Free WIFI - Hotspots as a tool for Guerilla Marketing

A few weeks ago I tried to make the case for free hot spots provided by restaurants and cafes as a service to their customers. Something that might look counterintuitive at first, but does make sense when you consider that providing a free WIFI service costs just 6$/day while a billable hotspot costs over $30/day, because of all the accompanying hassle involved.

Now a recent article in Computerworld reports on an interesting case that further supports this argument:
" (...) John Wooley, chairman, CEO and president of restaurant chain Schlotzsky's Inc. in Austin, isn't so shy in sharing details of what he calls the "strong ROI" from the company's free Wi-Fi service. Schlotzsky's currently offers free Wi-Fi in 30 of its 600 company-owned or franchised Schlotzsky's Delis. Wooley says he figures that the free Wi-Fi results in an additional 15,000 visits per restaurant per year by customers who spend an average of $7 per visit.

That means Wi-Fi service brings in more than $100,000 per year per outlet in return for an investment of about $8,000 per restaurant for wireless infrastructure, Wooley says. (...) "
Looks like a no-brainer, doesn't it ?

In addition to the fact that Schlotzsky's is really making money with their free offer, they are also using it as a very clever and efficient tool for guerilla marketing:
When wireless users first connect to the Schlotzsky's Wi-Fi network, they're shunted to an in-house "splash" Web page that the chain uses to promote itself and its bill of fare.

Schlotzsky's has even bought high-gain Wi-Fi antennas that transmit the splash page as far outside its restaurants as possible, Wooley says. One Austin outlet beams its signal into dorm rooms at the University of Texas, and another beams it into a competing Starbucks. This high-tech guerrilla marketing campaign to grab the eyeballs of potential customers is less expensive and potentially more targeted than buying a 30-second TV commercial, Wooley says.


But there is also another, very pragmatic way to look at this issue - as the CEO of another restaurant chain puts it:
In fact, Shaich considers free Wi-Fi to be such an essential marketing tool that he dismisses any discussion of ROI. "What is the ROI on a bathroom?" asked Shaich, pointing out that the day of pay restrooms in restaurants has long since passed.