By Tim Tang, Director, Vertical Solutions, Hughes
Changing market dynamics has fueled fierce competition among QSR, fast casual and casual dining restaurants, but providing guest WiFi represents a strategic opportunity to differentiate the customer experience and drive sales. Today, mobile apps allow customers to easily order food, reserve a table and purchase gift cards. Frictionless integration with loyalty programs encourages reward redemptions, which turns occasional diners into avid fans. Exclusive video entertainment reduces the diner’s perceived wait time, drives up customer satisfaction, and shapes the diner’s perception of the restaurant brand. With so many different ways to make a meaningful business impact, guest WiFi is gaining momentum in the restaurant industry.
To fully benefit from guest WiFi, restaurateurs need to anticipate future requirements and design accordingly. Poor WiFi executions will hurt the brand’s ability to support customer engagement initiatives. Restaurants with inflexible, poor performing WiFi technology will be at a severe disadvantage and may eventually be forced to rip-and-replace their solutions to address new marketing efforts. The following provides guidance to future-proofing restaurant WiFi deployments.
1. Use scalable, reliable networks
Consumers at home enjoy 10+Mbps of private Internet access. In restaurants, consumers share far less Internet capacity with dozens, even hundreds, of other patrons. During peak busy times, the restaurant’s guest WiFi will become congested due to the lack of capacity, resulting in a poor guest experience during periods with the greatest business opportunities.
To solve this problem, restaurants are deploying high-speed Internet access with 10+ Mbps, 50+ Mbps, and even 100 Mbps. Restaurants with tight budgets or limited network options may still offer guests a better experience by leveraging WAN optimization technology to transform lower speed circuits into higher performance connections.
Given the peak traffic crowds that may overwhelm a restaurant at any given time, congested Internet access must be strategically managed. Business-critical mobile activity (e.g. gift card redemption, Yelp reviews, Instagram posts, etc.) must take precedence over other customer activity (e.g. mobile shopping, watching movies, etc.). Proper application performance management enables restaurant operators to maximize the business value of even limited or congested Internet access
2. Rely on smarter WiFi
Restaurants are successful when every part of the business executes. Similarly, a high-speed access circuit into the restaurant alone can’t guarantee a quality guest experience without a corresponding equally robust WiFi infrastructure inside the restaurant.
Restaurants are challenging environments for WiFi. Kitchen machinery is a known culprits of WiFi interference. Existing enterprise WiFi deployments within the restaurant and neighboring guest WiFi networks are also common sources of interference. To mitigate conflict, restaurant operators should consider the benefits versus risks of consolidating enterprise and guest WiFi networks.
Regardless, all WiFi technologies are not created equal. Smarter WiFi solutions can dynamically detect congested WiFi channels and switch to alternate channels with greater availability. To limit interference, smarter WiFi technologies will automatically adjust their power levels to maximize WiFi coverage, while minimizing inter-Access Point (AP) WiFi interference. They can also scan the WiFi radio spectrum in real-time for unexpected sources of interference. For instance, an old microwave that consistently disconnects the Guest WiFi users every time it is used must be quickly identified and replaced to maintain a quality customer experience.
3. WiFi can manage content
WiFi solutions vary dramatically in their ability to manage content and mobile applications. The first priority is to keep illegal content from entering the restaurant. Diners are often quite adept at bypassing generic DNS filters to access inappropriate content. Restaurant operators should leverage reputable, robust web content filtering services to prevent inappropriate access from damaging their brand and to protect the business from liabilities.
To manage mobile application access to WiFi networks, one must first be able to identify the application. Not all mobile restaurant applications are equally profitable. A sommelier app may represent a much greater upsell opportunity than an apparel retailer’s mobile shopping app. By giving the sommelier app priority over the customer who is shopping online, the guest WiFi will make a more meaningful contribution to the restaurant’s bottom line.
4. Social and WiFi work well together
Guest WiFi not only provides an opportunity to enhance the customer’s experience, it is also a valuable source of customer insight. By correlating mobile browsing behavior with limited-time offer transactions, restaurant operators may be able to gain real-time market intelligence regarding consumers’ evolving food preferences.
One way to reduce the “friction” of guest WiFi access is to let customers use credentials from social media services (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.). When the customer is willing to participate, the restaurant operator has an even greater opportunity to learn about their customers.
Social media login is another capability where WiFi solutions may impose limitations on a brand’s ability to know their consumers. Some guest WiFi solutions can support one or two social media logins while others can support guest WiFi logins via more than 20+ social media services. Given the volatile popularity of social media, the more options a diner has, the more likely they are to participate. The more customers participate, the more guest insight collected.
5. Integrate mobile
As a restaurant’s mobile application improves the dining experience, new features such as mobile gift cards, loyalty redemption, and mobile payments may be incorporated. Location-based marketing (LBM) initiatives may require integration with the restaurant WiFi solution in order to align messaging with the customer’s context. Guest WiFi architectures vary dramatically in their ability to support integration with third-party applications on a real-time basis. Some will have straight-forward APIs for easy integration, whereas others will require significant workarounds to accommodate basic data exchanges.
Guest WiFi solutions represent a strategic opportunity for restaurant operators to differentiate the customer’s experience and dramatically improve business results. Given the volatile evolution of competitive market pressures and WiFi technology, it is advantageous for operators to give careful consideration to future proofing their Guest WiFi deployments. Guest WiFi has evolved from a simple matter of Internet access into a complex, nuanced offering, capable of intelligently addressing overwhelming guest needs with limited resources while driving profitable results.