POS Lavu Review
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 once chance for a first impression, they say, so you’ll want 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 Google 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 called it “P.O.S. LAA-vu”–spelling out the acronym and Britishly inflecting the short A. It’s a terrible name, beset with problems. The first half gives away its Point-of-Sale-edness, which is helpful, but even knowing where ‘Lavu’ comes from doesn’t crystallize its meaning. Does the POS love me? How would I know that it was designed for a niche, specifically for foodservice operations? It’s not like this is some slapdash attempt at selling to a niche, either. POS Lavu is downright thoughtful in its design, packed with so many specific features of use 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 spend a lot of time inside my own head inventing drama out of nothing, and by the time I’d finally gotten around to testing I was ready to go full kabob and skewer the software. Also, my last few reviews have been pretty positive, and I really needed something average-to-terrible to write about so as not to appear like I’m easily dazzled. 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, stupid name and all.
The software was conceived as a wireless experience, and jibes 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 dumb name. O, iPad POS, how the world does lavu.
All Lavu plans are no 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 Silver – License is $895, service fee of $39/month, up to 1 iPad terminal, and 1 iPhone/iPod client, 2 printers, 1 cash drawer.
- Lavu Gold – License is $1495, service fee of $79/month, up to 2 iPad terminals and 10 iPod/iPhones, 5 printers, 2 cash drawers. Option to add the Lavu Local server for an adjusted monthly service fee of $149/mo.
- Lavu Platinum – License is $2495, hosting fees are $149/month, up to 3 iPad terminals and 15 iPods/iPhones, unlimited printers and cash drawers. 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 three levels of service. The list of all features is large, so it’s best to look here and see the differences for yourself.
Web-Based or Locally-Installed:
POS Lavu is cloud-based, and requires an internet connection to operate. 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.
POS Lavu is designed for the restaurant industry, and can fill most niches within that industry. They also will customize Lavu to meet the “special needs” of any establishment. Currently, they offer hardware/software bundles or add-ons tailor made for food trucks, bars, pizza places, franchises, and—very strangely—go kart racing facilities. 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-fine dining establishments. They may actually have featured themselves out of the smaller end of things, 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/User Friendly:
Visually the Lavu POS–both front and backend–has a sleek, attractive interface that’s largely user-friendly. The backend is accessible via web browser, and the first time you log in you’re presented with a helpful setup guide that includes tutorial videos, as well as detailed introductions to the various steps and tasks you’ll encounter while setting up your menu. This initial help on the setup is welcome: yes, it’s easy enough to navigate around and find where various settings can be modified, but menu configuration does have a small bit of a learning curve. 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 her 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 unsolicited assist 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 don’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. POS Lavu offers the ability to create a table layout of your restaurant, and switching between that screen and the order screen changes the app’s behaviors. 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 or iPod 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 landscape, 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/Pod, 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 app 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, one of the stronger features on the iPad. Cashing out a split check on the iPhone/Pod, though, is really terrible. You highlight the portion of the check you’re trying to apply payment to, and when the keypad appears for you to type in how much the customer gave you, it obscures the check and its split totals. The top of the screen only shows you the total of all the split checks combined, and even after applying the first payment 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.
Hardware/Operating System Required:
The POS Lavu website is very consistent in its message that they are a software company, not hardware, and please talk to their partner, Zephyr Hardware, for any iPads and peripherals you may need to buy. I mean, they’re really adamant about you knowing this, so don’t ask them. They seem kind of prickly about it.
That said, the company declares they are Apple-centric. While you can use any kind of PC for web access to the backend, the frontend is iPad, iPhone, and iPod only, and its highly recommended to use one of Apple’s wireless routers to set up your POS network.
Zephyr Hardware recommends the following options for Lavu-compatible hardware:
- iPad/iPod Touch – iPad 2 with Wi-Fi 16GB, iPad Mini with Wi-Fi 16GB, and iPod Touch 16GB. These range from $199 to $399.
- Credit Card Swipes – Magtek iDynamo Credit Card Reader, Linea-pro 4 Mag-Stripe Reader, and Blue Bamboo: Bluetooth Printer with Card Reader for iOS. These card readers range in price from $135 to $365.
- Wired Printers – Star Micronics: SP742 Ethernet ($295) and Star Micronics: TSP654 Ethernet ($340).
- Wireless Printers – Not really wireless, but capable of USB connection to a wireless router. Star Micronics: TSP654 USB ($248) and Star Micronics: SP742 USB ($255).
- Cash Drawers – Any of the Lavu-friendly APG Cash Drawers ranging in price from $110-$130.
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:
- Taking Orders:
- 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.
- Table Management:
- Specific multi-room table layout.
- Assign both seat and course numbers.
- Course/Menu Management:
- 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.
- Employee Management:
- 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 Management:
- 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.
- Taking Payment:
- 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.
- Cash management:
- Track incoming and outgoing cash flow for non-sale items, such as petty cash, paying the band, etc.
- All payment gateways are fully PCI compliant and secure.
- No handling of sensitive, unencrypted data.
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. Although the customer email is kept on file for promotional purposes, customer order data is not stored on file. This option is reportedly in the works.
Addionally, 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 adjust 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 processor is Mercury Payments, though Heartland Payments is also supported. 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. With that said, Lavu lists BridgePay as its preferred universal gateway, meaning that you can pretty much get the POS to work with any processor you like. If you’re not already using their “preferred” processor–and you’re happy with the one you’ve got–this should come as good news to the restaurant owner, a breed of merchant who can least afford the costs associated with taking credit cards. If you don’t have to switch, you probably won’t want to.
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 to explore your options is to actually call a Lavu sales rep and find out what they are. There’s no doubt you’ll have many. Since navigating the various rates and fees from different providers can be difficult, we can help negotiating the best rates from these processors; give us a shout.
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, good for a newbie looking for answers not 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.
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. Here, it’s not a subjective assessment: people aren’t going to love software they’ve entrusted their business to, 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 told, POS Lavu is an impressive product with a big upside, and by all appearances they have grown well–reinvesting in their gains not only in app improvements, but their operations and marketing, as well. If you’re a smaller, quick serve establishment, your needs may be better addressed elsewhere. This is a shame, especially in light of the fact that the stripped down and no-license-fee LavuLite has been discontinued. They can claim to be appropriate for small cafes and coffee bars, but they’ve pretty much abandoned their commitment to those markets, while other POS players have swooped in to meet those needs at a much lower cost.
But medium to large restaurants will no doubt benefit 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.
POS Lavu still has some kinks to work out, but from my experience these aren’t show-stopper/can’t-run-your-business type issues. 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.