Fries with that email..?

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Picture of McDonald's shop frontFast food giant McDonald's has found a way to get people coming back into its restaurants in huge numbers - forget promos, rebrands and healthier eating, offer free WiFi and they come flocking. A report in today's Guardian says the restaurant claims some 750,000 people use the service, which is offered in conjunction with O2.

Obviously McDonald's, along with Starbucks and others who are following the trend, is benefiting from its prime locations being convenient for businesspeople who now use the places to check their emails over a drink if not a burger. There are a couple of longer-term issues to consider, though.

Costs


The WiFi, according to every legal definition, is free. This effectively means McDonald's is paying for it on the customer's behalf. Which means it's costing someone something - so could the money perhaps have gone into keeping prices down or maintaining staff jobs? The answer is quite possibly not - if enough extra people come in to boost profits then fair enough, it's covering its own costs (although as McDonald's is a franchise operation it's not clear whether there's a central repository of WiFi costs and benefits to draw on). But how do the people who don't want to use it but must now realise they're effectively subsidising the smartphone community feel?

Another interesting point to note - not, I add, a drawback but a social change - is the expectation that communication will be free. No restaurant owner or coffee bar establishment has ever offered a free phone service as far as I'm aware, but ask people to pay for WiFi and they often feel affronted these days. A sign of things to come?

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