Exploring the World of Restaurant POS Systems

November 23, 2020 - 11 minutes read

When working with Hospitality clients (restaurants, food trucks, breweries, bars), their POS system is often times the “brain” of the operations tracking food orders, managing the floor, processing credit cards, adjusting inventory (in theory at least) and compiling the operations sales thru the day. Because of the importance of this “brain”, POS issues are top of mind for anxious restaurant operators. And just like health inspections, operators can take the stress of what’s going to be an inevitable situation with advance planning.

Restaurant owner’s daily life is often a series of “mini-crises” like employees suffering from the “brown bottle flu” or the dishwasher not showing up or a supplier forgetting to deliver a key item. Keep this in mind when working with people in this industry and it will go a long way to creating a long-lasting relationship and will gain the trust of your client

One of the most important factors in choosing the right POS system is the customer support from the company that developed the system. When your system goes down (believe me it will), you need to be able to reach customer support immediately to resolve the issue as quickly as possible-time is money!

While POS systems are commonplace now, what operators forget is these systems are still relatively new in the history of restaurants. To cope without a POS, just go back in time to an analog way of doing things. Because I still use things like a flip phone and a real camera, analog is my friend-when my software crashes, as long as I have ink in my pen I am still good to go. Prepare for the inevitable-help your client put together a POS crisis kit-order pads, duplicate receipts, staplers, calculators, current menus with up to date pricing and manual credit card imprinter with the necessary receipt slips. An owner should occasionally train their staff how to use these “old school” tools.

Remember that it is not just the front of the house that will need to know how to go “old school” in times of software crashes. Your client’s kitchen staff will need to know how to read handwritten tickets. When the kitchen is used to reading tickets off a monitor display or pulls printed tickets from the kitchen printer suddenly going analog can lead to a very high-stress level. Have printed menu boards ready to put in place if this happens.

Helping your client understand what the limits of a POS system are is crucial to a successful choice if your client is trying to choose a system. Important factors to consider are the type of service is your client’s restaurant. Is it a conventional full-service restaurant with a host and waitstaff? If that is the case, factors that are important is table management. Can you split checks easily? Can you move tables to different sections? How easy is it to add modifiers (a modifier in the food industry is any change to a menu item like extra cheese or some other substitution)? Can the host/hostess type in when the table was seated?

If your client’s establishment serves alcohol, a good POS system can monitor how much alcohol is being served and can alert a floor manager when a table or customer has been served a certain amount.

If your client’s place is a limited service restaurant (think fast food), check splitting and table management is a non-issue but an accurate inventory system may be very important. My experience in this industry is that there is no POS system that will provide a completely accurate inventory count but can provide indicators. How accurately recipes are inputted into the system is crucial for this aspect to function properly. To do this function right it will cost a restaurant owner dearly in something that is at a premium in the food industry-time!

A restaurant must go the extra mile to track the cost and amount of ingredients used per dish. Besides these, the number of orders placed and on which days and times they ordered what. It becomes crystal clear why a good restaurant POS system may be pivotal to stirring your client’s business towards higher profitability

If your client is expecting her POS system to seamlessly tie into her accounting system, help you client develop a check and balance system to ensure that her accounting system is getting accurate numbers. My experience has shown that the only POS systems that drops data into their accounting system is QuickBooks POS system which is a terrible POS system for a restaurant.

POS systems can be a dynamic tool for scheduling and also for menu development. The amount of data most of the POS systems collect can be staggering but there is a potential gold mine buried within. An operator can fine tune her scheduling b looking at sales patterns by the hour, sometimes by the quarter hour. You can also determine what is selling at different times. Like many industries, patterns can be a “canary in the coal mine” and can allow an operator to make decisions based on actual fact as opposed to intuition.

A good POS system is crucial for the smooth running of your client’s restaurant. The fact remains that most businesses record sales and several other details. This is why a restaurant will particularly benefit from industry-focused point-of-sale systems. Because a restaurant has to deal with tasks like reservations, table-specific orders, and several other order-specific details.

Which POS system is the right one for your client? There are a number of good systems out there. Some of the common ones are Toast, TouchBistro, Aloha, Square Restaurant POS and others. I used Aloha in my restaurant and liked the ease of adding modifiers which was a crucial part of my restaurant’s appeal to customers-“If We have the ingredients, We will make you anything!”. My downside with Aloha was minimal support from the company. They have gotten much better and for really fine dining establishments, Aloha and TouchBistro are my recommendations.

Toast POS is one of the most common POS systems and they are leaders in the in tableside ordering segment which allows a server to input the order right at the table i9nstead of walking over to a station to input the order. If a kitchen has a “food runner” to bring out the order when it is ready, this allows a server to give great service to more tables than if they have to walk to a station and also walk to the kitchen to bring out the food.  Remember that studies have shown the average server takes 23,000 steps a day. If I can cut those steps by 25%, my food gets served quickly and my servers don’t get as fatigued.

To take a look at reviews of various systems, check these links out:

 

When working with your client in looking at PPOS systems, start off with determining what the primary goal for the POS system is. Is table management a priority? Are processing online orders a priority? Is using the POS system going to also be the primary “bookkeeping” tool? Is the POS going to be the primary tool to track your client’s inventory and also cost out menu items? By working with your client and developing a expectations for what your client needs from their P{OS system will help in choosing the right one.

Other factors to weigh in is where is your client’s establishment located-is it in a City with solid broadband/wifi coverage or is it in a rural area with spotty coverage. If your client is in an area with spotty coverage, then a POS system that is cloud based may not be a good choice.  If your client’s establishment basically serves a limited menu ( like a hot dog stand or taco truck) then a full blown POS system isn’t necessary.  The larger the menu, the greater need for a robust POS system.

While POS systems are becoming ubiquitous in the restaurant world, they come in many shapes and sizes. Helping your client determine what exactly they need from their system will help keep them from buying an elephant when all they really need is a mouse.

 

John Schmitt, Michigan SBDC Southwest Michigan Region Business Consultant