Why Restaurants Should Have WiFi Sections, Just Like A Smoking Section

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a shopping excursion I started at a nearby Apple Store in search of mobile marketing and technology infiltrating brick and mortar retail. That search ended in vain, but with the benefit of hindsight, I now recall an establishment that long ago became known as a mobile-friendly environment.

I’m referring to restaurants, including coffee shops, bakeries, and anywhere else you can imagine dining out.

There’s one restaurant, which shall go nameless, that my family visits about once a month. Its menu is huge, kid-friendly, and affordable, the service is terrific, especially for anyone with an allergy to worry about, and my wife and I have a few reliable go-to meals and beers we can count on to be delicious every time.

There’s just one thing I wish I could change about it: it has become a safe zone for bad mobile behavior.

In particular, I regularly see families with children under the age of 12 who, after settling into their seats, all reach for their mobile devices before their menus. Everyone hunkers down with a blue-white glow illuminating their expressionless faces. They pause long enough to order but then return to their electronica. If they communicate, it must be via instant messenger services, because they don’t talk much.

There are so many things that interfere with the precious little time we have with our families. We don’t need our gadgets to get in the way, too.

My goal here isn’t to preach to those who eat out this way. Rather, I seek to remind brick and mortar establishments about that which is core to their experience – the elements that will get customers to buy more and be happier and more loyal – and not do anything that stands in the way of those outcomes.

In that spirit, I would tell the owner of the restaurant I love to enact a WiFi seating area, just as it would have accommodated smokers back when “Will it be smoking or non-smoking?” was commonly asked by hosts and hostesses. That way, families who really want to slip into electronic-induced isolation can do that and be surrounded by other families who probably won’t be discomforted by the sight. That also would allow more old fashioned types like my family and me to eat among like-minded patrons and enjoy the best that restaurants have to offer: togetherness and nourishment.

Similarly, if you own a store and are considering mobile-friendly shopping enablers, such as offering free WiFi to your customers so you can use their in-store connections to register new users, welcome existing ones back, remind them you have an app, Facebook and Twitter account, and serve coupons and alert them to sales, make sure you find the right tech vs. non-tech balance for you.

Before you roll out mobile marketing and direct response systems in your store, test them for yourself. Ask friends and employees to do the same. If you find you’ve got your noses in your screens to the point that you’re knocking over mannequins, then you’re probably better off rolling back in some way.

To help you find your right balance, give your testers tasks that will indicate how well they have engaged with the store itself. Can they tell you where certain departments are? Do they remember what you have on sale? Can they recall end caps, point of sale promotions, or decorative elements you’ve used to mark a seasonal event? Keep score. Chances are you’ve already invested much of your time and money in getting all these elements right. Don’t let a new investment in in-store mobile marketing undo any of it.

The mobile revolution is happening all around us, including in our favorite stores, banks, and restaurants. Just make sure your contribution to that revolution is right for your customers.

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