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The October 2005 Fast Company notes that the nation’s largest host to a free high-speed wireless Internet network (better known as W-Fi) is the Panera Bread Company, which offers free Wi-Fi in 700 of its 800 stores. Starbucks, by comparison, has been a leader in offering wireless Internet access, but it is a paid service through T-Mobile.

“It really came from an understanding that we’re in the business of building relationships and trust with our customers,” CEO Ron Shaich tells Fast Company, noting he thinks that charging for wireless Internet access would be like charging customers for using the bathrooms.

The result of the offering is that over the past 18 months, usage of the free W-Fi at Panera locations has tripled – and those users also are buying more coffee, bagels, muffins and sandwiches to consumer while surfing the web or checking their email.
KC's View:
We agree with this philosophy completely, and are now moving the Panera Bread Co. to the top of our list of places to look for while on the road.

One of the things that this approach does for Panera is that it tells younger consumers that it understands their needs and desires, that it puts them first.

Which is just smart. In a world where Internet access is mandatory from almost everywhere, this kind of approach can be an enormous advantage.

Take it from us…we know about this. Last night because of flight delays we ended up spending hours at the St. Louis Airport…which has no wireless high speed service in its terminal. Which is sort of like living in the Middle Ages.

There was a survey conducted by Yahoo! and OMD of teens and young adults in six countries revealing that the Internet is the most important medium for this demographic group, beating out both television and cell phones in the US as the medium that they “couldn’t live without.”