As in many industries, there is a gap between consumer expectations and business execution for restaurants. Operators are often slow to adopt new technologies and those that they've implemented aren't always satisfactory.
In a February 2018 survey of US internet users and restaurant executives by BRP (Boston Retail Partners) and Windstream Enterprise, restaurant operators met consumer expectations on only two factors: contactless/mobile payment, for which 32% of consumers valued it and one-third of operators offered it, and Wi-Fi availability (44% both valued it and offered it).
Consumer expectations will be even higher over the next 24 months. The most important factor now (71%) and in two years (81%) is simply ease of payment, but just 45% of restaurant operators said they had "excellent" execution. Two of the biggest jumps in consumer expectation between now and 2020 will be the ability to order ahead digitally (a 55% increase) and Wi-Fi availability (up 59%).
In the case of Wi-Fi, little things mean a lot. Availability of guest Wi-Fi was cited by 70% of consumers as an important factor in deciding where to dine. And Wi-Fi was rated the top technology that has had a positive impact on the dining experience, higher than tech that would seemingly be more difficult to implement like tableside ordering devices or mobile payment apps.
This wasn't a fluke. Free Wi-Fi was also the most important tech offerings among US internet users deciding where to dine in a Q1 2018 AlixPartners survey. Roughly one-third mentioned this as influential.
Free Wi-Fi may not affect sales directly, but it can be used as an engagement tool since sharing photos, uploading videos and checking in to locations is now a common practice.