Offering free WiFi to hotel visitors has been a strong value-add to the guest experience pretty much since the inception of wireless connectivity itself, right? However, as we are all addicted to our phones and WiFi access incentivizes us to use these devices even more, having this service readily available in restaurants can slow down food and beverage delivery to ultimately limit the seat turnover as well as the average daily restaurant seat revenue.
More time spent by diners on phone equals slower seat turnover and reduced revenues. Humans are horrible multi-taskers, hence when patrons are focusing to their screens, they are not looking at the meal and not thinking about what they want to order, delaying the whole process. Moreover, because a device competes for attention with the server, it will unconsciously deter guests from understanding the full value of a menu item based on the in-person conveyance of said dishes or drinks. This can result in such behaviours as no pre-meal cocktails and fewer appetizers or desserts ordered, not to mention that such patrons will consume more time per table overall.
Given such outcomes, there’s a strong case to be made for purposefully not setting up an internet portal for paying customers, with some places even going so far as to strategically position their restaurants so it is out of range of the regular lobby WiFi range or in an area with weak 4G/LTE signal.
As a concurrent trend taking place in downtown urban centres, many cafés (mainly independents) are banning laptops on their premises because the standard behaviour here is to order a coffee and then occupy a seat for well over an hour when that spot could instead rotate through several other paying customers who aren’t looking for a free offsite workspace.
To point out the contrary argument to all this, many restaurants intentionally offer ample WiFi because that’s part of the environment they are trying to create. Such outlets are typically borderline busy during peak and half-empty at every other time slot. In these cases, allowing patrons to take their time is perfectly acceptable because there’s no rush to accommodate another party. Still, too much focus on the mobile device will mean increased work from the staff, who have to more frequently return to a table because its attention is not firmly on ordering, along with the aforementioned reason of decreased average guest checks. This could also be time spent by servers having to explain how to access the WiFi or spell out the password – and those seconds add up!
So, how do you rationalize which route to go for your restaurant? It depends on what sort of atmosphere you are trying to create. If you’re aiming for that lackadaisical brunch-rolls-into-happy-hour vibe, give away all the bandwidth you want. If, however, you are hoping to foster a hot spot where reservations are a prized possession, my recommendation is to ditch the WiFi and discourage phone usage during mealtime altogether.
Another advantage, and this time from the diner’s perspective will be that they would be able to enjoy the meal and conversation with their colleagues/partners much more when they do not have the option of using their phones/gadgets.
Another point is that if the kitchen is passionate about their product, the chef and his team would feel more honoured if their guests were to concentrate on their meals.