Restaurant CIO: Would You Like Wi-Fi with That?

Krystal, the large Southeastern fast-food chain, now offers free wireless connections to customers. By rolling out wireless at the same time as broadband changes, the company slashed costs. (

A major regional fast-food chain—with 433 restaurants in the Southeastern United States—is going to offer free wireless connections to anyone who wants to surf while sitting in a burger joint.

The Krystal Co. (the nations second-oldest fast-food restaurant chain, founded in 1932) is clearly hoping that a lot of customers will be intrigued and will munch on a burger and fries while gulping from its unlimited refill 802.11 fountain.

But for CIO David Reid, the challenge lay in getting the wireless system installed and supported for as little money—and with as little operational disruption—as possible.

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The idea of offering a wireless option came when Krystal officials noticed that University of Tennessee campuses—which some Krystal restaurants are near—had gone fully wireless.

"We thought, If we could draw some faculty and students over there by being wireless as well," the chain could do some extra business, Reid said. And the installations would be "plug-and-play and simple and repeatable."

As luck would have it, the chain had already decided to upgrade restaurants network connections to a variety of DSL and cable modem broadband hookups to accelerate credit card, inventory and transaction data communications.

"Because we were having a technician visiting the restaurants anyway," Reid said, the wireless setups were relatively easy, "and so cost-effective, the way weve implemented them."

Krystal is privately held and has about 7,500 employees and about $400 million in annual revenue, Reid said.

To keep things low in cost and easier to manage, Reids department proposed making the service free. Although that certainly made the marketing component of the wireless access more attractive—after all, the goal of the program is to sell more hamburgers—the driving force for the recommendation was IT logistics.

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