A quick follow-up to last Friday’s post, “Whisk whacks free Internet — a trend?.” Sunday’s New York Times ran a story that might be of interest to those of you who have interest in the topic of WiFi and its freeness. The piece, entitled “What Starbucks Can Learn From the Movie Palace,” discusses how some American eateries are handling the WiFi issue — FYI, it ain’t free at Starbucks or McDonald’s (yes, McDonald’s has WiFi) — thus, it is not 100 percent relatable to our Shanghai situation … but what is?
This passage about chain eatery Panera‘s policy is somewhat pertinent to what was discussed in the Whisk post:
Neil Yanofsky, Panera’s president, said that no cost accounting had been done on its service, which is free. The rationale relates to ambience: “We want our customers to stay and linger.”
A Panera cafe does half of its business at lunchtime — there is little lingering then. But before and after the lunch rush, the restaurant addresses what it refers to internally as “the chill-out business,” which constitutes a not-insignificant 15 to 20 percent of its revenue.
Panera has no interest in rushing these customers out — the longer they stay, the greater the likelihood that resistance to the aroma of freshly baked muffins will crumble. Free, unmetered Wi-Fi is one way the restaurant sends an unambiguous signal: Stay as long as you like.
Of course, Mr. Yanofsky is the first to point out that he is in a position to be much more welcoming than the competition across the street at Starbucks. The average Panera store has 120 seats and does about two and a half times as much business as the average Starbucks store.
Mr. Yanofsky said he could not see why Starbucks, given its more limited seating, would drop access charges so that it could match Panera’s Wi-Fi offering. “Why make it free?” he said. “They’re already full.”
Whisk is even smaller than some Starbucks — knocking down walls isn’t an option, we assume — and they have more of a focus on food. We guess they could charge for WiFi. But who sets that up? And once you start charging for something, then you have to make sure it works — and is that possible in Shanghai? How many times have you had to restart your router today?