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Bravo Brio on its move to offer free Wi-Fi

Bravo Brio on its move to offer free Wi-Fi

New service aimed at building up other dayparts and banquet business

Bravo Brio Restaurant Group Inc. began offering guests free wireless Internet access this week at its 83 casual-dining restaurants, moving into territory that, until now, has primarily been traveled by quick-service and fast-casual chains.

The Columbus, Ohio-based company operates upscale, full-service Bravo Cucina Italiana and Brio Tuscan Grille restaurants.

In the past, officials at table-service restaurants companies have expressed concerns that some guests might abuse free Wi-Fi and “camp out,” monopolizing tables for extended periods without spending additional money.

While quick-service and fast-casual concepts serve more take-out-only guests and typically have much faster table turns — giving them a greater ability to absorb such "campers” — some executives in those segments have had similar concerns, nonetheless. However, executives of some of those segments’ leading players, including McDonald’s, Starbucks Coffee and Panera Bread Co., have concluded that free Wi-Fi is a competitive differentiator and a contemporary cost of doing business

Bravo Brio's management reached a similar conclusion.

“We wanted our guests to have a place where they were able to leisurely surf the Internet or get work done outside of their off their home or office,” said Kathleen Chugh, Bravo Brio vice president of information technology.

Bravo Brio said its new wireless access capabilities permit guests to hold lunch business meetings in a private room, receive important e-mails in the main dining room or work through happy hour at the bar.

Chugh spoke with Nation’s Restaurant News about the whys and hows of her company’s move.

She noted that there were multiple motivators, including her own department’s desire to consolidate two pieces of equipment — routers that meet Payment Card Industry, or PCI, data security standards, and rogue wireless network intrusion detection tools — into one firewall and networking device offered by SonicWall, which also supports the wireless access points needed to provide Wi-Fi. That consolidation “allowed for the wireless addition at the cost of what the stores were paying for just the PCI router — it was a good win-win for all,” she said.

An edited transcript of that conversation follows:

Why did operations want to deploy Wi-Fi?

The operations goal was to provide this feature of wireless [Internet access] to guests that might help grow certain dayparts or revenue centers, like banquet business. We had restaurants that had banquet rooms or very large patios drive the business need.

Are you able to measure your success in building revenue, such as by comparing log-on trends with increases in sales by certain dayparts or menu categories?

It is too early to measure, but we will monitor certain daypart sales.

Were there any challenges in deploying Wi-Fi?

Deployment was smooth, with no issues. We deployed all stores in a four- week period. The store managers did the install with either my team or the vendor to support.

Do you self-manage, or use third-party support for your Wi-Fi network?

It is managed by a third party, Cerdant.

Does your Wi-Fi configuration place time limits on consumer use?

When we piloted 12 stores last year, we started with a time limit, but quickly removed it because if we had a banquet/large party in one of our private rooms and they were getting disconnected mid-meeting.

Do your customers have to register to use your Wi-Fi? If so, are you leveraging that requirement to build your e-mail marketing list?

We have a splash page that has our terms, but no other registration is required. I will be working with marketing on the e-mail [address collection] to see if we can merge that into Fishbowl [e-mail marketing service] in the future.

Are you recouping expenses through landing page ads or any other monetization scheme?

Not yet, but we have talked about it.

Do you have any businesses related Wi-Fi uses?

We have one store that is now piloting a [wireless] pay-at-the-table device, but we are not using it at our tables, but for curbside payment of to-go [orders]. We have been piloting this for a few months and will be deploying it to our high volume to-go stores.

We have a few other things that we will pilot in 2011 that may utilize the Wi-Fi.

If there are both business and consumer Wi-Fi functions, how do you secure the business side?

We have both business and guest Wi-Fi [networks]. They are segmented.

Contact Alan J. Liddle at [email protected].

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