Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Restaurant guests ask, Wi-Not?

One of the memorable moments from September’s FS-TEC conference was an exchange of opinions about providing free Wi-Fi service in restaurant dining rooms. The head techie for Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, Jeff Chasney, remarked on stage that his charges saw no need to offer the amenity. During tests, he explained, customers didn’t seem to care. Why incur the cost?

That raised the eyebrows of David Mattews, CIO of the National Restaurant Association. “There are some issues to it. [Data] security is one of them. Table occupation is another,” allowed Matthews.  But “if customers have a choice of going into an establishment across the street that does have Wi-Fi, you have to be very careful, because we see that becoming more important.”

New research underscores the competitive advantage that Wi-Fi provides, at least currently. Certify, a company that markets cloud-based services for managing employee expense accounts, reviewed the 6 million expense filings it processed during the first 11 months of 2012. The exercise revealed that the restaurant most often listed on the expense account of a business traveler was not Morton’s or Ruth’s Chris, but a unit of Starbucks.

Number Two was McDonald’s, followed by Subway and Panera Bread.

Three out of the four offer free Wi-Fi service. Burger King, which finished at Number Five on the list, offers the service in Europe and at a number of stores in the United States.

A coincidence? Speaking from experience, I’d emphatically say no. How many of us have turned Starbucks into an office-away-from-the-office, buying two or three coffees not for the buzz but to justify the use of the Wi-Fi connection?

McDonald’s tends to be a little more hectic, but walk into one of its dining rooms and you’re likely to see plenty of laptops and smartphones, many on them presumably connected to the internet.

It’s to the point now where I’ll look while on the road for a restaurant that has free internet service, and I can tell you many of the airports or terminals across the nation that offer it.

For the business traveler, the amenity has arrived.

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