WiFi availability has become more commonplace over time; as it has advanced and infiltrated every nook of this country, it has become controversial in some places. It wasn’t controversial until cell phones saturated the world and people could not go anywhere without them. Laptops and tablets have also become more prevalent as accessibility has become easier and easier. WiFi, like anything else, has its pros and its cons.

When it comes to full service restaurants, faster turnover means higher profits. On the flip side, longer stays can equate to larger ticket sizes. When giving guests access to free WiFi it can encourage them to stay longer. WiFi allows access to their emails, games, and the ability to text whoever for free. Still, 62% of diners do not think it is okay to use a cell phone while dining at a restaurant. So the discrepancy here is that cell phones can be the unwanted distraction when families or friends go out to eat and catch up with each other. With everyone getting distracted by cell phones these days, free WiFi can ruin these experiences. And with diners already out looking to eat dinner and have drinks, it may not even result in being beneficial to the establishment. In addition, if the WiFi is not speedy and easily accessible, it may even have a negative effect on both diners and the restaurant. No one working at a restaurant wants to deal with internet problems during the 6pm rush, but you bet they’ll hear about it from unhappy guests who want to use this perk.

It is worth noting that the WiFi debate is most prevalent in the small cafe / coffeehouse sector. Conglomerates like Starbucks and Panera were some of the first to put free WiFi into their establishments. This created a “working” atmosphere for students and business men and women alike. Having to keep up with the coffeehouse evolution, small cafes felt the pressure of adding free WiFi. So they did. The problem was that these cafes were built by people who had a vision; “People have socially taken for granted that the coffee shop is a workplace. We don’t want to be an office. We wanted to do it old school and be a social hub,” Mr. Bienenstock, of HotBlack Coffee says. This vision of a social hub has been made near impossible because of laptops hogging tables and silence surrounding hard-working people. What were they gaining with people coming in, buying one small coffee, and sitting at one of 10 tables for five hours?

Some coffee shops have removed WiFi altogether. Others have put a limit on usage; WiFi expires after one hour, laptop users can only sit at the bar, or have a special area in the back for them.

Another area of controversy when it comes to WiFi is its privacy, or lack thereof. Public WiFi, whether password protected or not, is vulnerable to hackers. Information that has been believed to be safe on WiFi is actually not; sensitive information like credit card numbers, passwords, emails and so on can be stolen when on these networks. Sharing a network with random people connects you with unknown devices that can can connect to yours and potentially your data. Hackers can also inject and manipulate data through ransomware and malware. Owners must update network products as soon as security updates become available.

Public WiFi is not all bad; it certainly has its advantages especially for those deploying it to consumers. Free WiFi allows companies to collect large amounts of data that can be used for a number of purposes, such as more tailored promotions, sharing loyalty program information, sending satisfaction surveys, etc. Traffic analysis within restaurants can definitely be helpful in determining efficiency; how long are people spending inside the restaurant? By matching this data to register receipts, promotions and loyalty programs can be unique and attract more business. It also opens the door for satisfaction surveys.

Social WiFi is a concept that is taking hold and is evolutionary in the free WiFi concept. Guests simply have to check in on Facebook or Instagram and receive access to the WiFi that way. Check Ins are important because it shows people are enjoying your restaurant; it is basically free marketing for the restaurant while the consumer benefits with the free WiFi. Consumers may also like or follow your page when they are directed to check in on it.

The should we / shouldn’t we WiFi debate will likely last in certain markets despite most restaurants providing it without thought. Even with mixed feelings about the benefit and safety of public WiFi it certainly has its convenience in certain contexts. With cell phone usage as prominent as it is WiFi is here to stay no matter what, and its prevalence is only growing.