work. Sweetleaf, for example, created a communal table for laptop users to work in the middle, while other customers can socialize in the corners of the coffee shop.
Provide free wifi for 30 minutes or an hour and then charge customers if they want to keep using it. By limiting the connection you:
Restaurants with wifi will continue to be the norm. So if you’re tempted to offer your guests their own network, it’s understandable.
But, as we’ve detailed here, providing public wifi is not a no-brainer. The pros and cons have a direct impact on your restaurant concept, brand, and profit.
If, after weighing these pros and cons, you’re convinced free wifi is right for your restaurant, ensure you provide a secure network and have a strategy to deal with “campers.” Because we promise you: If you build it, they will come.
Dana is the former Content Marketing Manager at TouchBistro, sharing tips for and stories of restaurateurs turning their passion into success. She loves homemade hot sauce, deep fried pickles and finding excuses to consume real maple syrup.
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