Restaurants Pulling Up a
Chair for Wi-Fi"> Restaurants also are pulling up a chair for Wi-Fi. Darden Restaurants Inc., for instance, meets regularly with Ameranth Wireless, a San Diego solutions provider. The 3-year-old partnership is critical to Darden, which operates more than 1,280 Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Bahama Breeze and Smokey Bones restaurants in North America. Earlier this year, Ameranth designed wireless ordering and payment processing systems for Dardens newest restaurant, Seasons 52, in Orlando, Fla. The new systems allow dining room employees to spend more time up-selling customers and less time placing orders in the kitchen.But with Wi-Fi in place, another employee can quickly ease the tension by assisting the next person in line. All it takes is a product like NextPosition, from Kyrus Corp., in Taylors, S.C. NextPosition is a handheld wireless system that allows employees to conduct business securely within or outside stores (for example, during sidewalk sales). Longer term, Wi-Fi may make customers responsible for the entire retail sales process. NCR Corp., of Dayton, Ohio, and Symbol, for instance, have developed a self-service shopping scanner that some European retailers are testing now. The handheld system allows customers to scan purchases while moving about in a store. Random bag checks ensure that customers dont abuse the self-scanning system. Turning on Wi-Fi isnt as easy as it sounds. Despite these anecdotal examples, many retail operations, grocery stores and restaurants are struggling to fully leverage the technology. In fact, deploying effective Wi-Fi networks is one of the five biggest technology challenges facing retail CIOs, according to Stores magazine, a trade publication from the National Retail Federation. The public hot-spot craze certainly isnt helping matters. In recent months, gas stations, coffee shops, bookstores and other retail businesses have aggressively rolled out Wi-Fi hot spots for customers and travelers who presumably crave Internet access. Yet many of those hot spots fail to generate new revenue or new store traffic, said Craig Plunkett, CEO of CEDX Corp., a solutions provider in East Northport, N.Y. "Retailers really have to decide what they want to do with Wi-Fi," Plunkett said. "Some Wi-Fi hot spots are quite popular in the retail market, but you really need a prime location and a good revenue model." CEDX recently deployed a hot spot at PennComm Wireless, a retail store in New Yorks Penn Station. The store enjoys remarkable foot traffic because Penn Station serves 300,000 people who commute daily between Manhattan and Long Island. In many hot-spot projects, CEDX recommends NetNearU Corp.s turnkey hot-spot system, which handles end-user authentication, customer billing and system authentication. NetNearU, of Bryan, Texas, has a particularly strong following in the transportation market. Eager airport adopters include New Jerseys Newark International; New Yorks LaGuardia; and Minneapolis-St. Paul International, in Minnesota. Next page: Taking the App Initiative
In grocery stores, meanwhile, the latest killer Wi-Fi application is known as "line busting." Consider the following scenario: A slow-moving customer asks the checkout clerk a litany of questions and stalls the checkout lane. The longer the conversation lasts, the more stressed the customers in line become.