Best POS Systems For Bars & Nightclubs
Bars can be community cornerstones that bring together people from all walks of life, and they can also be seedy dives—and sometimes, they are both. Personally, I’m partial to friendly dive bars, but for special occasions, I love a swanky space paired with inventive craft cocktails. As a bar owner, you know that what gives your bar its charm is a special combination of factors, and everything has to be just right. Drinks need to be strong, or tasty, or both. The music needs to be on point, whether you have a fire DJ or a fully-loaded jukebox. Bartenders should know how to make any drink order a customer can throw at them, even if it’s not on the menu.
Whether you own a neighborhood bar reminiscent of “Cheers” or manage an elite speakeasy, having the right point of sale system can keep your bar running at peak efficiency so that guests keep those drink orders flowing every night, all the way till last call.
In this post, I’ll go over the features that are important to have in a bar point of sale system, and also give some recommendations for great bar POS systems that have everything you need to make your bar a fixture in the local nightlife scene.
Read more below to learn why we chose these options.
6 Features Every Bar Needs In A Point Of Sale
Bars have unique business models, and they need POS systems that can accommodate those unique needs. Today’s POS systems offer much more than just the ability to take payments. A specialized system with bar-specific features will do so much more for your business than a general POS. The following are essential features to look for in a bar point of sale system.
1. Flexible Menu Scheduling
Most bars’ offerings and prices change up from time to time, either over the course of a day or year. For example, you might have special happy hour pricing, game day specials, seasonal drinks, etc. Having a POS that you can program to automatically accommodate these changes means servers won’t have to remember all the specials, or forget to charge the happy hour price instead of the regular price. Menu pricing control is vitally important to have if your bar also serves food.
2. Off-Hours Customer Support
Bars don’t operate during the same hours as most businesses, and you could potentially have issues with processing payments at 12am. Since bars are open much later than most businesses, you ideally need 24/7 support on your POS system. Customer service needs to be responsive and helpful, any time of day or night, so that you can get your system back up and running ASAP whenever system problems arise. Your POS system should also have some sort of “offline mode” that will keep your POS operational even if the internet goes down.
3. Inventory Management
A bar POS with a strong inventory management system can track the alcohol poured in every cocktail and alert you when supplies of any ingredient are low. They can also store drink recipes, report on the best-selling drink orders, and let you see your stock in real-time. The best bar POS systems can additionally integrate with third-party bar drink management software, including specialized keg-tracking software and liquor inventory management systems. Of course, there are also laws regulating the purchase and sale of alcohol, and you’re going to need a way track all the information you need to stay compliant, including supplier information, purchase orders, etc. A shipping integration would be a nice feature for these purposes.
4. Employee Management
Spills, theft, and yes, on-shift inebriation are all problems bars must commonly deal with when it comes to their staff. But even if you trust your bartenders implicitly, you can still benefit from employee management software. Modern POS systems can double as employee management tools, letting you do things like set individual user permissions and generate reports to see who is making the most sales, who is bringing in the most tips, who is comping the most drinks, etc. At the very least, a POS should have basic time-tracking capabilities that let you set shifts and have employees clock their hours.
5. Tabs & Suspended Tickets
Naturally, you’ll want to be able to set up and track customer tabs, via an “open ticket” or “suspend” function. Preferably, the system should have a pre-authorization feature that saves your customer’s card as soon as you start their tab. A larger bar also needs the capability to merge and transfer tickets between servers, as well as the ability to split a tab among multiple people, especially if you serve food and/or bottles of wine.
6. Good Reporting Features
A POS with good reporting features lets you track your bar’s sales and other metrics so you can measure your business’s performance, see areas for improvement, and make important business decisions. For example, POS reports can show you what the most popular drinks are and which hours are busiest, so you can stock and staff accordingly. Modern cloud-based systems will generate detailed POS reports on your daily sales, inventory, and employees that you can view at any time, from any internet-connected device.
1. Lightspeed Restaurant
Lightspeed Restaurant is an iPad POS that provides a refreshing balance of functionality and affordability. It’s not as powerful as an enterprise-level system like Revel or Toast, but at a price point of $69/month, Lightspeed can handle the needs of a small-to-midsize bar/restaurant setup quite aptly.
- Customizable POS interface for both the front-end (register) and back-end (reporting and analytics suite) make the system easy to use and put the functions you need—and only the functions you need—at your fingertips.
- Tableside ordering lets servers take orders from tables or booths with an iPad, sending those orders directly to the bar or kitchen. Staff can also receive (optional) upsell prompts and use the iPad to run payments from the floor as well.
- Timed Events function lets you set promotions and offers to run for a specific time or on certain days, e.g., happy hour.
- “Ingredients” tab links raw ingredients to specific menu items. If a server tries to send an order whose ingredients aren’t available, they will be alerted.
- Employee permissions include the ability to set permissions for different levels of employee and change the “visibility” of employees to determine whether or not they will appear in your app—which can be useful for seasonal or part-time staff.
- Offline mode keeps the POS functional so you won’t notice a change in functioning if you lose your internet signal.
- Adjustable floor planner is highly customizable and easy to use for bar-restaurant setups or nightclubs offering table service.
- Menu building functionality allows you to create a simple menu in minutes and on any device.
- 24/7 phone support excluding holidays and dedicated email address with 1-day turnaround time.
Lightspeed charges 2.6% + 10¢ for payment processing (the same rate as Square for Restaurants) but can also integrate with outside payment processors, which you might prefer to use if you can secure a better rate elsewhere.
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2. Square For Restaurants
Square For Restaurants POS
Square For Restaurants is an iPad POS for restaurants (duh), bars, and bar/restaurant establishments. This option is appealing due to its simplicity and low price—only $60/month (+$40/month for each additional register). While it doesn’t have every feature under the sun, Square for Restaurants does offer a lot of useful bar-centric features.
- Drink modifiers—for example, neat, shaken, stirred, dry, dirty, etc.—can be grouped with different items on the menu, and will automatically appear so servers can see exactly how to prepare any drink that’s ordered. You can also use the modifiers to customize any drink.
- Dark mode option fits in well with low-light bar settings.
- Menu management lets you switch between different menus for different parts of the day, such as happy hour.
- Employee permissions allow you to you assign roles to your team, like server or manager, and choose their level of access. This function also gives every employee their own passcode so you can track the sales activities of each server.
- Reporting suite shows you how each liquor, drink, and employee is performing so you can plan accordingly.
- 24/7 technical support and offline mode ensures your system stays operational any time of day or night.
- Square Capital extends short-term loan offers to qualified Square users that can be used when you need help to cover overhead, expansion expenses, or any other business need.
Square uses in-house payment processing with a rate of 2.6% + 10¢ per swiped, chip, or NFC (e.g., Apple Pay) transaction—a potentially better rate than the 2.75% you’d get with just a basic Square POS reader or Square Stand, especially with customers who run up larger tabs. Check out the following blog post for a more detailed breakdown comparing Square POS and Square for Restaurants.
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Toast is an Android POS that can be used for any restaurant or bar establishment. Toast is a powerful system that can meet the needs of a large bar/restaurant or buzzing nightclub, though it’s a little pricier than the previous option, with plans starting at $79/month.
- Pre-authorization lets you verify and securely save card information on a tab, limiting fraud from fake cards and unpaid tabs at the end of the night. Pre-auth also makes it quicker and easier to close out bar tabs.
- Flexible menu management lets you set automatic happy hour pricing, quickly add new drinks, and easily remove drinks from the menu when inventory for that item is low.
- Mobile point of sale devices allow bartenders and servers to take and transmit drink orders electronically, and transfer tabs electronically (so customers won’t have to close out at the bar before moving to restaurant seating, for example). More benefits of mobile ordering include quicker checkouts and onscreen tipping suggestions, among others.
- Advanced POS reporting notifies managers of employee or customer theft, shows menu and liquor sales trends over time, and analyzes customer data with built-in CRM. Includes Cash Drawer Report, which allows you to monitor each register to see who opened and closed the drawer at what times.
- Kitchen display system option makes for fast, streamlined service if your bar also serves food.
- Purchase order support makes creating and tracking purchase orders and supplier information easy.
- 24/7 support and offline mode keeps everything running past midnight and beyond.
There are few if any areas Toast is lacking in, though the system cost could get pricey depending on if you use add-ons like online ordering or extra hardware such as handheld POS devices and a kitchen display system. However, if you own a large, busy establishment, you probably need the power that a system like Toast can provide. Note that Toast uses in-house payment processing with flat-rate pricing (customized per business).
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ShopKeep is an elegant and easy-to-use iPad POS that can work great for smaller and midsize bars looking to keep things simple and inexpensive. ShopKeep also runs on Clover devices, such as Clover Station and Clover Mini. Though it doesn’t include as many industry-specific features as some other systems, ShopKeep has an affordable price point (monthly rates are customized for each business) and has a lot to offer in the areas of inventory and employee management.
- Inventory management system includes raw ingredient tracking, and lets you set reorder points within the system, track the supplier and supplier code for each item, and run reports showing what you received from each supplier. The system will send you alerts when you are running low on any item.
- Employee permissions system includes unique employee logins and four access levels (cashier, manager, back-office manager, and account owner). You also have the ability to track each employee’s actions, monitoring their cash flow and register usage with the Shifts Summary report.
- Handheld register options include iPad mini with a portable card reader, or a Clover Go device.
- Tab support as well as support for house accounts.
- Smartphone app “ShopKeep Pocket,” available in the App Store and Google Play, lets you see daily reports and check in on your bar’s sales in real-time using your smartphone.
- ShopKeep Capital provides quick and easy merchant cash advances to ShopKeep merchants in good standing who need a fast business loan to buy inventory, hire employees, cover day-to-day operational expenses during slow times, etc.
ShopKeep doesn’t offer as many advanced features as Toast or Revel, but its raw ingredient tracking software and advanced employee permissions still places this POS system ahead of many of its competitors in these areas. ShopKeep uses in-house payment processing (call them for a quote) but will also integrate with some outside merchant accounts.
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Revel is a robust iPad POS with a starting price point of $99/month for one register. Though Revel is not built specifically for bars/restaurants, the system highly customizable and feature-rich, to the point that it rivals Toast and any other restaurant-centric POS system. Revel is an excellent system for a large or multi-location bar/restaurant/nightclub/you-name-it.
- Always On mode allows you to run credit cards without internet or even power, and a wired ethernet iPad connection—the first of its kind—makes for a faster and more stable signal.
- Pre-authorization feature works great for bar tabs and lets customers hold onto their credit cards while they party.
- Age prompts can be programmed so that bartenders must verify that a customer is 21 before placing their drink order.
- Digital menu boards can be updated on the fly to reflect a rotating selection of beer, wine, etc.
- Table management view makes it easy to track each table’s orders, as well as reservations.
- Mobile order takers let you take orders electronically from tables and booths.
- Ingredient-level inventory controls simplify liquid inventory tracking, automatically adjusting inventory levels based on the exact amount of alcohol poured for each drink.
- Employee management features include advanced employee permissions, shift tracking, and more. Revel even offers a video surveillance integration.
- Customer support is rated highly and available 24/7.
- CRM lets you learn about regular customers, with information such as their favorites items and order history, and includes a built-in loyalty program.
Revel is probably the most powerful iPad POS system out there, and as such, it’s not cheap. Still, it is more affordable than a legacy system like Aloha or Micros. Keep in mind that the $99/month price doesn’t include every feature, and that that price point also requires annual upfront billing, and a 3-year contract.
Like most of the other options on this list, Revel offers in-house payment processing but can also integrate with an outside merchant account.
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Which Bar POS System Is Right For You?
Though I’ve provided several high-quality POS options with similar capabilities, they do have some important differences, and the right one for your establishment depends on your specific needs. For example, you may have budgetary constraints, you may serve only beer and wine, or you may have a full food menu. Are you opening a new bar with brand-new everything, or are you switching from another POS system and want to see if you can use your existing hardware?
Generally, single-location bars that want a simple but capable system without breaking the bank would be wise to choose between Square for Restaurants and ShopKeep. Large, busy nightclubs or multi-location bar/restaurants would find everything they need in Toast or Revel. Somewhere in the middle? Upserve or Lightspeed Restaurant could be good bets. If your bar serves food, you should also check out The Best POS Systems For Restaurants.
When deciding on a bar POS system, it’s important to talk to a representative to find out if they have all the features you need, and what they will cost—often, the “starter” or “core” package does not include more sophisticated features like advanced reporting, the loyalty program, or granular inventory controls. It’s also important to find out upfront things like whether you will be billed annually or monthly, how much all the equipment will cost, and if you will have to enter any kind of service contract. Finally, you should use a free trial of any POS you are considering, or at least schedule a demo so you can see how the system works in action before committing.
If you need any additional help choosing a bar POS system, leave me a comment and I’ll get back to ya!
A Last Look At Our Top Picks
- Lightspeed POS
Summary - Lightspeed Restaurant is an iPad POS that provides a refreshing balance of functionality and affordability. It's not as powerful as an enterprise-level system like Revel or Toast, but at a price point of $69/month, Lightspeed can handle the needs of a small-to-midsize bar/restaurant setup.
- Square For Restaurants POS
Summary - Square For Restaurants is an iPad POS for restaurants and bars. This option is appealing due to its simplicity and low price---only $60/month.
- Toast POS
Summary - Toast is an Android POS that can be used for any restaurant or bar establishment. Toast is a powerful system that can meet the needs of a large bar/restaurant or buzzing nightclub, though it's a little pricier than the previous option, with plans starting at $79/month.
- ShopKeep POS
Summary - ShopKeep is an elegant and easy-to-use iPad POS that can work great for smaller and midsize bars looking to keep things simple and inexpensive. ShopKeep also runs on Clover devices, such as Clover Station and Clover Mini.
- Revel POS
Summary - Revel is a robust iPad POS with a starting price point of $99/month for one register. Though Revel is not built specifically for bars/restaurants, the system highly customizable and feature-rich, to the point that it rivals Toast and any other restaurant-centric POS system.