The Gearbits blog has a post covering the WiFi in restaurants trend called Panera: New Home of the Technorati. For this technoratus, Panera is the old comfy WiFi hangout.
Panera’s restaurants are still called St. Louis Bread Company in Panera’s hometown of St. Louis. My restaurant is about a mile from my house and usually have lunch (1/2 Sierra Turkey sandwich and cream of chicken and wild rice soup (although the new Vegetarian Parisian Mushroom Bisque is pretty darn good)), download and install Windows security updates, and work on Internet tasks.
The Gearbits Panera seems a little more upscale than mine, but mine has a great neighborhood feel and I usually run into someone I know on about every visit. It’s funny how even when I go just to work on the Internet, it seems like I end up talking with someone.
What I’ve noticed over time is that I consistently see a few businesspeople taking advantage of the WiFi on every visit, but there are always some kids (whose school schedule defies my logic, but I sure wish I could have spent that much time off-site while I was in high school) using those cool little cheap iBook Mac laptops.
There’s a book called The Great Good Place that attempts to describe the phenomenon of social gathering places. Keep on eye how WiFi, of all things, might help create those kinds of places. A lot of companies are experiment with WiFi, but Panera, especially because free WiFi caters to their customer profile so well (its customer spend a lot of time per visit and many visit multiple times during the day), has gotten it right.
Will WiFi work at McDonald’s? If they target and cater to the seniors who hang out and drink coffee all morning, it will. If they think it will pull us out of the drive-through line getting Happy Meals for our kids on the way home from school, they’ll be quite disappointed.