B.C. restaurant chain offers WiFi with power lunch

A restaurant chain hopes to provide its employees and customers greater access to the Internet throughout Western Canada through the installation of wireless access points.

Vancouver-based Earls Restaurants, which

has more 50 locations in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan, said Tuesday it had completed a WiFi project with FatPort Inc., also in Vancouver. Earls will be offering wireless Internet access to corporate customers, who regularly book business lunches, but a key driver for the initiative was to support its own executives, according to director of IT services Brad Brooks.

Each restaurant has its own office but they’re often quite small, and district managers, for example, travel regularly to various locations with laptops in tow.

“”There’s no place for them to go into the back and check e-mail,”” he said.

Brooks said Earl needed to provide Internet access without creating an additional strain on his IT department. The company has also been watching WiFi deployments at Fairmont Hotels, Coastal Resorts and fast food giant McDonald’s, he said.

“”If I knew that Earls had wireless access as a traveller or as a guy making sales calls — like I did in my previous life — I would eat in a restaurant that had that,”” he said. “”It’s one more way that we can service our customer.””

FatPort marketing manager Malcolm McDonald said WiFi could be particularly attractive during the mid-afternoons, which tend to be a quiet time at restaurants like Earls’.

“”We are definitely see more and more restaurants jumping on this WiFi bandwagon,”” he said. “”Especially in lunch, there’s a big drive towards business lunch meetings and they need something to be able to attract their customers.””

Earls has been using DSL high-speed Internet access for several years and already had much of the necessary infrastructure in place, Brooks said. FatPort simply had to install a microwave transmitter at each location.

“”The hardest part was simply getting there,”” said McDonald. “”Last week I was up in Fort McMurray (B.C.), of all places to install a restaurant — a restaurant that took 20 minutes but that I had to be at Fort McMurray for two days, because that’s how the airlines ran.””

The FatPort connection rests outside the company’s firewall. Brooks acknowledged that there are still some security concerns around the technology, but they are no more than what you would expect from WiFi access in any other public place.

“”All of us runs over SSL to our corporate office, so we just overcame that, because internally it didn’t matter to us,”” he said.

Earls was attracted to FatPort by its range of industry partners and also by its rates, which he described as more than fair.

“”I think that rates will probably come down over the next few years,”” he said.

A number of other Canadian restaurant chains have also started to offer WiFi Internet access over the last year, including Lone Star Texas Grill and Big Daddy’s Crab Shack & Oyster Bar based in Ottawa.

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