How to Choose a Restaurant POS System
There are easily more than 70 different POS systems on the market. The numbers continue to grow as more and more iPad-based solutions enter the market. Finding the right POS system for a restaurant can be a daunting task. You want one that is easy to use, that matches your budget, that has good customer support, and that offers features you need for your specific business. Knowing exactly what you need in a system is a great start. It helps you to narrow down the field a bit. Once you’ve narrowed down the options, all that’s left is to test out each restaurant POS system. Think of the process like the process of buying a new car. Narrow it down by make, model, and feature packages before taking it on a test drive. This guide will help you thin out the options and find the best choice for your restaurant.
Table of Contents
Before you get into the research and fall in love with the Lamborghini of restaurant POS systems, it’s best to know what you can afford to spend. This does a couple of things. First of all it helps to narrow the selection pool, and secondly, it keeps you from becoming hypnotized and overspending on the shiniest new toy. As you consider your budget for a POS, keep the following costs in mind: license fees, monthly support fees, and the cost of any hardware bundles you may need to purchase. Below is a breakdown of the average costs.
- Locally-installed restaurant POS software generally has a one-time license fee that ranges between $1,000 and $2,500. Web-based systems don’t usually charge a licensing fee.
The monthly support fees for those same locally-installed systems run from about $25 to $100 per month. Web-based restaurant POS systems charge anywhere from $50 to $200 per month for their service.
- Locally-installed POS systems are your more traditional POS systems. The hardware for those ranges from $2,000 to $4,000. Hardware bundles for web-based systems, on the other hand, cost between $450 and $1,500.
- Do your best to avoid long-term contracts and cancellation fees. Sometimes it’s good to keep your options open.
Web-Based or Locally-Installed
Do you want a system that stores your data and updates on a server in the cloud, or are you the old school type that prefers your data and updates to be housed on a computer on the premises at the restaurant? There are pros and cons to each option. Learn about them here.
You’ve narrowed your options by budgetary requirements and by whether the system server is in the cloud or local. Now it’s time to narrow your choices based on the features each system has to offer. It might help to rank the features on a continuum of “must have” to “would be nice to have but isn’t necessary” to help you determine the best overall system for your needs. The goal is to find a system that includes all of your restaurant POS must-haves.
Use the following checklist to help you determine the features that are most important to you.
- Do you need Quickbooks integration?
- Many of the vendors that we’ve reviewed offer Quickbooks integration, but not all of them offer seamless (real-time) integration. In some cases you’ll have to export and then import some sort of CSV or IIF file.
- Do you need the ability to accept online orders?
- Some POS systems have built-in online ordering functionality, but others offer integration with third-party apps like GrubHub, Eat24, Seamless, etc…
- Do you need the ability to accept online reservations?
- Similar to online ordering, some systems will have this built-in and others will offer integrations with OpenTable.
- Do you need table/floor management functionality?
- This feature is offered in some of the more robust systems. Make sure you inquire about table/floor management if you think it’s a must-have.
- Do you need ingredient level inventory management?
- For example, you have a pizza restaurant that uses different ingredients on each pizza. Do you need the ability to track inventory for each ingredient that goes into the pizza? Some systems offer real-time inventory management that keep count of what you use most and when it’s time to place an order. Some systems even offer features that allow you to send a purchase order from the system.
- Do you have a credit card processor? Do you need one?
- Find out which processors the POS integrates with. This is important because not all POS systems integrate with all credit card processors. If you already have a processor then you’ll need to make sure it will integrate. If it doesn’t, all of your credit card sales will have to be run outside of the POS system. That’s not the most efficient way to turn tables in a restaurant.
- Do you need the ability to accept mobile payments?
- Ask the POS vendor about EMV and NFC compatibility. With all of these new mobile payment wallets like Apple Pay hitting the market, you definitely want the ability to accept those types of payments. Keep in mind that the EMV liability shift goes into effect in the U.S. in October of 2015 and you’ll want to be ready.
- Do you need the ability to accept tips?
- There has been some discussion about whether or not iPad POS systems actually increase tipping.
- Do you need the ability to keep open tabs or split checks?
- Do you need the ability to print to the kitchen?
- Do you need employee time card management?
- Do you need the ability to sell items by weight?
- Are there any other feature requirements that you’d like to add?
- Every business is unique so make sure you reference your list of must-have features that are custom to your personal situation.
Ease of Use
Most restaurant POS systems offer a free trial of the software. Take advantage of that opportunity to see how easy the software is to use. Run it as if it were in a live environment, like a dress rehearsal or a test drive. Include employees who will be using the software in the trial run, too. This will help you see if it’s easy for them to use and understand as well, and it might help you encounter potential problem spots. That’s the purpose of a test drive after all. You want to look into every nook and cranny, to try out all of the features, and run every alternative scenario you can imagine. Be absolutely clear about what you’re getting before you buy it. Leave no question unanswered.
The trial run is also a good time to test out the POS company’s customer support. That’s what your monthly fee covers, so you want to be sure they’re responsive. Do they respond quickly enough to resolve a problem before your business is impacted? Does their website have educational information, feature tips, and troubleshooting guidelines? If they have a forum or helpdesk, is it active? In other words, if you type a questions, will a representative answer promptly? Is the support available during the hours your restaurant is open? For example, if you need assistance after midnight or on the weekends, will someone be available to provide it? Notoriously, that’s when problems tend to occur. Remember that you’re paying for more than just POS software; you’re paying for the help to run that software.
Restaurant POS System User Reviews
Search online blogs, forums, and other social channels for user reviews of any POS vendor. Keep in mind that reviews should be looked at from a big picture perspective. In other words, if you read one negative review in the midst of dozens of positive, helpful reviews, don’t give too much weight to the negative. Look at reviews on public sites with the overall picture in mind. There’s always one bad apple trying to spoil things. That being said, it says a great deal about a company’s customer service if they address those negative reviews aptly.
From our experience, we’ve found the following POS systems to be the most beneficial for restaurants. Visit their websites to learn more specifics about each one. You may find it interesting to note, though, that all of our recommendations are iPad POS systems. This seems to be the technology of the future. Imagine the servers in your restaurant taking orders at the tables on an iPad that sends the order to the kitchen in real time and checking customers out at the table instead of having to walk the credit card to a processor.
- Shopkeep (see our review)
- TouchBistro (see our review)
- Revel (see our review)
- Ambur POS (see our review)
Take the time to do your research before making a decision. You’re off to a good start by reading this post. Hopefully now you know better what to look for in a POS system for your restaurant. The time you spend researching your options is time you will save in the long run, because you’ll have the system and features that best meet your specific needs. If you need a little more help deciding, use our POS software tool, or visit our restaurant pos reviews to find the right POS for your restaurant.