McDonalds – Wifi Without Power

I am writing this post at a small cafe while my car is being serviced. I tried a local Red Rooster food store, a KFC, and a McDonalds but none of them had a power socket I could use. This seems quite perverse as McDonalds advertises free wifi net access to entice customers, but no power to charge laptops, phones, etc. So anyone who has 3G net access will avoid that particular McDonalds store in spite of the free Wifi.

Also this is not something that happens accidentally. Power sockets are needed to power the variety of cleaning equipment that is used at fast food stores and it would same some cleaning time if they were centrally located, so someone at those fast food stores apparently decided to put power sockets out of reach of customers. I’m currently seated in a position that is within vacuum cleaner range of every table in the cafe, so whoever rents the premises to the small restaurants has thought of these things.

At home tariffs a laptop will consume about 1/3 of a cent worth of electricity per hour. It seems to me that a smart business owner would want to have several power sockets available to customers and advertise this fact. One cafe has made considerably more than 1/3 of a cent profit from me due to having a power socket where I could use it.

Note that not all McDonalds stores have this problem. One I visited last week had a power socket where I could use it. I noticed that they had made a good choice of uncomfortable chairs to discourage customers from spending too long there, it took the rest of the day to recover from a couple of hours sitting in McDonalds.

7 comments to McDonalds – Wifi Without Power

  • theoddbot

    It’s probably to stop people from camping without purchasing anything. I can see how a management type would think that it was a good idea.

  • There’s a good reason for not supplying power but supplying wifi.

    A month ago I enquired of one of the cafes in Canberra whether they’d be willing to give us access to their (WEP-protected) wifi for an OLPC hackfest. There would be a guaranteed four customers from 10AM to 2PM, costing a minimal amount of power and downloads. The store owner never returned my call, and the second time I called the person on duty said that the owner probably wouldn’t be interested anyway – they could get more paying customers through the seats we were proposing to occupy, more than we could purchase.

    McDonalds and other cafes offering wifi are doing it as a convenience to those people who want to duck into somewhere and get a coffee and check something online. They aren’t interested in customers just sitting there. If you just sat there reading a book they’d be just as irritated. So they don’t supply power to you because that’s another method in McDonalds’ arsenal of ways to get you to move through quickly and make way for other customers.



  • Joe Buck

    I’m really surprised that you’re surprised, Russell. A lot of establishments are doing this now, on purpose. The reason is that when they started, they supplied outlets, and people would hog all the tables all day, maybe nursing one coffee or maybe just sitting there, and new customers wouldn’t be able to sit down, so they were killing their own business. An alternative I’ve seen some do is to give customers a password that’s good for only a limited time. Buying one coffee doesn’t entitle you to the exclusive use of a table, an outlet, and power for 5-6 hours.

    Also, McDonald’s deliberately makes the seats uncomfortable for the same reason, to get people to move along and make room for the next batch.

  • etbe

    Firstly even without power people can hog a table for a long time. Most new laptops will ship with a battery that can last 6 hours of normal use and some ship with batteries that last for 8 hours or more. It’s usually not difficult to buy a replacement battery that is larger than the standard model so you are looking at 8 to 12 hours from a single battery, if you keep the original battery fully charged then it’s as much as 20 hours of battery life that is easy to carry. Then there are 3rd party batteries that have the same plug as the power-pack for a laptop that are designed to be plugged in externally while the laptop’s battery is also being used. Such batteries may have more capacity than the internal battery and they also allow you to swap the internal battery without losing your work. It’s not particularly difficult or expensive to be able to spend 30+ hours without mains power.

    Now as for the case of a cafe in the 10AM to 2PM hours, if that was in a business area then it would be their most profitable hours and it would be understandable for them to be disinterested. The cafe where I waited was at least half empty for the entire time I was there. So not only did I give them some profit that they would otherwise have missed but I made the place look more busy – many people are reluctant to enter an empty restaurant.

    I’ve had a lot of practice at these things. Restaurant staff are generally quite happy for you to read a book as long as it’s not a peak period. If you want to buy a drink at 2PM and read a book until 6PM then the owners of most cafe’s, bars, and restaurants will be more than happy to have you there – I have tested this theory extensively. When the dinner crowd starts arriving you will get asked frequently if you would like to order something else and you have a choice of ordering dinner or moving on.

    I suspect that if Paul had wanted to use a cafe between 2PM and 6PM then he would have got a much better reaction.

    Finally when running a business you have to know that not all customers will make you a profit. If you run a public facing business (such as a cafe) with the aim of making a profit from every single customer then you will scare customers away. One of the advantages of dealing with chain stores is their impersonal reaction towards product returns and other issues that may make you a non-profitable customer. They aim for aggregate profits over thousands of customers and it’s better to lose money on some customers than have them give a bad review.

    A final point is that you can try to establish relationships with the owners. For example members of my local LUG will usually go to a local Italian restaurant after the monthly meeting. That is probably the most profitable week-day of the month for that restaurant. The owners surely notice this so if there was something they could do to keep us happy which might not be the most profitable thing then they would probably still go for it.

  • Jamei

    An article was featured on slashdot recently, that not all McDonalds stores are happy about the increased “stickyness” of customers using their free wifi. Given this, I can hardly imagine that they would be inclined to offer power sockets as well :(

    McDonalds Free Wi-Fi Users Soak Up Seating

  • rpalmer

    I cannot get Mepis Linux to connect to Macdonalds, how do you do it ?

  • that is good idea to say mcdonals big evil empire.