Guest Wi-Fi is business critical if your business is your customers

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Earlier this week I had the pleasure of visiting a sun soaked Spain to talk all things Wi-Fi with Aruba Networks.

Ok, as the conference was based just outside of Benidorm, I can’t pretend the flights were particularly joyful – not often I get my bottom pinched 35,000ft in the air by members of a singing rugby team from Doncaster – but once we had arrived at the venue, there was clearly a lot of knowledge and enthusiasm for the subject, bordering on the infectious.

That is why one conversation left me a little dumbfounded. I interviewed the head of IT for TGI Friday’s, Jeremy Dunderdale, and he gave me lots of details around how the chain of restaurants was taking advantage of wireless technologies. Yet, he had little to no passion for offering this service out to customers.

Some people put it in to try and attract guests but we are [already] a busy restaurant,” he exclaimed, with a slight arrogance that shouldn’t be present in the current economic climate.

TGI Friday’s trialled customer Wi-Fi back in 2010 but Dunderdale claimed staff were using it more than visitors. He then said it just hadn’t been a priority for the business with more important networking issues to face.

But we are now in 2013. Nearly every week I am writing about a new chain restaurant, coffee shop, even sports venue that thinks Wi-Fi is a necessity and public facing businesses are rolling it out thick and fast across their venues. Why on earth would TGI Friday’s want to be behind?

The fact is mobile device adoption has exploded. You can’t go anywhere without seeing a smartphone, tablet or other connected gadget, even if you are out for dinner with a loved one. Customers want Wi-Fi and want it everywhere, with retailers at the forefront of trying to keep them happy.  

Dunderdale said TGI’s hadn’t deployed it because it wasn’t “business critical” and, despite admitting it was starting to edge that way, didn’t believe we were yet at the point customers would make decisions about eating somewhere around connectivity. But I think we are closer than he believes.

If I am going out for a romantic meal then no, Wi-Fi would not be my priority, but then neither would a chain restaurant like TGI’s. I use places like that when I am on business trips, ensuring I can get a reliable meal and some work done at the same time.

When I am in such places, I often notice the other clientele are like me or younger crowds who want something cheap, quick and fun on a night out. These are the same people who are surgically attached to their iPhones.

If these are the two groups of people making up the bread and butter business of a place like TGI’s, I already think offering them reliable, and free, connectivity is the right move to make and one that needs to be done as quick as possible. Fall behind now and they will just go to one of the other high street names that gives them everything they want.

I understand there were bigger fish to fry when Dunderdale took over in 2007 and now they have a superb sounding wireless network for a number of business applications. But in the service industry, your business is your customers, and having an all singing, all dancing wireless EPOS system will become pretty redundant if you don’t have the people buying the meals. 

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