Should Your Restaurant Offer Free WiFi?

It’s the twenty-first century. If your restaurant doesn’t run on WiFi by now, then you’re behind the times and need to upgrade your soft- and hardware ASAP.

Like most small businesses, you understand that a strong internet connection drives a better customer experience. Quick and efficient ordering and payment processing is critical for increasing table turn times and maximizing daily profits. Many restaurants have also opened off-premise ordering systems, particularly in light of the economic downturn spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic. In all likelihood, you already rely on WiFi for a lot of your business operations, so you understand the crucial role it plays in nearly every aspect of modern life.

For your customers, it’s just as important. But is offering guest WiFi worth the costs?

The Pros and Cons of Guest WiFi

Everyone’s on the internet near-constantly, and that’s both a blessing and curse for restaurants. Like any important business decision, the option to offer free guest WiFi requires a cost-benefit analysis.

Cons

  • Fine dining and other full-service restaurants may not want guests distracted by their phones. Internet access could interrupt the ambience and atmosphere that the staff seeks to establish.
  • Unlimited network access can slow down table turns by inviting guests to linger after their meals.
  • Purchasing the appropriate amount of bandwidth can get expensive, especially if you’re often very busy.
  • If your customers never ask about WiFi, it may be an unnecessary expense with negligible effect on your profits either way.

Pros

  • Customers can post pictures of their meals or reviews of their experience. When they have a free connection and don’t have to wait until they get home to post, there’s a higher chance they’ll do it right then and there. User-generated content, or UGC, is a huge asset for restaurants.
  • Businesspeople and students with heavy workloads can come in to check items off their to-do list, making your restaurant a go-to for anyone with a lot on their plate.
  • People surfing the web while they eat will likely stay and order more food or coffee while they sit there.
  • WiFi makes you an inexpensive hotspot for customers who want somewhere to unwind, often in a group. It’s a great way to convince people to come in the door for the first time.
  • Even if customers linger but don’t buy anything, the act of letting them stay and browse the web will foster better customer relationships and thus long-term loyalty.

Offering guest WiFi isn’t for everyone, but looking at the simple benefits that having internet access provides, many restaurants have chosen to establish a connection to, well, establish a better connection with their customers.

Setting Up Guest WiFi

Assuming you’ve decided to set up guest internet, there are still steps to take to ensure a safe and efficient experience for all. For starters, don’t assume that you can just connect guests to your existing WiFi. Aside from the fact that so much traffic will severely slow down your connection, it also opens the door for hackers and data breaches. Additionally if you route your customers’ credit cards and information through your Point of Sale, you leave all of their information open to cyberattacks too. It’s worth it to shell out for a separate connection.

Place the guest router somewhere unobstructed and close to the dining area so customers get a good signal. You should have the router professionally installed to ensure it’s secure and working optimally. Then set your new network up with a passcode; free doesn’t have to mean public for anyone walking by. Display the password inside the store, on the menu or encourage guests to speak to a staff member to get it—this will give waiters an opportunity to upsell items from the menu. If guests order with a cashier, you can also encourage patronage by printing the WiFi password on the receipt so they have to buy something before they can access the internet. Make sure to change the password regularly so customers can’t buy something once and then log on forever without getting anything more.

Lastly and perhaps most importantly, you need to decide how much bandwidth to purchase. Bandwidth determines internet speed, so it should be at least decent; people won’t care about free WiFi if a bad connection makes it unusable. How much bandwidth you need depends on how many customers you typically house at one time, but you should purchase around 1.2 megabits per second for every ten people. Knowing this number is critical when you’re shopping around for providers, and understanding the metric will also make it easier to upgrade when your business expands.

Work with WiFi

Free WiFi is a massive selling point for more customers than you might expect. This simple leverage gives you an edge on your competitors, but more than that, it simply brings you into the modern age where businesses accept that the internet is a critical part of day-to-day life. We’re a technologically driven society, and customers already know that. Businesses need to be able to keep up with this consumer demand just as they would with any other marketplace trend.

Just because WiFi is a necessity, though, doesn’t mean it has to go unregulated. Setting up a password is just the first step; many businesses also find it advantageous to limit guest usage too. If you like the upsides of guest internet but don’t want to slow down table turn times too much, you can set time limits on the connection. Signing them out after an hour during peak times encourages guests to come in and gives them ample time to enjoy their meal, but they won’t linger for too long and take up space so your wait times stay manageably short.

Choosing to install customers’ internet has upsides and downsides, just like deciding against offering guest WiFi altogether. Many restaurants are deciding to let their customers go online without wasting their data to improve their overall relationships and meet consumer expectations. After all, it’s the twenty-first century and the business world runs on WiFi. Why would you expect your customers to think any differently?

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