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Quid Pro Quo: Evaluating free WiFi in restaurants

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By Henry Kurkowski

February 17, 2010

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.

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.

I am in no way suggesting placing third party advertisements on the wireless network. I am however highly suggesting that it be used for point of purchase marketing to help the host restaurant. The Free WiFi network can be easily set up to offer a welcome screen that promotes new menu items or contests. It can help grab an email address for opt-in email coupons good on the next visit. It can easily be used to redirect guests to your Twitter page to help get new followers and further engage the guest well after they have left the establishment. And people don’t mind any of this, they expect it! Check out this survey published on Muni Wireless http://bit.ly/b0utLK

Here‘s the give and take about this connected generation; they expect to be given service in exchange for seeing a few ads. Then they become fiercely loyal to those services that participate in this exchange relationship with them. Look at the market share of Google, Facebook, and Yahoo mail. Don’t just give WiFi away; consumers know that there is no such thing as a free lunch. So make it a win-win situation.

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