Bring your laptop and don’t forget some wet naps. Fast-food giant McDonald’s is hoping businesspeople on the go stop by for lunch and—greasy fingers and all—check their e-mail using a wireless Internet connection in between bites of Big Macs.
The Golden Arches has started offering the Wi-Fi service in 75 New York City restaurants, 75 in the San Francisco Bay area, more than 100 in Chicago and two near Toronto. All customers need are a Wi-Fi-enabled laptop or PDA using the 802.11b standard. The service also uses 128-bit SSL encryption so that patrons can safely browse websites and read their e-mail from inside the building or out in the parking lot (up to 300 feet outside the door). Each region will charge different prices depending on the network service providers in use. In California (Wayport), it’s $4.95 for two hours, while New York City (Cometa) users will pay $2.95 per hour, and Chicago (Toshiba) users will pay $4.95 per hour.
As more Americans seek healthful food options, the $15 billion company is smart to look at new ways to bring people into its eateries, says San Bhavani, mobile computing analyst at consultancy ARS. But it could run into trouble. “If it’s not working and I stand at the counter and have to ask a 15-year-old kid for help who has his first job ever, there’s a very strong chance that person doesn’t know the first thing about Wi-Fi,” Bhavani says. McDonald’s says toll-free support is a phone call away.
McDonald’s will evaluate this trial wireless offering next year. Like many special offers, this one has another brand attached: Intel is helping to market the service as a promotion. Would you like Centrino chips with that?