Tim Horton’s Adding Free Wifi

BY CHRISTINE DOBBY, FINANCIAL POSTJULY 5, 2012

Tim Hortons has begun rolling out high-speed Wi-Fi and expects more than 90% of its restaurants in Canada will have wireless access by September.

Photograph by: Handout, CNW Group/Tim Hortons

It might not take you 20 minutes to eat that timbit, but now you can stick around longer than that while you surf the web.

Tim Hortons Inc. said Thursday it is adding free wireless network access service to more than 2,000 of its Canadian restaurants.

It’s a move that comes two years after rival Starbucks Corp. started offering free Wi-Fi in more than 750 locations in Canada.

Alexandra Cygal, manager of public affairs for Tim Hortons, said the timing was right as it has taken other steps to encourage customers to linger longer.

“Traditionally we’ve been known as a kind of quick stop for someone to get their breakfast and their coffee or their lunch and kind of hurry through the door. But what we’re finding is a lot more guests are actually staying longer,” Ms. Cygal said.

She added that the company has redesigned many of its restaurants to encourage that, including adding comfortable chairs and fireplaces.

Plus, thanks to a recent policy change, posted signs encouraging you to enjoy your meal but move on after 20 minutes are now gone, she said.

Tims has already started rolling out the high-speed Wi-Fi and said it will offer the free service in more than 90% of its traditional eat-in Canadian restaurants by September.

Wi-Fi will not be offered at its “non-traditional” locations, such as gas station kiosks and outlets in hospitals, Ms. Cygal said.

She said the coffee and doughnut chain tested the service in four main markets — Kelowna, B.C., Red Deer, Alta., St. Catharines, Ont. and Barrie, Ont. — plus some Toronto restaurants for six months before deciding on Bell Mobility, which is a division of BCE Inc. as the provider.

“We tested different scenarios with different providers just to see what kinds of options would be best for us. We wanted to go obviously with a national provider that would be able to service all of our restaurants. Bell came out a winner,” she said, noting that she could not say what other providers were in the running.

Peter Rhamey, an equity analyst for BMO Capital Markets, said while Bell may not see a noticeable change in revenue at the aggregate level, a move like this is something it and other telecom companies are likely to pursue further.

“Tim Hortons is improving their customer experience and Bell is improving their visibility to potentially new customers and their existing customers think it’s great that they can now have broadband service,” he said.

Plus, he added, customers using free Wi-Fi inside a retail outlet may reduce the load on a carrier’s cellular network, allowing them to manage their capital investment.

Bell already operates 2,000 public Wi-Fi hotspots at Starbucks, McDonald’s and Indigo retail outlets in Canada, according to its 2011 annual report.

Starbucks started offering unlimited free Wi-Fi on July 1, 2010. Prior to that it restricted free internet access to members of its My Starbucks Rewards program and capped it at two hours a day.

Second Cup Ltd. began offering free Wi-Fi at most of its 350 locations (excluding airports and hospitals) in 2009.

The company is not aligned with any of the major national carriers but uses an independent company to manage its Wi-Fi.

Natasha Mackow, manager of promotions and communications, said Second Cup used to have a system that allowed users to login with Rogers, Bell, Facebook or a Second Cup account, but moved to one standard login within the past year.

In May 2011, McDonald’s Restaurants of Canada Ltd. started offering free wireless internet access with plans to offer the service at more than 90% of its approximately 1,400 Canadian locations.

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