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Free WiFi Access

From the New York Times, an article on the wonderful and growing trend in which businesses provide free WiFi access:

Schlotzsky's Deli... [is a] mecca for free Wi-Fi. Schlotzsky's, a nationwide chain of sandwich stores that got its start in Austin, offers free Wi-Fi at 10 of its Austin restaurants, one in Houston and one in Atlanta.

John C. Wooley, the chief executive of Schlotzsky's, said he briefly considered charging customers for Wi-Fi access but quickly changed his mind.

Mr. Wooley said each restaurant spent about $2,000 to get its Wi-Fi up and running, and another $300 to $500 a month for the high-speed communications line that provides the wireless access network to the Internet... Schlotzsky's surveys over the past few months have shown that 6 percent of customers go to Schlotzsky's for the free Wi-Fi. That translates to 15,000 customers per store per year. If each pays, on average, $7 for a sandwich and drink, that adds up to about $100,000 in sales per year.

"That's a really good return on investment," Mr. Wooley said.

Free Wi-Fi access, he said, is similar to other features he has adopted to make his restaurant more appealing. "It's like the wood furniture, and the tile in the restrooms, and the art on the wall," he said. "You're doing all these things so people will select your restaurant."

For the life of him, he said, he cannot see a disadvantage to his business model. Besides the good will he generates, Mr. Wooley said, he gets a bit of low-cost advertising. When Schlotzsky's customers get their Wi-Fi signal, their browsers are directed to a Schlotzsky's page and they are asked to register before being given free rein on the Web.

"Think about how much money you'd spend on a TV spot," Mr. Wooley said. "Unlike a pop-up ad that annoys us all to no end, here you have a way to get on someone's computer and make them happy."

I wrote about Schlotzsky's WiFi plans last August; one aspect from the earlier story that isn't made clear in the Times story is whether Schlotzsky's has followed through on its idea to place antennas on its store roofs to boost its WiFi range.

If anyone from Austin reads this, and has tried WiFi from Schlotsky's, I'd appreciate comments on your experience.


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I live in Austin. I don't go to Schlotzky's often because I don't like their food that much.

In addition to Schlotzky's, there are plenty of other restaurants and coffee shops with free wireless: http://auscillate.com/wireless/

- Adina

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