Internet access for free...why?


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Feb 25, 2004
Quantico, VA
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I operate a Cyber Cafe in on the military base in Quantico Virginia. Our main focus is fantastic coffee, but installed the computers and wireless access at the request of our customer base. We charge $7 per hour for usage and pull in about $200 per day ($6000)/month from this. I have read that most cafe's are starting to offer internet access for free...and for the life of me I can't see why. Can someone here explain this to me? There has to be a biz reason for it.
the position of offering completly free internet access is comparable to the TV at a sports bar. It gives the customers something to do between drinks, the business plan behind it is to keep them around until they buy that second mocha or cup of joe.

There is a good debate over the positives and negatives of this. Some shops offer unrestrictred free access, you don't even need to buy a coffee! On the other hand is your shop offering the internet at a premium on top of the coffee. There are alot of solutions in between the two as well, access codes good for one hour internet access with every coffee purchase and etc... When you add the wifi boom that I've seen in Southern California and around other major cities it begins to get crazy what to offer and how to go about it.

With this wide array of options, and so many I've seen succeed --and fail-- it falls onto the lap of assessment. You will have to decide which style out there will work best for where your cafe is located and the customers you attract. Stay flexible in your decision and be prepared to make changes to how your internet providing cafe works.

But with the obvious voltility of computer technologies I recommend never getting caught up in the cutting edge (or wear thick gloves). =)
If you are generating $6000 a month from internet access.... then people are coming to your place to drink your coffee, enjoy the atmosphere, mingle, read and....btw...occasionally log on and surf. Perfect. I can see why a lot of these "bigger" coffee houses are giving away internet access...and to be honest it has a lot to do with little faith in their product plus the need to try and offer something "unique" to drive volume through the place. I roast wholesale more than retail so my comments are conjecture only.... but if I had a retail outlet I would have user pays internet access. I am proud of what we offer in terms of coffee.....why give away add-ons to just get more people through the door?
Well, it's easy to stream wi-fi, but what about the cost of procuring the application to manage the access? any reasonable answer? Also, you have a " captive" group. I was in the NAVY. And to gain access to the net, I would have payed more than 7.00.
The costs to manage the access range anywhere from $150 one time for the hardware and $40 / month for a basic high bandwidth (DSL or cable) service. You don't get much constraint or even ability to charge your customers with this besides an honor system. To be able to log people off after an hour from their purchase or have them signup for a monthly contract the systems run closer to $500-1000 dependant on who you buy it from, how easy it is to use and I've even seen them priced alot higher.

I realy do like the systems I've seen that give an access code with any order of coffee that gives internet access for a duration fo time, 30 minutes to an hour.
Free is almost always better. The coffee had better be head-and-shoulder's better than anyplace else for it to be worthwhile to go there vice some other free-access shop. And frankly, I find most shops' coffee to be mediocre, and certainly not better enough for me to go to a pay-access shop instaead of a free one.

I find that most independant shops that also offer internet access do it as another way to differentiate themselves, draw in customers and provide additional customer service. Eventually, wi-fi internet access will be like air condioning and toilet paper in the bathroom - something that you just have to offer as a price of doing business.

I actually setup wi-fi access for a small om-and-pop coffee shop in a small OK town. We talked about charging but when you get down to it , it just doesnt make sense: you have to expend time and effort to maintain some sort of billing and tracking system. They went with "free." (meaning social pressure was brought to bear if anyone "freeloaded" without buying something - a problem which they did not have.)

If you really want to get deeper into this free vs fee analysis, check out
6K is a heck of a lot of coffee!!! Great job! Are you in a larger city or resort town?

For those who have the token for restricted time- how much "sitting" does that require- and do you find your time is eaten up by making sure the system is always running??

We're a very tiny town- the owner before me tried Boingo for a while and got ZERO hits. Also, the element of needing a tech person on staff to tend to techy issues- is perhaps, what keeps me away from doing a personalized charge/time program.

My thought is to invest instead, on hiring/training staff personnel to provide quality and service- and let the access be the icing on the experience.

The only place I've ever paid for access was on a trip passing through Ecuador. Excellent concept- lots of computers- they had 3 techies tending to time and charge- and that's all they did. The coffee was dirt in a glass- so not what you ordered the second time round! Again- 3 people I could use elsewhere. I'd would definitely not call this a coffee house- this internet cafe- needed to work on their beverage assortment!!

I own a gift shop as well- the one thing I tell all my associates is- there is not a single thing in this store that anyone needs- just lots of stuff they'll want. And that's what it's truly about in this service industry- about the wants. When I travel- I look for free access- that's what I want- the trend is going to go back to exceeding the customer's expectation. That's how small businesses are making a come back.

I also agree that free access is going to be as typical as air conditioning and a clean bathroom- so why not be the leader? I would LOVE to make 6k a month on access. You've got a great niche! For now, I'll have to see it as a marketing tool.
All of the coffee houses in our small town now have wifi, and only one has an open computer.... and it's always in use! When our computer was sick last month, I could either go to the library, or to Blue Monday.... and drink a latte while I checked my mail. Guess where I went? We live in a college town and the shop that my husband and I are developing will definately have both options.
I am thinking about doing this in my coffee shop. Was there a software program that you used to bill them? I was thinking of the way my library does it--by barcode, and then it would be easy to just scan the barcode and the price would pop up. Is there anything like that out there? and/or what are you using?
A chain around here (Dunn Bros.) usually has free wifi of the all you can handle variety. I don't really care for that as it may encourage loitering.

I've seen some places that print you an access code that's good for a hour or two when you make a purchase. That seems sensible. At least you have to purchase something. At the above mentioned Dunn Bros. stores, one can sit in the parking lot and use their wifi.
I run Netstop 3.9* something for my cyber cafe. If you’re looking for good cafe software try them out. It runs on just about every type of system for taking money. Credit cards, cash, money, gift cards, also will store account numbers as well. That way if they drop a $20 and log out they can come back enter the account number and password and go.

I have run my cyber cafe for almost 8 years. When we first opened it was slow later it picked up steam and for the last 2 years it has been slowing dropping off.

Genjava, about 3 or 4 years ago there was an article about a restaurant owner who was offering free WiFi in a few of his restaurants out of a few hundred of which he owned.

Basically he did the math and found that the average customer was spending up to $7.00 more then someone who wasn’t using the free Internet. The reason being is because that they sit there for longer periods of time eating and drinking. Now if they’re a repeat customer! J
Part 2

I have done my own studies and found to be true. After watching my own cyber café I noticed all the people who come in to use the Internet usually spend $1.00 - $2.00 on the Internet and leave (we charge $6.00 an hour, the Kinkos 2 blocks away charges $12.00 an hour). About half the time they will buy a drink and or something to eat, use their time and leave. Other wise they spend a buck, check their email and are out the door before you can say hello.

Now for my WiFi people, I have about 10 – 15 regulars who come in at all hours of the day to work, study, or surf the net. Most of them spend more then hour. A few spend more then 4. They all get some type of drink and have a tendency to grab a bite to eat around lunchtime. They do this Monday through Friday. I even have a couple that make the trek to downtown just to do it on the weekends.

This doesn’t include all the other people who have heard about our free wireless and come to use. We have on occasion, people who call us to cater a meeting at our facility just so they can have the free wireless for the meeting. Every now and then I swear we have some type of think tank going on because I get 6 to 8 users grouped around a table.

When you try to sit down and add up those totals the number starts to get really big, and fast! It makes more sense in the long run to offer free wireless then to charge for it. We have 2 kiosks left for people to pay for the Internet that don’t have a laptop. Those 2 computers make just enough money to pay for the Internet, maintenance, and a few other miscellaneous things.
I just went to that netstop link and that software looks easy to use and includes anything I ever wanted in a kiosk software. Has anybody ever used that software or anything similar? It looks too good to be true! Also, to people that have computers available for use, do you include games and other applications on your computers? I was thinking of getting one of those obsessive games, like The Sims, or something so people can't get off the computer. Anybody have any experience with that?
wifi should be free!!! If you're renting out computers though, you should charge a moderate fee for that as well. And if you have a printer, charging a dime a page isn't a bad idea either.

Just my .02

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