Responding to both consumer demand and competitive market research, Boston Market recently rolled out a guest-facing WiFi network across its 450+ locations. “We were hearing directly and anecdotally that customers were asking for wireless,” says Ed Eissenstat, senior director of system operations for Boston Market Corporation. “Some market studies were showing that restaurants were providing wireless in their locations.”
The company acted on that information, partnering with AirTight Networks and Spartan Computer Services to roll out guest-facing WiFi. Based on that rollout, the networking team at Boston Market offers these practical tips for other restaurants.
Building buy-in: When you’re talking to the business about buy-in on a technology product, speak about the benefits in terms of brand loyalty, execution, foot-traffic and driving sales. “When we spoke about this project, we broke it down into the number of meals we had to serve each day in each restaurant to pay for the product,” says Eissenstat. For example, if it’s an objective across the chain to enroll people in your loyalty program, identify how a guest-facing WiFi network with a splash page can help make those conversions.
Considerations for the RFP: Once the business has decided to move forward with guest-facing WiFi, work up a request for proposal (RFP) to select a vendor. In addition to must-have elements such as cost, Boston Market notes that it’s important to include specific WiFi considerations in the RFP. Considering the size of your team, for example, how do you want to manage the network? “Do you want cloud? Do you want to manage it in-house, and can you segment it off your network?” asks Eissenstat. “We wanted to be ahead of the curve for rouge wireless scanning,” he explains, so that was a component addressed in their RFP.
“Find out if you’ll be able to reboot the access points remotely, and if you can tell when it’s offline,” he advises. When selecting a cabling vendor, interview different companies, and be sure they’re flexible enough to meet your timeline requirements.
Project management and installation: Project management is key to any successful rollout. Boston Market performed speed tests to find out if the network would be able to meet performance requirements. “With all projects, I recommend that you consider a pilot. This is a long-term relationship and you want a partner that you feel great about,” says Eissenstat. Build out a clear schedule with timelines and assign who will be responsible for different projects. “Have your WiFi provider, cabling company, and internal teams involved. Ensure that everyone is sharing success and failure,” says Joe Cruz, network engineer for Boston Market.
No matter how much planning you do, be willing to be flexible. “We’ve run into installation issues from store managers who lost equipment, to poor weather conditions, to floor plans and building materials that aren’t conducive to cabling or access points,” says Cruz. Have a response plan in place so you can react quickly when challenges do come up. Don’t allow a few tricky restaurant installations to interrupt the overall flow of the project.
In-store support: Once installed, consider how you’ll support the network, for both the store and the customer. Think about this in conjunction with the installation. Depending on the type of WiFi – internal or cloud-based – there are number of considerations that may affect how you support the product and staff, and how you handle hardware repairs. Will you engage a third party? Can your cabling vendor handle repairs, or will you handle it internally?
“From a software perspective, WiFi is still in a maturing phase and there are add-ons that you might not have readily available during installation. Discuss who will handle modifications to the architecture and add features,” says Cruz. For example, identify who will handle requests from marketing to change the splash page when a new promotion is rolled out.
Don’t overlook support for the end user. This is a customer facing solution, and their expertise that will run the gamut. “You’ll have guests who don’t know how to connect to it. If they can’t get on the network, not only didn’t you improve service, but now there’s a detriment to service.” Boston Market opted to direct some of this to its help desk, and prepared them to manage this type of solution with training and trouble-shooting documents.
“When a guest comes in and has issues getting connected, they’re going to report it to the manager who may or may not have the expertise or availability to stop and call the help desk,” says Cruz. “To help address that, we put together a document for the customer that lets them address level-one trouble shooting, so they don’t have to call the help desk.