Panera Bread’s Free WiFi: A Smart Business Decision

Panera’s free WiFi is creating evangelists for their restaurant. A great business decision.

I had yet another lunch today with a few coworkers at our local Panera Bread. Why Panera Bread? Free WiFi. Oh, and they have great soups, sandwiches, and salads. Since discovering Panera’s free WiFi service, our company has eaten at Panera at least once a week; both at restaurants near our office and while on the road.

The best things about Panera’s WiFi service are:

  1. It’s free.
  2. It’s reliable
  3. It’s easy to get online
  4. It doesn’t time us out after a fixed amount of time.
  5. It’s always worked for us.

According to this article, Panera is the largest supplier of free WiFi in the world today.

I did a search on for [panera free wifi] to get a feel for what people think of Panera’s service:

Satisfied Users (evangelists) of Panera’s WiFi:

  • Goodbye Starbucks, Hello Panera – “I belong to the ??????free wifi?????? school.Considering the cost of setting up an access point and the monthly charges associated with it, businesses should give it away for free. My average per visit spending at Panera is ~6$ /hour and Panera is getting that money from me, just because of their free wifi (and the chilled green tea). A few more customers and sure they would get to be in the black on their wifi investment.”
  • Why I don’t eat at Crispers – “I don’t eat at Crispers anymore. If there is a Panera Bread nearby I will always choose Panera. Why? Free wifi.”
  • Props to Panera – “I??????m sitting in a Panera Bread in Chevy Chase, MD right now, getting some work done. I’ve visited several Paneras in multiple states over the past few months when I really needed to get connected to the Internet ASAP. I don??????t see a reason to pay for it at a Starbucks when it??????s free at Panera, which has almost 700 restaurants with free wireless access.”
  • Free WiFi Hotspots – “I visit there all the time and have had a link to their site off to the right for over a year.”
  • Free Wifi Highspeed Internet – “I was quite surprised to see just how many places I could go for Free. Looks like all or most Panera Bread Company stores and all Apple Retail Stores are offering the Free Access.”
  • Panera Wifi – “The loyalty they’ve generated is worth 100x more than the nickels and dimes they??????d get by charging per-minute rates for Internet access.”
  • Active Duty at Last – “I won’t be starting serious training until January but it is good to get back into the military frame of mind and the culture of the Marine Corps, which I have sorely missed. I will be writing more soon, although I will most likely be updating from a local Panera Bread restaurant with free wifi until I get a permanent room in late January. “
  • Panera Bread Rocks! – “Anyway, I just wanted to give a quick shout out to Panera Bread. I’m currently sucking on their free wifi. Saving my life at the moment. They have awesome sandwiches too.”
  • Panera Free WiFi Rocks – “If you have a laptop equipped to go online wirelessly, you can go online for free at most Panera bread stores. What makes this even better – their coffee is good too.”
  • Dispatches from the WiFi Zone – “Consider that I am only a block away from Starbucks and Caribou coffee. I prefer both places, especially Caribou, to Panera. However, they do not have free WiFi.”

And a Frustrated User:

One complaint, and it came from someone who ate at Panera more than once while using the WiFi.

A smart move for Panera?

The blogerati seem to think so. Shareholders don’t seem to be complaining either, especially when compared to Starbucks over the past year.

Why don’t more restaurants do this?

Many will over time. Until then, the early adopters will have an incredible competitive advantage over slower moving companies, or companies who think they should be in the paid WiFi business.

Of course, this will all be mute in towns where cities provide free WiFi like New Orleans. Restaurants there will have to go back to competing based on providing quality food and service. Either way, I think Panera Bread is a winner.

Join us in our crusade for free WiFi for all.

Bell South Un-Donating a Building to New Orleans

Bell South has decided to un-donate a building to the city of New Orleans after the city announced plans for a city-owned internet network:

Angry BellSouth Withdrew Donation, New Orleans Says (Washington Post)
“City officials said BellSouth was upset about the plan to bring high-speed Internet access for free to homes and businesses to help stimulate resettlement and relocation to the devastated city. Around the country, large telephone companies have aggressively lobbied against localities launching their own Internet networks, arguing that they amount to taxpayer-funded competition. Some states have laws prohibiting them.”

Bell South is in a tough position:

How do you sell dial-up or DSL internet to people who already get it for free?

How do you sell phone services to people once they realize they can use Voice Over IP on their new high-speed internet connections?

What do you think is more valuable to the city of New Orleans? A donated damaged building for their police force, or a free city-wide high-speed internet network?

Should Bell South employees boycott Panera Bread for offering free WiFi?

What will Bell South un-donate from Google when they launch a free internet service ?

How will information gatekeepers like Bell South need to change to survive in a free WiFi world?