Should Restaurants Offer Free Wi-Fi?

Wi Fi

With the rise of mobile point of sale, having a strong wireless connection at one’s restaurant is crucial for business. Combined with an mPOS, wireless Internet allows immediate front-of-house and back-of-house communications, as well as mobile-device-based check splitting, payment processing, and receipt delivery.

But just because your restaurant runs on Wi-Fi doesn’t mean you have to offer Wi-Fi to your customers in turn. As Wi-Fi becomes a constant presence in our lives, some restaurants are choosing not to offer it to their guests. The reasons are multifold—everything from reduced table turnover rates to the effects of distracted Internet surfing on ambience. But the downsides of a no-Wi-Fi zone can be far worse: In an age where the Internet is everywhere, not offering it for free could mean fewer customers.

Here are three anti-guest-Wi-Fi arguments, along with solutions provided by Lavu Point of Sale’s product experts.

When Customers Spend Too Much Time Sitting and Too Little Money

Turnover rates can make or break a restaurant. One restaurant found that over a 10-year period, their turnover rate had increased by 54 minutes. By studying their video cameras, they saw that customers were engaging in specific behaviors that led to them leaving at a much slower pace. You might have already guessed what those behaviors were: taking pictures of food, or pausing to check their phones.

Worse yet, the restaurant realized that some of the customer complaints about the food—like that it was too cold—were a result of the customers’ own Web behavior. So food that was sent back to the kitchen and remade could have been perfectly satisfying had it been eaten immediately and without interruption.

What this restaurant discovered is what many others are also learning: Valuable seating space is taken up by customers who use the Internet for long periods of time—and it’s not covering the bills.

The Solution

If you find that your turnover rate has slowed or that sales have plateaued (or lowered) because of long-seated Web surfers, try out these two options to increase your restaurant or café’s output:

  1. Limit the seating space for laptop users. The slowest diners to leave your establishment are probably the ones working away on their laptops. If you want to continue offering free Wi-Fi but don’t want diners hogging valuable real estate, we suggest creating a designated seating space for laptop users. Set up a long bar along the walls so that floor space can be reserved for regular diners, or select two or three “sharing” tables, where customers using laptops can work together.
  1. Use a Web connection that limits free surfing time to 30 minutes. Reserve your Internet for your own business needs and employees, and then sign up with a connection that manages surfing times. By giving customers a set amount of free surfing time, you won’t anger customers who want Wi-Fi, but you will reduce the number of customers who are only coming to surf, instead of eating at your place.

Security Risks of Offering Free Wi-Fi

If you saw the first episode of the popular TV series Mr. Robot, you might remember how Elliot hacked into the restaurant’s Internet connection to get private information about its owner. Banking information, passwords, and Internet behavior were retrieved easily, a skill set that hackers in real life possess.

In Seattle, one ambitious gang of hackers caused over $3 million in damages by stealing data from at least 53 local businesses. You don’t want to be a victim of Internet crime because your restaurant offers free Wi-Fi.

The Solution

Set up a formal cybersecurity plan. The majority of small businesses and restaurants do not have a formal cybersecurity plan in place to deter hackers. If you barely have as much as a password, then look into these three steps.

  1. Encrypt your data with a software program. Encryption tends to work only when a user is logged into a computer. It’s recommended that you set up your computer to automatically log out after 15 minutes of inactivity.
  2. Lock your network. The best defense against hacking is to have no public wireless Internet at all, but the second-best option is to cloak your wireless network. Customers who request your Wi-Fi are told the exact name of the network and given the password.
  3. Install anti-malware and anti-virus protection.

Of course, for your business operations, it is critical that you use a highly secure POS system. The last thing you want is a data breach, putting both your business and your customers’ data at risk. Your POS should have multiple safeguards, such as a secure firewall to keep out unwanted traffic, and end-to-end encryption and tokenization for payment security.

Internet Users Disrupt the Ambience of Your Restaurant

The rising trend of slow-cooked food and locally sourced meals is ushering in a dining period that rejects modern, technologically influenced behaviors. If getting diners together over intimate meals is your intention, then you might find phone-checking customers to be a distraction to those around them.

The Solution

Do not offer public wireless Internet at all. In this case, you have the luxury of keeping your wireless networks private without the fear of cyber attacks or poor customer turnover. We recommend informing diners of your decision in the most charming way possible. Describe your desire for an intimate customer experience that conflicts with looking at screens, either in your menu or with a sign on the wall. By telling customers that you want your restaurant to be a place for connecting face to face, you are letting them know to adjust their mindsets and get into the spirit of things. Also train your staff to handle requests and frustrations in a manner that will make customers want to come back and enjoy your restaurant for its uniquely warm ambience.

Lavu is a leading mobile point-of-sale system for restaurants. Used on over 20,000 terminals, in more than 80 countries, it is a full-featured iPad-based POS system designed exclusively for restaurants and bars. Lavu was the first iPad point of sale in the Apple App Store, and continues to be pioneers of technology by offering the latest in features and functionalities. Exceptional features include flexible payment-processing solutions, an intuitive, easy-to-use interface, and comprehensive business management suite for all reporting needs. It works for all food and drink establishments, streamlining operations to simplify management and improve the customer experience.


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About the Author

Editorial Team is a leading industry news site for the point of sale and payments industry.We are also the go-to resource for small business owners that want expert tips and inspiration on how to run a successful business. Collectively, our team of experts has decades of POS, payments, and small business experience.