19 June, 2005

Last Tuesday I took my WiFi notebook to the Panera out on Capitol Ave., by Menard's, in Pewaukee. Free wireless Internet access, and my work secure VPN tunnel works great there. The experience was much better than being prompted, for a T-Mobile hourly rate (of $6 or whatever) at a Starbucks. The connection was great; I never lost it.

At Panera, they have a 'stay as long as you like but please get out of the way of other customers' policy. That is, they would prefer it if WiFi users do not hog tables during lunches, and instead retire to one of the comfy chairs.

For me, I bought a cup of coffee (free refills) and a bowl of soup, and I was there from just before 4:00 PM until they closed at 8:00 PM. So, for $4.50 of product, I got a ton of work done. I was able to take over my at-work PC, via my VPN connection and pcANYWHERE, hook up to my work's Exchange email server directly to my laptop's copy of Outlook, and thus get everything needed doing, done. They have great coffee (on par with Steep N'Brew, my favorite).
We go to Panera often enough, as a family, that I do not at all feel myself a bandwidth hog. I will certainly go back there for a little recreational writing on my next "night out".

For a Panera location near you, that has WiFi, go to http://www.panerabread.com/locations.aspx?WiFi=1 (they also have directions to non-WiFi locations, if you follow the left frame up one level). In Madison, there is one on University Avenue, near Shorewood Hills.

The bottom line is that free WiFi Internet is a good draw, for customers. When I was there, two other people came in, ordered dinner, browsed the WEB for a bit, via their laptops, and left. I asked them if they came specifically for the WiFi, and they both answered similarly; a guy at work mentioned they WiFi was available there, and they thought they would check it out.

In the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel a month or two ago, they ran an article about Waukesha coffee shops. I did a mini-tour of them, and I found a great one downtown that has free WiFi. The problem is, as with many small coffee shops, is their hours suck. By the time I get off work and ready for a night out, the place is closed. I asked them, as they were closing, if they planned to have longer hours, and the guy said they were. (He also said he was willing to stay as long as I wanted to stay, and he mumbled something about his wife putting the smack down on him for having to mow his lawn; I felt too guilty to stay).