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Why it Pays to Offer Free Wi-Fi

The latest trend in the pub/bar sector is, perhaps unsurprisingly, linked to the digital and technological revolution of the last two decades.

Since the beginning of time (ok, since the Romans invaded our shores nearly 2,000 years ago and brought the idea of a pub – or tabernae – with them) the best and most successful bars have constantly adapted to thrive and survive.


From providing lodging for travelling merchants to acting as de facto army recruitment centres in the past, through to the emergence of gastropubs and sports bars in recent times, pubs, in all their guises, have always evolved.


The latest trend in the pub/bar sector is, perhaps unsurprisingly, linked to the digital and technological revolution of the last two decades. And while offering your customers free Wi-Fi is certainly a product of our modern age, its roots are squared perfectly with one of the great British pub’s noble traditions – keeping people connected.


It should go without saying that pubs are no longer places people solely come to drink among friends. In 21st Century Britain pubs are incredibly diverse. In his epic essay outlining the battle for survival many pubs face today, Tom Lamont noted:


“A pub is not a bar. It is not a restaurant. It is not a social club. It is not a shop. It is not a bench in a park. It is not a surgery or psychiatrists’ office. It is not a gig venue, a football stadium, a fighting pit, a staff room, a piano room. It is not the house you grew up in, nor the atrocious digs you moved to in your 20s. It is not your present-day living room. It is not a bus shelter. And in some way it is all those things. It is a pub.”


He missed out offices. Pubs might be rudimentary offices that generally house solitary freelancers, but they are offices nonetheless. Offering free Wi-Fi to customers is a clever way to entice people in — especially during the day — and keep them there. Creatives and those operating outside a traditional workspace are always looking for places to work, check emails and peruse the delights of the World Wide Web. Café’s have been quick to offer this service. Smart bar managers do too. Offering coffee and snacks helps.


One central London club, The Phoenix Artist Club, recently saw trade increase significantly after offering Wi-Fi during the day. According to the Phoenix’s managing director Ken Wright this was because customers would order lunches, dinners and other premium products while they were on the premises.




If pubs are to become a vital community hub — as many claim to be — offering customers this service is undoubtedly one way to achieve this. The Antwerp Arms in Tottenham is certainly in favour, telling us: “Free Wi-Fi is important. It’s another box ticked. We want people to come in and take advantage of that.”


Birmingham’s The Lord Clifden is another to recognise the boost to business. “Have a cup of coffee, sit down and do some work,” its manager Liam Duncombe told us. “There’s a law college on the corner so students from there will come in, have a bite to eat, have a coffee or something and do their work.”




The Stats

Research backs up these claims. Customers want to remain connected — either online or via social media — at all times. BT discovered that:

  • 61% of people search for a Wi-Fi hotspot when eating and drinking
  • 36% of people would visit a food and drink outlet again if it offered Wi-Fi; 20% said they would buy more and 27% would visit more often
  • 45% say it’s important to them to have Wi-Fi access when out eating and drinking
  • 49% want to use Wi-Fi to update social media when they’re eating or drinking
  • 28% of people who use Wi-Fi at food outlets are doing so to find vouchers and discounts for their meals or drinks*


Friends working together at sidewalk cafe



“Because it’s quick, hassle-free and the signal is superb, people are coming back. It’s definitely an advantage.”



Getting Online

It’s never been easier to get set up. There are various options available, but ensure that you running a robust, safe and compliant network – a trusted provider will walk you through the simple steps.


One thing to bear in mind — it’s advisable to make accessing your bar’s Wi-Fi network as quick and pain-free as possible for customers. Paul Shevlane of Wintersgills bar in Glasgow certainly thinks so.


“There’s no logging in or entering in passwords to get onto our system,” he explains. “Customers just pull up our account and they’re in. It’s completely hassle-free. We used to have people asking us for the password in the past and when you’re busy it can take time to repeat things and it’s taking you away from serving customers. Our new network is quick, efficient and the signal is excellent.”


He believes BT Sport Wi-Fi has brought in repeat customers.

“Absolutely,” he replies. “Because it’s quick, hassle-free and the signal is superb, people are coming back. It’s definitely an advantage.”


Customer Satisfaction

Customers — and would-be customers — demand free Wi-Fi. They expect it in hotels, coffee shops and airports, so pubs and bars need to follow suit. Not only does it act as an enticement to get them through the door, it’s an incredibly effective retention tool. And as every savvy bar manager recognises, satisfied customers mean returning customers.


In 2016, and beyond, pubs have to be nimble. They have to be flexible and work to meet their customers’ needs. Offering free Wi-Fi is one valuable resource in achieving this. Customers want to be connected; you want to be connected to your customers. This makes WiFi another vital part of the evolution of the Great British pub.

*ICM Research for BT Wi-Fi