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Schlotzsky's Digital Deli Traffic Drives Boost in Web-Wired Units

Austin, Texas-More restaurant guests are making the connection between technology and mealtime, and that change is prompting cyber-dining makeovers by major quick-service brands.

Schlotzsky's Inc., franchisor of the 711-unit Schlotzsky's Deli sandwich chain, says soaring customer traffic at its initial digital deli sites is prompting the chain to expand the number of units offering Internet access. The programs started with a franchisee in Florida two years ago.

"It's so obvious that customers like this," says John C. Wooley, president and chief executive of Schlotzsky's, which has customer Internet access available in four of its nine company-owned stores in the Austin market. "What it does to the ambience of the store is just incredible. It enriches the whole experience."

The wired Schlotzsky's format, which Wooley dubs "digital deli," is set for expansion under the watch of a former IBM and Dell Computer executive, Robin Hanna, Schlotzsky's chief information officer. "By the end of the year, we hope to have [Internet access] in all the stores, including the franchised stores, in this [Austin] market and let that be our model for the franchisees around the country," Wooley says.

Weekly sales of the South Miami location nearly tripled when the franchisee created the wired stores by adding candy-colored iMac computers at which guests could check e-mail or entertain children with interactive games.

Each terminal has a customized home page-available through www.cooldeli.com--that includes search engines and links to local newspapers as well as The New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal's paid service.

"We'll have to get additional bandwidth on these systems," Hanna says. "In certain locations in town, you can't get cable, you can't get DSL, and you can't get other high-speed broadband applications. So what I'm going to be doing in the next two stores is using satellites. We've put in two beta test sites for satellites. I have high confidence in satellites, not just for the cyber deli but for the credit cards, our data, our Muzak, our cable television and security. Anything we are currently using land lines for, we will be using satellite strategy."

The digital delis are providing a perk for employees as well, Wooley says. "We've noticed that our employees who don't have a computer at home like getting the training, because they need to know about computers to advance themselves," he says. "It's not unusual to see an employee after work take their apron off, change out of their uniform and come out and play with the computer." -Nation's Restaurant News

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