Do you want wi-fi with that?

Thanks to a series of unfortunate events, I had to rely on wi-fi hotspots for internet access last weekend.

One of the things I quickly discovered was McDonald’s restaurants are a good bet for a reliable connection. As somebody who rarely goes into fast food chains, it was interesting to notice how offering free wi-fi has changed McDonald’s customer base.

When I was a uni student, it wasn’t the done thing to be seen in a Maccas. Sydney Uni students used to hide upstairs in the Broadway outlet so passers by wouldn’t see them enjoying a guilty burger.

Things have changed.

Sitting in the Melbourne McDonald’s last Sunday night I was surrounded by young people using their laptops; in turn this had attracted their friends, and the place has become a gathering spot.

While they probably aren’t spending that much in the way of fries and burgers, they were giving the store a buzz at the time when it probably wouldn’t have been that busy.

The thing that intrigues me is how McDonald’s is now viewed by a group who ­- having grown out of Happy Meals and the kids play area – were probably not that likely to think of a fast food chain as a destination.

So rather than losing this age group and demographic, Maccas is re-engaging with them on another level. It’s also making it almost respectable for middle aged businessmen to be found sitting in them with a guilty container of French fries.

I see two lessons for other businesses from what McDonald’s is doing ­- the first is not to fixate on the short term bottom line. The people coming into their restaurants may not be buying much right now, but this move is positioning the chain for the long run.

The second is McDonald’s executives are thinking about how technology can help them.

Many executives seem to be proud of their almost wilful ignorance of all things technology and what it can do for their businesses. Maccas has shown how to take tech and use it to its own advantage.

It’s thinking outside the box that separates the business that will thrive from those who will struggle in this period of great economic and technological change.

How are you thinking outside the box? Have you given any thought to how you can adapt new technologies to meet your customers’ needs, and position your business with tomorrow’s markets?




Paul Wallbank is a speaker, writer and broadcaster on technology and business. He grew PC Rescue into a national IT company and set up the IT Queries website. Paul has a regular ABC spot on technology matters.

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