The title of this article may puzzle a few of you as I’ve been a longstanding backer of offering WiFi to hotel guests for free as a means of increasing guest satisfaction. However, this is a specific instance where promoting complimentary wireless internet access may not be the prudent method of garnering consumer advocacy.
Unlike hotels, where the primary components amounting to profitability are ADR and occupancy, many eateries live and die on the number of turns per day. And what we are seeing now is that due to the prevalence of smartphones, ready access to the internet is slowing down how quickly a server can deliver meals and turning tables over for the next group of patrons. Even minor, incremental distractions add up to an insurmountable sum of lost time, including:
- Diner is seated and immediately checks, say, a social network instead of looking at the menu and deciding upon his or her order;
- Diner asks about free WiFi access and spends time trying to log in instead of looking at menu and ordering;
- Diner has trouble connecting to the WiFi service thereby arresting the ordering process and taking up server’s time as both attempt to solve the problem;
- Diner so engrossed by smartphone that he or she makes a mistake or is unclear in communicating the order, and then sends the food back when it arrives;
- Diner stops to take mediocre pictures of his or her food instead of diving right in;
- Diner takes longer to eat because he or she is responding to email or bombarded by text messages that ‘absolutely must’ be answered at that instant;
- Diner finishes food and, instead of signaling server for the bill, goes right back on his or her phone and ignoring the world around;
- Diner pays for meal but then lingers a few minutes to, check a social network once again, thus preventing the server from swooping in to clean the table and get it ready for next group.
All these actions may only be one or two minutes in length, but together they can effectively chop the total number of turns at a restaurant during breakfast or lunch hour in half. And that’s a lot of money! Of course, one may counter argue that diners will want to use their smartphones to talk about your restaurant in social media, TripAdvisor, or Yelp. A valid point, but in my experience, rarely is this done at the dining table.
Mitigating this modern problem is difficult as you can’t stop people from going on their phones, especially the tech-addicted millennials. Or can you?
As a start, dropping the restaurant WiFi is entirely in your control. That way, when a patron does inquire about it, your server can reply with a definitive, “No.” followed by, “Are you ready to order?” This alone will help move the sales process along as many will limit data cellular plans will be discouraged to go through their 3G/4G when WiFi isn’t available. And to speed this up even further, signage stating ‘Sorry, No WiFi Available at This Time’ may also do the trick. It may sound draconian, but you might want to give it a try.
While banning certain guests for excessive time wasting is an extreme measure, I have seen several restaurants institute a no cell phone policy. Right now this appears to be an action relegated to the lofty Michelin or other haute cuisine establishments where exorbitant prices also connote a higher degree of dining etiquette. But as operators wake up to how much smartphone usage is adversely affecting turns, such a policy may become more widespread and thus more readily accepting by the masses.
Note that you can purchase WiFi/3G/4G blocking technology, so that even if your patrons wanted to go on their phones, your restaurant will be a dead zone. But this is not recommended, and it may put you in legal jeopardy. You should consult your attorney if you plan to take this route, as a blocker is indiscriminant and will probably affect your neighbors as well. Or, you could place your restaurant in a subbasement bunker underneath a couple hundred tons of concrete and rebar. While these last two ideas are almost entirely impractical, cutting out the complimentary WiFi is not.
(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, published by HotelsMag on February 12, 2016.)