POS Lavu Review
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- Date Established
- Albuquerque, NM
Imagine you’ve started a new company. You’ve created what you think is a killer product, and you’re ready to launch, but you haven’t yet settled on a name. There are all kinds of things to consider; it should sound pleasant and be easy to remember; if it’s a recognizable word, it needs to evoke the right imagery; in all cases, it should speak somehow to the product’s selling point. Branding is important–your product’s unique identity in the marketplace is at stake, and you’ll probably build up a whole strategy around that identity. You only get one chance for a first impression, they say, so you’ll want to decide this one with care. Or, you just toss all that nonsense aside and hand the responsibility over to a barely verbal toddler and call it a day.
Such is the curious etymology of POS Lavu, which (according to a moderator on the company’s community forums) is derived from one of the founders’ children adorably mispronouncing “I love you.” And in what is either the result of comically bad marketing, or the most ingenious meta-representation of brand identity I’ve ever witnessed, there seems to be no consensus on how to actually pronounce the product’s name, or even what it is, officially. The website alternately refers to it as Lavu, POS Lavu, Lavu POS, and Lavu iPad POS, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing. There’s a picture of the whole team on the website, all wearing branded t-shirts, some which say Lavu, some say POS Lavu, and 2 have an image of what looks like a hybrid of the Android logo and Mike Wazowski from Monsters, Inc. In video tutorials, it’s alternately pronounced “po-SLAH-vu” or the french sounding “poze la-VU.” When the product was featured on Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares (as a solution, not a nightmare), he had yet another pronunciation. The first half gives away its Point-of-Sale-edness, which is helpful, but even knowing where ‘Lavu’ comes from doesn’t crystallize the brand identity. Does the POS love me? How would I know that it was designed for a niche, specifically for foodservice operations? Moreover, even the names of their pricing plans make little sense. You’ve got numbers, metallurgy, and skill levels: Lavu 88, Lavu Silver, Lavu Gold, and Lavu Pro.
Yet POS Lavu is downright thoughtful in its design, packed with so many industry-specific features which are essential to food trucks and large restaurants alike, that I was surprised to see that no member of the primary Lavu team had foodservice experience. To a normal person, none of this should matter in the least when evaluating software. But I’m not a normal person: I’m a writer, which means I am ready to go full kabob and skewer the software if I let my predispositions get the best of me. But while there are a few minor kinks here and there, POS Lavu is another impressive product, one that does what it aims to do and does it well, silly name and all.
The software was conceived as a wireless experience, and jives with the user friendly interface of the iPads, -Phones, and -Pods it runs on. Judging by the app’s success, Lavu founders Andy Lim and Corey Fiala hit their mark: they opened up shop in 2010, and by the spring of 2012, the company had an estimated worth of $25 million, without a single cent coming from outside sources like venture capitalists. By the end of 2013, POS Lavu could be found in over 3000 restaurants across 82 countries and it shows no signs of slowing down. The development team continues to create new features and add-ons, and Florida International University just spent half a million dollars on a “restaurant management lab” for its School of Hospitality, which uses POS Lavu as a learning tool for its students–quite the impressive string of accomplishments for the startup with the questionable name. Oh, iPad POS, how the world does lavu.
All Lavu plans are sans contract and include unlimited users and free software updates. The POS Lavu Client App is downloadable for free and can be simultaneously used on as many iPods/iPhones as each plan supports. Lavu offers a free* 14-day trial on all accounts, though you need to provide a credit card to set up your account.
- Lavu 88 – License is free, service fee of $88/month, up to 1 terminal, and 1 mobile device.
- Lavu Silver – License is $895, service fee of $39/month, up to 1 terminal, and 1 mobile device.
- Lavu Gold – License is $1495, service fee of $79/month, up to 2 terminals, and 10 mobile devices. Option to add the Lavu Local server for an adjusted monthly service fee of $149/mo.
- Lavu Pro – License is $2495, hosting fees are $149/month, up to 3 terminals and 15 mobile devices. Option to add additional terminals at $20/mo. Lavu local server is included at no extra charge.
There are some other minor differences in features between the four levels of service. The list of all features is large, so it’s best to look here and see the differences for yourself.
*Here the term “free” is used a bit loosely. You will be charged a “pre-authorization fee” for whatever plan you choose, equal to your first month’s payment. That fee will be dropped from your bank account if you cancel your membership within the 14 day trial period.
Web-Based or Locally-Installed:
POS Lavu is cloud-based, and requires an internet connection to operate. The minimum internet speeds suggested are 6Mbps Download, 2Mbps Upload, but bigger is better in this case. As I noted above, there is a Local Server option, which runs on a dedicated Mac Mini installed at the customer’s location. The iPads, etc. need only connect with the Mini to operate, adding a layer of protection against an internet outage. The Local Server syncs with the cloud whenever the internet connection is active.
The POS Lavu website is very consistent in its message that they are exclusively a software company. They instead refer you to their partner, Zephyr Hardware, for any iPads and peripherals you may need to buy.
The company is also very openly and exclusively Apple-centric. While you can use any kind of PC for web access to the backend, the frontend is iPad and iPhone only, and it’s highly recommended to use one of Apple’s wireless routers to set up your POS network.
As for supported hardware, they specifically list APG Cash Drawer, Epson Printers, and device enclosures from Vault, although I doubt that these are the only options. Lavu connects to a suite of receipt printers, stands, card readers, cash drawers, and even portion scales.
POS Lavu is designed for the food service industry, and can fill most niches within that industry. They also offer some customization to meet the “special needs” of any establishment. From food trucks to 5-stars, and cafes to pizza joints, Lavu is already there in 86 countries. The Lavu ToGo app offers Gold and Platinum level users an additional interface for online ordering and takeout options.
Specific Size of Business:
The Lavu software features are extensive, intended to support everything from small coffee shops to large dining establishments. Their massive list of features may cause them to be overkill for the smaller food service entities, but that is for them to decide. Lavu’s price and Ease of Use are not terribly prohibitive for the little guy, but medium to large places would certainly benefit from all that it can do. The system can be scaled according to the size and needs of the business.
Ease of Use:
The Lavu POS has a sleek, attractive interface that’s largely user-friendly. The backend is accessible via any web browser, but it came as a surprise that I didn’t see any sort of tutorial, onboarding wizard, Getting Started checklist, or training videos. A “Guided Setup” was not far away (a tiered menu option from the toolbar,) but I think a little basic setup help should have been at least offered at the first sign-in. This backend was laid out fairly well, with persistent menus across the top of the window. I first tried this out from the iPad, but found that the full (non-mobile) web browser experience was much better.
One of POS Lavu’s greatest strengths–its extensive and highly customizable support for both forced and optional modifiers–is also its most complicated, though not prohibitively so. Forced modifiers are those things that the POS interface will force you to select at the time of order–you select “French Fries” and the app prompts you to select Small or Large–and the optional ones are, well, optional. The way POS Lavu handles this is to create groups of these things, so you might set up a group of forced modifiers that are applicable only to burgers and optional ones that might apply to burgers and nachos. The advantage of this is that you only need to select modifiers by the group to apply to each menu item, rather than having to add several individual add-ons over multiple dishes, all of which might be the same. It does, in fact, make perfect logical sense, though it might take some getting used to by a proprietor used to sending their menus to the printer. Again, this is not overly complex, but it is definitely something that requires a little knowledge beforehand; POS Lavu’s Guided Setup presents you with a step-by-step guide and a practice exercise to get you up to speed instead of leaving this info buried in their support microsite for you to find. New users will definitely appreciate the setup assistance they get from their new software.
The frontend POS has all the shiny appeal of a well made iOS app: it’s modern looking, responsive, and fluid in its execution. There are, however, a host of inconsistencies in its interface that make navigating around cumbersome. They’re the kinds of things that a user can learn to work around, and ultimately won’t detract from Lavu’s usefulness, but they’re annoying and there are far too many of them. It didn’t take long for me to notice that certain menus (app menus, not your restaurant’s) and buttons don’t consistently appear from screen to screen. Lavu considers this a feature, saying right in the onboarding orientation that “control buttons differ from screen to screen.” But whether this is an asset or a liability may depend on each user’s unique needs.
When the POS Lavu app is set up as a terminal, you may choose Table Layout (for restaurants,) Tab Layout (for bars,) or Quick Orders (for fast food and cafes.) Switching between these screens changes the app’s behavior. At the top left of the interface is a LAVU button, which should provide the same menu of choices no matter where you are. That’s just UI design 101. But, if you’re in the order screen, and haven’t tied the order you’re taking to a specific table, pressing the LAVU button shows a “Control Menu” which can be used to take you back to the table layout view, or to the management screen, or to the printer setup screen–those types of things. If you use that button to go out to the table layout view, and then select a table for a new order, you’ll be taken back to the order screen, where the very same LAVU button then only has two options–Change Table or Change Guest Count–neither of which appeared the last time we hit that button. There’s another button up top, that changes between “Dining Room” (which brings you back to the table view) and “Clock In/Out” (for employee timekeeping), and I can’t really discern a pattern as to why one would appear instead of the other. Sometimes you can see a list of Open Orders by pressing the button in the order screen. Sometimes that button isn’t in the order screen, and you have to go back to the table view to access it. The table layout also can’t be used for just seating people, as one would intuitively think. You’ve got to add an item and save the order before the app will mark a table as occupied. As for order taking, adding an optional modifier is an irreversible act, short of deleting the whole item and re-adding it. And there’s a function for creating notes or custom modifiers for items, but there’s no way to add a price to it. Some day, someone’s going to walk into your place and ask for vanilla ice cream topped with bacon; if you didn’t see that coming when you set your menu up, you’d have no way of charging the extra dollar or so that all additions of bacon at least deserve.
Now, I realize reading all that in one string of sentences can seem like the overall experience of using the iPad terminal is a negative one. I don’t want to give that impression; again, these are annoyances, not hindrances. Using an iPhone on the other hand is a wholly frustrating experience. The screen is simply too small to usefully accommodate anything but the most limited of menus. To keep things organized, POS Lavu splits the menu into a hierarchy of Groups (something like Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner), and then Categories in each group (Apps, Entrees, Sides), and then the items underneath that. On the iPad, it’s all well and good: there’s plenty of visual real estate, even on an iPad Mini, for all the buttons of these groups and subgroups to exist on the same screen. Not so on the iPhone, which requires a constant back and forth, clicking your way down into a menu to get to an appetizer, then a couple clicks back to the top level, and then a couple further in to get to entrees, then all that again for sides, then all that again for drinks. This would need to be repeated for each customer, unless you go around the table asking for appetizer orders first, then entrees, then drinks, etc.
Cashing a customer out on the smaller device is also not as easy, especially if you’re splitting a check. You tap on Split, highlight the portion of the check you’re trying to apply payment to, and select New Check. Items can also be split across several checks, which is handy (as in the case of shared appetizers.) The problem is that once you start accepting each check, there is no way to see each specific subtotal. Only the whole order total is visible at the top of the screen. Even after applying the first payment, this doesn’t decrease to the amount now owed. It’s a weird personality tic of POS Lavu, that it can at once be so thoughtful in its details and thoughtless in the execution.
One final note/warning: The Exit Server button (prominently available from most screens) is ambiguously named, much like the rest of Lavu. Tapping the Exit Server button yielded a keypad for clocking in/out by employee ID. I was completely unable to do anything- even return to the previous screen, until I supplied an employee number, which I had yet to create. Thankfully, my shot-in-the-dark guess of Employee Number 1234 was correct. This effectively shut down the entire terminal until I came up with the magic number.
Normally, this is where I’d say something like “Rather than go over all the features, I’m going to focus on what makes Blah Blah Blah unique.” However, it’s the sheer number–and specificity–of features here that makes POS Lavu unique, so buckle up, folks. We’re in this one for the long haul.
The most commonly sought-after features are available on all plans- features such as:
- Terminal and Tableside options
- Split checks
- Happy hour discounts
- Multiple payment options
- Order transfer
- Menu item modifiers
- Photos & descriptions
For a wider perspective, here’s a categorized (yet far from exhaustive) breakdown:
- Choose between Table, Tab and Quick Serve layouts depending on your service needs.
- Use the app to assign customer receipts and kitchen orders to a specific printer.
- Add notes to every order.
- Combine multiple orders while maintaining separate checks.
- Advanced print queue feature that monitors kitchen print jobs and creates printer alerts for increased reliability.
- Browse through voided orders from the front end.
- Specific multi-room table layout.
- Assign both seat and course numbers.
- Create custom discounts for specific tabs or items.
- Enable forced modifiers that prompt the customer to choose a pre-defined menu option (i.e. Rare, Medium, Well-done).
- Utilize optional modifiers such as “add onions.”
- Add secondary detours that are activated when a customer selects a forced modifier option (i.e. Salad > Salad dressing).
- Divide your menu into multiple groups (i.e. Sides, Entrees, Desserts).
- Specify minimum access level for each discount type.
- Create forced modifiers for specific quantities (i.e. 60 tamales).
- Pizza Creator: selecting Pizza as an item opens the creator, where you can select crust type, size, and toppings in one screen.
- Customer email tracking.
- Standardized, exportable reports.
- Track number of guests for any selected time periods.
- Filter front-end open/closed orders by server.
- Track employee hours with the time card feature.
- Employees can clock in and out from the iPad app.
- Calculate employee overtime or double time based on tracked daily, weekly, holiday hours.
- No limit on number of staff.
- Every staff member has his or her own unique login information.
- Inventory can be managed from the remote back end office.
- Menu items can be linked to ingredients and changes are reflected in the inventory when a menu item is ordered.
- Track inventory stock and costs.
- Easily create split checks for divided payments.
- Enter tip amounts before settling a credit card batch.
- Create custom payment types and assign payment type to individual orders.
- Calculate both gratuity and tax on order subtotal without stacking.
- Track incoming and outgoing cash flow for non-sale items, such as petty cash, paying the band, etc.
Lavu has developed several add-on apps that have different capabilities, and more are reportedly in the works.
- Lavu Pilot is a free iPhone app that allows you to view and monitor POS data in real-time. View reports from today, yesterday, 7 days, and 30 days ago. Reports range from average revenue per guest to order counts.
- Lavu Local Server protects against internet outages by installing the Local Server: the iPads/Phones/Pods connect to your in-house server, and your server syncs with the cloud.
- KDS Lavu is a kitchen display system designed to completely eliminate printed kitchen tickets. The interactive iPad displays are connected to the POS Lavu system and can be further displayed on wireless TV monitors. KDS features include closed order tracking, real time communication, and late order notifications, among others.
- Lavu ToGo is an add-on interface designed to allow customers to browse your online menu and place to-go orders for pickup. Once a customer has placed an order it is sent to the kitchen and completed. The customer email is kept on file for promotional purposes, and customer order data is tracked.
Additionally, POS Lavu also integrates with several 3rd Party apps and services:
- LoyalTree is a mobile customer loyalty app, allowing frequent customers to earn rewards based on point accumulations.
- The Drink Exchange is something I’ve never heard of till writing this review, and damn, it sounds like fun. Essentially, you create a “stock market” for drinks, and the Exchange adjusts pricing on drinks according to demand. Whisky in high demand? The price goes up. Nobody drinking vodka? The price goes down. People in your bar can watch a TV that shows real time values of each drink, and the integration with Lavu means your POS is sending sales data to the Drink Exchange, and adjusting the prices in accordance with the fluctuating market.
- Digital Pour is a drink management system that offers detailed analytics into your alcohol sales, as well as digital dashboards for displaying current drink specials, what’s on tap, and what’s next in the tap rotation.
Compatible Credit Card Processors:
POS Lavu is one of the more flexible products I’ve come across when it comes to credit card integration, especially in the U.S. The preferred processors are BridgePay, Heartland, and Mercury Payments. Setting up credit card payments in Lavu doesn’t require you to configure it with your merchant account information; you only need to point it to the right gateway.
Internationally, Lavu also supports integration with iZettle (in Europe) and Tyro (in Australia). Searching through the POS Lavu website, and its support microsite, yields a lot of information about integrations and partnerships with many different gateways and processors. And a lot of the information is old and possibly out of date, so the best bet for exploring your options is to actually call a Lavu sales rep and find out what those options are. There’s no doubt you’ll have many questions, since navigating the various rates and fees from different providers can be difficult.
Customer Service/Technical Support:
POS Lavu has been making the wise move of investing back in their company and expanding the level of support they offer. There’s no separate plan to purchase; it’s included in the monthly subscription. A post on the Lavu blog mentions their expanded support, including a help desk that is available 24 hours a day, available by phone, email, or a web interface. My own interactions with support were very positive; in one day of testing I inundated them with questions, all of which were answered within a few hours. The web interface also has a pretty cool feature: as you type the subject of your request in the “Subject” field, a linked list of related and possibly helpful articles populates itself right below.
Additionally, there is a Lavu “community forum” website where users and support folks hash things out in the open, which is good for a newbie looking for answers that may not be addressed elsewhere. Their Youtube channel is well developed, with nearly 50 comprehensive videos on everything from basic settings to printer setups, as well as a few clips of Gordon Ramsey teetering on the brink of violent insanity before being soothed back into a state of dreamy calm as he extolls his love of POS Lavu. Lavu’s blog is updated frequently, and not just with nonsense chatter: there are legitimate things happening with the company, and its growth is being well documented there. Of course, there’s the requisite Facebook and Twitter presences, just because.
As for my own experience with their customer service, I was promptly contacted by an agent to assist me with any introductory questions I might have. I noted that this agent was from a company very near me, so I presume they are able to assist with on-site implementation. The drawback to this is that the agent is not a Lavu employee: Lavu outsources their Customer Service, at least in the initial on boarding process. The agent I spoke too was very friendly, timely, and helpful, though I didn’t grill her too hard on the finer technical points of the software.
Looking for negative reviews for Lavu on the internet is interesting, in that the content and timing of them contributes to the narrative of a company and software that continues to improve–though not quickly enough for some people. In 2011 and 2012, complaints about instability, unpredictable behavior, and terrible support abounded. Frustrations over frequent crashes and the behavioral tics of the app (the kind of tics I experienced and described above) are not hard to find. Phrases like “absolutely horrendous,” “your POS is a P.O.S.,” and–one of my favorites–“buggy like an August night in Atlanta” can be found all over the place. Look through the comments at CNET’s review, the iTunes app store, or even the bottom of this page (from the first time we reviewed Lavu). The people who dislike the system really dislike it, by which I mean, they hate it, by which I mean they seem to wish they could somehow bring the software into a living, breathing state just so they can murder it in cold blood and laugh like Vincent Price at the end of Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
These types of reviews are becoming less and less frequent, and as the version numbers climb higher, so does the general attitude of Lavu’s customers. As I noted in the Ease of Use section, though, there are still kinks to work out. And if you’re not so technologically inclined, your response to the app’s inconsistent behavior could result in orders going missing, printers not printing, and other service-disrupting scenarios. That said, you shouldn’t have to be techno-savvy to avoid these pitfalls–when a company describes its product as “Apple-centric,” the general public assumes that that means easy or foolproof or accessible to everyone. That’s Apple’s whole deal. People who want a challenge buy Windows.
I’ve never been a big fan of the whole “50 million Elvis fans can’t be wrong” argument. Maybe it was true for Elvis, maybe not, but substitute his name with Justin Bieber and you begin to see where the logic falls apart. But with software, that line of thinking holds more water. People aren’t going to entrusted their business to software they don’t love, and overwhelmingly, customers love Lavu. The Lavu website and the app store are awash with glowing testimonials. Its ease of use and “cool” factor are often cited. A cloud-based way to manage a restaurant is a feature often praised by restaurant managers and owners who are finally enjoying getting to spend time away from their operation. Its low cost when compared with traditional POS systems for food service is also a common point of praise.
“Even without the price being so low,” wrote one user on the app store, “it’s still a great system.” Another reviewer stated he had it “installed in 15 minutes and had [a] complete system within 1 hour.” Still another commented that “We have a 70 seat restaurant and this works great…I fully expect this system to pay for itself by making up for missed charges alone.”
Finally, many users have specifically called out their support team as deserving of praise, citing friendly, quick, and accurate responses.
All payment gateways are fully PCI compliant and secure.
No handling of sensitive, unencrypted data.
All told, POS Lavu is an impressive product with near-comprehensive usefulness. It’s not merely a cash manager- it manages your employees, your reports, your tables, and more. If you’re a smaller, quick-serve establishment, there many other POS options out there, which may be easier on the bottom line. Yet Lavu claims to be scalable to every niche within food service.
But medium to large restaurants will no doubt benefit all the more from Lavu’s many features, which can help improve table turnaround and customer satisfaction. Its granular inventory control coupled with employee timekeeping means owners need only look in one place for a true understanding of their costs, and make more intelligent decisions about how they spend their money. And while iPads represent a luxury in the consumer market, they’re an inexpensive commodity when compared with legacy POS hardware. Plus, as the savvy business operator knows, this hardware is almost always eligible as a tax write off anyway.
POS Lavu still has some kinks to work out, but from my experience these aren’t deal breakers. And given the company’s track record thus far on improving their software, these little details will likely get worked out over time. If you’re a restaurant owner who’s looking for more than just a flashy front-end register–if you’re actually struggling with understanding where all the money is going, and what is bringing more in–POS Lavu may just be what you’re looking for. If you think you’re ready to take a tour for yourself, you may start here.