In 2012, the University of South Florida did a study on the impact of Wi-Fi in bars and restaurants. 70% of the respondents said they preferred establishments that offered Wi-Fi over those that did not. So if in 2012 there was no question that offering Wi-Fi in your business boosts sales, then now in the tech generation it is even more prevalent. Therefore the only question that remains…is how to do so. There are two main ways.
Use Your Existing Equipment
Many bars are in the bad habit of leaving their existing Wi-Fi network (used for the business) open to the public. Although this is by far, the easiest way to offer free Wi-Fi, you run the high risk of hacking and data theft. That being said, this is also the cheapest way to allow access to your customers, as you do not need to purchase additional equipment.
If you choose to use your existing equipment, there are some security settings you should know about. On the back of most routers, there are three settings: WEP, WPA, and WPA2. These are basically the security levels of protected access for your network. You always want yours set to WPA2, the most encrypted level.
Another option is what’s known as “guest access.” Rather than everyone sharing the same open network, you can assign your customers to a different network, that they can then choose when logging in. You need to first make sure that the “guest access” on the router is enabled, and the access will then be separated from the main network.
Whichever way you decide, when using pre-installed equipment, it is important to remember that the more people on the network, the slower the connection. So if you have a business dependent on a quick connection, this may not be the option for you.
Set up a Hotspot
The other option is to purchase hardware specifically designed to set up a wireless hotspot for your customers. This completely segregates your private network, from what you are offering your patrons. It is safer, yet less affordable.
A hotspot will offer additional features that your regular network cannot. One of these is a Terms of Service. Customers will have to accept the TOS, before they can access the internet. Another feature is the ability to impose bandwidth and time limits on the usage. Lastly, the option to charge a small nominal fee for access is available.
You may not have to purchase additional equipment for a hotspot if you have a router like Linksys that allows you to upgrade to add some of the features. The upgrade is called “third-party firmware.” If your router is compatible, you can upgrade and require a TOS this way as well.
A Few Quick Tips
- If you choose to use your own router, and leave it open, never give out an unprotected password. Believe it or not, many bars have been known to write down an open access code on a napkin, for their customers. This leaves your network wide open for predators.
- If you do intend to give out a password, make sure it is protected and encrypted.
- Make sure you’re marketing your free Wi-Fi everywhere. A sign in the window is your first step. Announce on social media platforms, and make sure it is in bold on your website. The company TapHunter is a great resource to advertise your Wi-Fi as well. They offer a mobile app that you can tag your bar or restaurant as “Free Wi-Fi,” to announce you now have it available at your place. Remember, free Wi-Fi is a highly attractive offer for a bar or restaurant.
- You may choose to charge for the Wi-Fi, but it’s generally not a good idea. The same University of South Florida study showed that one way to turn off a customer after offering Wi-Fi, is to charge for it. The only down side to free Wi-Fi is that some customers may linger, but remember, you can always impose time limits too.