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What Is A KDS & 6 Top KDS Systems In 2023

KDS systems can help your restaurant save money and be more efficient. Keep reading to learn how and about our top recommended KDS system providers.

    Nicolette Kier
  • UPDATED

Advertiser Disclosure: Our unbiased reviews and content are supported in part by affiliate partnerships, and we adhere to strict guidelines to preserve editorial integrity.

KDS systems (kitchen display systems) are digital screens that help restaurants of all sizes manage orders from several sources and eliminate the need for printed kitchen tickets. KDS screens route orders from a POS (point of sale) system to specific kitchen stations, which helps improve restaurant order accuracy, speed, and meal coursing.

The best KDS allows foodservice establishments to manage dine-in, takeout, delivery, and third-party delivery platform orders and improve overall communications between front-of-house and kitchen staff.

We’ve reviewed 12 KDS systems based on price, customization capabilities, and ease of use to help you find the best KDS system for your restaurant.

Learn More About Our Top Picks

CompanySummaryNext StepsSummary
Toast POS

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  • Multiple item firing and fulfillment management options, send order updates to servers and customers, durable KDS and POS hardware
  • $0-$165+/month
  • Standard two-year contract
  • Multiple item firing and fulfillment management options, send order updates to servers and customers, durable KDS and POS hardware
  • $0-$165+/month
  • Standard two-year contract

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TouchBistro

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  • No added monthly software fee for KDS, KDS works offline, multilingual display
  • $69+/month
  • Monthly and custom contract lengths
  • No added monthly software fee for KDS, KDS works offline, multilingual display
  • $69+/month
  • Monthly and custom contract lengths

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Lightspeed Restaurant POS

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  • Excellent delivery platform management, several user interface customizations and filters, SMS order status updates
  • $69+/month
  • Monthly and custom contracts available
  • Excellent delivery platform management, several user interface customizations and filters, SMS order status updates
  • $69+/month
  • Monthly and custom contracts available

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Revel POS Systems

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  • Drive-through equipment integrations, digital menu board integration, order status update screen for customer pickup
  • $198+/month
  • Standard three-year contract
  • Drive-through equipment integrations, digital menu board integration, order status update screen for customer pickup
  • $198+/month
  • Standard three-year contract

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Square For Restaurants POS

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  • Unlimited KDS on an affordable paid plan, easy to use, free online ordering for takeout and delivery
  • $20+/month
  • 30-day free trial
  • Unlimited KDS on an affordable paid plan, easy to use, free online ordering for takeout and delivery
  • $20+/month
  • 30-day free trial

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Fresh KDS

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  • Low-cost KDS integration, SMS order status updates, 86 modifiers without striking through orders
  • $24+/month
  • Monthly and annual contracts available
  • Low-cost KDS integration, SMS order status updates, 86 modifiers without striking through orders
  • $24+/month
  • Monthly and annual contracts available

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Show Fewer Options

Read more below to learn why we chose these options.

What Is A KDS System?

A KDS system (kitchen display system) is software that routes orders from your POS (point of sale) system and online ordering sources to digital display screens set up in your kitchen. These screens are often iPads or restaurant-specific KDS screens from a POS provider. Cooks can view orders and close them out on-screen in real-time, eliminating the need for printed kitchen tickets or verbal instructions.

These are basic features you can expect with a standard KDS:

  • Meal Coursing/Coursing Manager: Group items in a course together to be prepared and sent out at the same time.
  • Meal Pacing: The meal pacing feature allows the KDS to know the cook times of each item; it will alert the correct cook station when that particular item needs to be prepared.
  • Cook Times: A KDS can manage cook times and helps ensure that food is sent out at the optimum temperature and freshness.
  • Recipes/Ingredients: Staff can double-check recipes and preparation procedures and even manage quality control.
  • Routing Capabilities: This feature sends each food item to the correct kitchen station.

Several smaller restaurant businesses can get away with using one or a few iPad-based KDS systems that integrate with their POS system software. Larger businesses should consider getting an iPad or proprietary restaurant-specific KDS system for every restaurant station to make it easier for cooks in different sections to manage their order load.

7 Benefits Of Using A KDS System

A KDS system may be a more expensive upfront or monthly investment that seems unnecessary. However, the many benefits of adding a KDS system to your foodservice business make it a worthy investment. The benefits include the following:

  • Increased Order Accuracy: Increased accuracy reduces the need for comping orders and reduces food waste from incorrect orders, saving you money.
  • Increased Efficiency: Orders are sent directly back to the appropriate kitchen station, so staff can get started immediately. They can also see when a server has updated an order and notify servers when orders are ready to be picked up.
  • Accept Third-Party Platform Orders: Most modern POS systems will integrate with third-party delivery platforms and automatically send orders from these sources directly back to the kitchen.
  • Meal Coursing & Delay Routing: Full-service establishments can use KDS systems to automatically pace item prep. This helps ensure that all items come out at the same time and to the right seat number. Servers can also manually fire orders to KDS screens when needed.
  • Create Custom Order Sources: The best KDS systems allow you to create custom ordering sources, such as curbside and drive-through orders. That way, servers know where to take completed orders without having to ask kitchen staff.
  • Order Fulfillment Insights: KDS systems allow you to monitor how quickly and accurately staff finish and send out orders.
  • Go Paperless: A paperless system costs less in the long run since you don’t have to keep buying rolls of printer paper. Going paperless is also more environmentally friendly and declutters your back-of-house.

6 Best KDS Systems For Small Businesses

The best KDS systems are affordable, easy to use, and customizable. They make it easier for employees to accept orders from multiple sources and get the correct orders out quickly. The best KDS systems include Toast, TouchBistro, Lightspeed, Revel, Square, and Fresh KDS.

1. Toast: Most Customizable KDS For Busy Kitchens

Toast POS


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Pricing

$0-$165 plus custom plan

Online Ordering

Yes

Equipment Cost

$0-$847

Pros

  • Hardware is spill and heat resistant
  • Self-serve kiosk orders accepted
  • Very customizable interface
  • Servers and guests can get alerts when orders are ready

Cons

  • Can get expensive
  • Long-term contract and early termination fee
  • Some users report poor customer service

Toast KDS systems

Why We Chose Toast KDS System For Small Business

We love that Toast provides such durable KDS and POS hardware. Toast’s Android-based proprietary hardware is both spill-proof and heat-resistant, so screens can withstand the heat of a busy kitchen and any potential accidents. While iPads (which are the majority of KDS screens right now) can last, Toast is just about guaranteed to hold up in the long run.

Toast’s accompanying KDS software is also highly customizable, with detailed menu item firing and routing rules, special ticket fulfillment capabilities, and several ways to set up the look of your display screens.

Toast KDS System Pricing

Toast POS Plans Price  When To Use
Starter Kit $0/month You have a small, single-location restaurant with basic feature needs
Point of Sale $69/month You need a full point of sale suite with processing and custom hardware
Essentials $165/month You need advanced features and are looking to bundle with digital ordering
Custom Custom Larger businesses looking to access the entirety of Toast’s features

Toast KDS software costs $25/month and must be added to a POS software plan. If your busy kitchen needs multiple KDS screens, ask Toast for a custom quote to get a lower per-screen rate.

For highly active restaurants, we recommend at least the Standard plan or the Essentials plan. While the Standard plan offers everything you need to run your restaurant on-location, the Essentials plan offers an excellent online ordering suite that syncs nicely with your KDS software.

If you have no upfront funding but want to work with Toast software long-term, consider the Starter plan, which requires no upfront hardware purchases or monthly software fees (but charges way more in payment processing fees).

Alternatively, you can get one of these best small business loans to purchase several POS and KDS systems at once, pay for them over time, and get lower payment processing fees from Toast.

Toast KDS System Features

Toast POS Features Availability
Multi-Store Support
Contactless Payments
Multi-Channel Selling
Gift Cards
Customer Loyalty
Marketing Tools
Online Ordering
Inventory Management
Reporting
Menu Management
Delivery Management
EBT Acceptance
Employee Management
Text Messaging

Busy kitchens will appreciate the different ways items can be configured to show up on KDS screens, the item fire prep time options, and the number of order types KDS screens can receive and manage.

For example, you can route items from certain sections of your menu to different prep stations (great for restaurants with a bar, coffee station, or other special areas), route items to multiple prep stations, and allow stations to fulfill parts of a ticket without causing the entire ticket to disappear from all KDS screens (also called two-level fulfillment).

Two-level fulfillment is useful for restaurants with items that have many components from different kitchen sections, as well as restaurants that have rather large average ticket sizes with varying item types. This feature ensures that items have all necessary components and are correct before leaving the kitchen.

You can set items to fire all at once, fire depending on individual item prep time, set automated firing rules, and choose whether courses are fired by servers, expeditors, or automatically. We especially like that servers can fire and hold items from handheld POS systems. This is great in instances where patrons order an appetizer and entrée at the same time, but you don’t want to start their entrée too early.

Toast KDS system

Toast KDS system order firing configuration and KDS screen display.

Also, Toast allows you to send SMS text notifications to patrons to let them know when their order is ready, which is a highly attractive feature when you’ve got a lot of customers waiting.

The KDS screen can be displayed in English and Spanish, and you can use custom color codes for things such as dine-in versus takeout orders.

Hardware Cost & Options

Toast KDS screens themselves cost around $425 per screen.

Most Toast users get a custom quote for their POS terminal setup.

The company does offer a Starter Kit, which includes one to two POS terminals and is available only for individuals on the Starter and Standard plans.

On the Starter plan, you’ll pay nothing upfront for your countertop and/or mobile POS system but pay higher payment processing fees.

On the Standard plan, you can purchase a Toast Flex countertop POS for $799 or the mobile Toast Go 2 handheld device for $609. Add the Toast Go 2 (or a second Toast Go 2) for $409 plus $50/month.

Payment Processing Costs

You must use Toast’s in-house payment processor, and you’ll get a custom payment processing rate unless you purchase a Starter Kit, which includes one to two POS terminal hardware and fixed payment processing fees.

Fixed payment processing rates for Starter Kit users range from 2.49% plus $0.15 per transaction (Standard plan) to 2.99% plus $0.15 per transaction (Starter plan.) If you add online ordering to the Starter plan, you’ll pay an extra 0.40% per transaction, whether the order is made online or in person.

Contract Requirements/Warnings

You have to sign a contract of one to three years with Toast and agree to use Toast’s in-house payment processor. There are also pretty large early termination fees if you decide to leave this POS provider before your term is up.

Get Started With Toast POS

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2. TouchBistro: Best For Multilingual Kitchens & Food Trucks

TouchBistro


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Pricing

$69/month

Online Ordering

Add-on

Equipment Cost

Call for quote

Pros

  • No added monthly software fee for KDS
  • Course and table information shows up on KDS
  • Custom order firing settings
  • KDS works offline

Cons

  • Early termination fee
  • Some users report poor customer service

TouchBistro KDS system

Why We Chose TouchBistro KDS System For Small Business

We love that TouchBistro has such a user-friendly KDS system that caters to a variety of kitchen staff.

TouchBistro can display several custom language types on KDS screens alongside the English versions of item names and descriptions, show both short names and full item descriptions, and you can connect your iPad devices to external monitors, so kitchen staff have an easier time seeing tickets.

The touch screen is easy to manipulate and staff will have no trouble learning how to use it.

We also like that TouchBistro is the only provider on this list that does not charge an added monthly fee for KDS system software. You can add the TouchBistro KDS app to as many iPad devices as you need.

TouchBistro KDS System Pricing

TouchBistro Plans Price  When To Use
TouchBistro Plan $69/month If you have basic restaurant needs and are interested in purchasing add-ons

TouchBistro KDS software must be used with the provider’s POS software. TouchBistro does not charge any monthly fees to use the KDS app, so you only need to pay for your KDS hardware.

The company also charges for add-ons, such as online ordering ($50/month) and reservations ($229/month.) While TouchBistro add-ons feel a little expensive, they do generate a lot of revenue.

TouchBistro KDS System Features

TouchBistro Features Availability
Multi-Store Support
Contactless Payments
Multi-Channel Selling
Gift Cards Add-on
Customer Loyalty Add-on
Marketing Tools Add-on
Online Ordering Add-on
Inventory Management
Reporting
Menu Management
Delivery Management
EBT Acceptance
Employee Management
Text Messaging

A unique feature of TouchBistro KDS systems is the multilingual mode. If you have a menu that appears in multiple languages or a menu that’s in English but a kitchen staff that speaks several languages, you can easily configure your TouchBistro KDS to show several languages simultaneously. This way, no matter who is working orders, everyone will understand what’s needed from them.

TouchBistro KDS systems

TouchBistro KDS system multilingual ticket mode.

TouchBistro is also special because it has an excellent offline mode. You can accept orders, fire to the KDS, and fulfill orders without the internet, which is excellent for food trucks and restaurants that sell at events.

Kitchen staff will find it easy to navigate TouchBistro’s KDS interface, with a simple ticket scroller to see all orders based on incoming order time, color-coded order urgency, and swipe motions to close out and reopen tickets. If a server voids an item at a POS, it will appear as a voided ticket right next to the order it’s associated with, making it easier to avoid making an item that no one’s planning on eating.

Plus, TouchBistro aggregates all online orders and routes them to the KDS automatically with the name of the order and the ordering platform attached to tickets. This makes it easier to finish online orders quickly, look out for drivers, and pace takeout orders. You also have the option to print out a kitchen ticket to add to the bag.

Hardware Cost & Options

You may source your own iPads as KDS screens and purchase iPad KDS cases from TouchBistro, or purchase iPads from TouchBistro as well. You will get a custom hardware quote depending on the number of POS and KDS devices you need for your business.

Payment Processing Costs

You may use TouchBistro’s in-house payment processor (powered by Chase) or integrate TouchBistro with several third-party payment processors, such as Worldpay and Square, for no additional monthly fee.

You will get a custom payment processing quote based on your business size, history, and average ticket size/transaction volumes.

Contract Requirements/Warnings

TouchBistro offers monthly and annual plans, and you’ll get the best rates if you pay for its services a year in advance. There is, however, an early termination fee, and it can be substantial, so take this into consideration before signup.

If you want to cancel your plan, you must send a written notice to TouchBistro at least 30 days before the end of your subscription term, or you’ll be automatically charged for another term.

Get Started With TouchBistro

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3. Lightspeed Restaurant: Best For Third-Party App Order Management

Lightspeed Restaurant POS


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Pricing

$69-$399/month

Online Ordering

Yes

Equipment Cost

Contact Lightspeed to receive a quote

Pros

  • Excellent third-party app order management
  • SMS order status updates
  • Excellent KDS order filtering
  • Highly customizable KDS view

Cons

  • Early termination fee
  • Add-ons can get expensive

Lightspeed Restaurant KDS system

Why We Chose Lightspeed Restaurant KDS System For Small Business

We love that Lightspeed Restaurant offers such in-depth in-house and third-party delivery platform management, with the ability to automatically accept orders, manually accept orders, see when people are supposed to pick up items or have them delivered, see which online ordering platform an order comes from, an more. Any restaurant that gets a good amount of orders from Uber Eats, DoorDash, Cavier, or any other major third-party app should consider using Lightspeed’s KDS software to manage them all.

Lightspeed Restaurant also has excellent order prioritization settings, ticket filtering capabilities, and allows kitchen staff to click on a ticket item to see a photo and description of the item. Plus, you can choose between using the Lightspeed touchscreen or using a bump bar (or keyboard that you can use as a bump bar) to navigate your KDS screens. This gives your staff a lot of flexibility and order visibility when it comes to working with KDS software.

Lightspeed Restaurant KDS System Pricing

Lightspeed Restaurant POS Plans Price  When To Use
Starter $69/month Single-location restaurants looking to start a loyalty program
Essential $189/month Restaurants with one or more locations looking for online ordering capabilities
Premium $399/month Larger restaurants & hotels looking for custom payment processing rates

Lightspeed Restaurant KDS is a custom-quoted add-on to a Lightspeed POS plan. Third-party ordering platform integrations, and your own in-house delivery solution, are also custom add-ons.

Lightspeed’s Essentials plan includes core restaurant service features, the ability to designate orders as takeout and delivery, a customizable loyalty program, and extensive menu management.

The Plus plan includes your own Lightspeed-powered online ordering platform and multilocation management so that restaurant businesses can expand.

The Pro plan comes with API access, hotel revenue management, and a custom payment processing rate instead of the advertised flat-rate processing that comes with lower-level plans (which will help high-volume restaurants save money on payment processing fees.)

Lightspeed Restaurant KDS System Features

Lightspeed Restaurant POS Features Availability
Multi-Store Support
Contactless Payments
Multi-Channel Selling
Gift Cards
Customer Loyalty
Marketing Tools
Online Ordering
Inventory Management
Reporting
Menu Management
Delivery Management
EBT Acceptance
Employee Management
Text Messaging

Lightspeed’s unique takeout and delivery order management capabilities includes the ability to:

  • Create individual menus and pricing for each individual online ordering platform
  • Show which delivery platform an order comes from on the KDS system and delivery order details, pickup time, and driver name
  • Filter through takeout and delivery orders on the KDS and prioritize by pickup/delivery time
  • Designate a specific KDS screen to focus solely on prepping takeout/delivery orders
  • Manually or automatically accept online orders on the KDS and set up restricted ordering hours

Lightspeed KDS system

Lightspeed KDS system order screen with pickup/delivery order details.

Restaurants that get a good volume of orders from channels such as DoorDash, Grubhub, Uber Eats, and Cavier will benefit greatly from making custom order types and prices for orders to compensate for different delivery platform fees.

With Lightspeed, you can configure custom kitchen profiles with custom screen settings that show a certain number of tickets per screen, certain menu item types, and different order prioritization rules. You can set up KDS screens so that tickets are all the same size in a grid or sized according to how large orders are, with larger orders taking up more space on the screen.

Lightspeed’s KDS prioritization rules are easy to use, with a flag on the top right of each ticket that you can click to prioritize a ticket. You can also click to de-prioritize tickets. Users can also prioritize a ticket by clicking on it to view it in “show and tell” mode, a mode which shows the entire ticket on-screen.

In show and tell mode, users can click on individual ticket items for an item image and component details, as well as pass off tickets to the next prep station.

Hardware Cost & Options

Lightspeed Restaurant has iPad bundles and a wide variety of pieces you can purchase through its website. The website doesn’t list prices, so you’ll need to call the company for a quote.

Lightspeed Restaurant hardware is all iPad-based. Similar to Revel, hardware options may include a countertop POS with a customer display, standalone iPads for tableside ordering, and/or iPad kiosks for self-ordering. Lightspeed’s KDS is also iPad-based.

Payment Processing Costs

Lightspeed has its own processing program, Lightspeed Payments. Its fees are 2.6% + $0.10 for card-present transactions and 2.9% + $0.30 for card-not-present transactions for business owners on the Essentials and Plus plans.

If you sign up for the Pro plan you can get a custom payment processing rate, which should be lower than the rate offered on lower-level plans.

Contract Requirements/Warnings

Lightspeed advertises monthly pricing but you will fill out an order form to get your exact subscription price, terms, and length. The company will most likely offer a better per-month price if you sign on for a longer term.

However, Lightspeed does charge an early termination fee if you decide to cancel your subscription early, and hardware return windows are short, so take this into consideration when you’re deciding how long you should sign on for.

Get Started With Lightspeed Restaurant POS

Read our in-depth review

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4. Revel: Best For Drive-Through & Takeout Order Fulfillment

Revel POS Systems


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Pricing

$99/month

Contract

Three-year commitment for lowest rate

Equipment Cost

$20-$1,500

Pros

  • Drive-through equipment and software integrations
  • Several KDS layouts and custom color coding
  • Prioritize by item and/or order type
  • Order up screen for takeout/pickup orders

Cons

  • Long-term contract and early termination fee
  • Expensive for smaller establishments

Revel KDS system

Why We Chose Revel KDS System For Small Business

First and foremost, we appreciate that Revel Systems offers so many built-in software customizations and works with lots of companies to provide the unique hardware integrations that drive-throughs need to function well. Revel also works with digital menu boards and takeout display screens, making Revel an excellent choice for places like bubble tea shops and other takeout focused establishments.

We also like that Revel allows you to completely customize ordering types to even include scheduled orders as well as catering orders paid on a house account or invoice. Scheduled orders show up as far in advance as you decide on, which helps staff keep production amounts in mind throughout the day.

All in all, we believe that Revel is the great option for a KDS that is flexible enough to be built almost from scratch to focus on the very specific needs of each establishment.

Revel KDS System Pricing

Revel POS Systems Plans Price  When To Use
Revel plan $99/month with three-year commitment Use if you are committed to the product and have a need for high-end features.

Revel KDS is a custom-quoted add-on to Revel’s POS software. Revel’s advertised POS plan requires a two-terminal minimum, three-year contract requirement, and Revel’s in-house payment processor.

However, since most Revel users will want add-ons like online ordering, delivery management, and KDS software, you’ll get a custom quote from a Revel representative.

There is also a one-time installation fee that costs $674. This covers a custom software setup and hardware installation at your location(s).

Revel POS KDS System Features

Revel POS Systems Features Availability
Multi-Store Support
Contactless Payments
Multi-Channel Selling
Gift Cards
Customer Loyalty
Marketing Tools
Online Ordering
Inventory Management
Reporting
Menu Management
Delivery Management
EBT Acceptance
Employee Management
Text Messaging

Revel’s greatest draw is its customer order status display screen, digital menu board compatibility, and drive-through hardware integrations (which also makes Revel one of the best drive-through POS systems on the market.)

As kitchen staff update order statuses, synced customer display screens also update to let customers know that their order is being worked on and when it’s ready. This customer-facing order status display screen is completely customizable in terms of branding, what kind of information is displayed on the screen, and what ordering types show up on-screen.

While the order status screen is best for heavily takeout-focused restaurants, full-service restaurants can set only takeout orders to show up on screens placed near the front of your establishment. This will give customers a pickup place to wait as well as up-to-date information on their order status without having to ask hosts, servers, or any other front of house employee.

Revel KDS systems

Revel customer-facing order status screen.

Revel offers these unique pickup/drive-through ordering features:

  • Expeditor KDS screen that displays only drive-through orders for drive-through staff to check off orders before passing them off
  • Show scheduled pickup orders as far in advance as you see fit
  • Send order-ahead customers to drive-through windows or parking spaces for order pickup
  • Dedicated drive-through order queue that shows customer names, car models, and updates order statuses as kitchen staff update tickets
  • Integration with Delphi Display Systems, which offers drive-through headsets, speakers, order timers, digital menu boards, and more
  • Offline mode so that you’ll receive orders from outside your WiFi range

Your digital menu boards will automatically update depending on the time of day, whether you create limited-time combo deals, and whenever you add or remove items from your drive-through/takeout menus.

Hardware Cost & Options

All of Revel’s software can be run on iPads, but you may connect your KDS and an order status customer display screen (see example above) to Apple or Android TVs to give both kitchen staff and customers a better view.

You may contact Revel to purchase your POS and KDS hardware, or you may source hardware yourself with written permission from Revel. This requirement is in place to make sure your hardware choices are compatible with Revel software before making any purchases.

Payment Processing Costs

Revel offers its own in-house payment processing system, Revel Advantage. You will have to contact Revel for a custom payment processing quote based on your business’s sales volume, average ticket size, and time in business, among other factors.

You also have the choice to integrate your POS with third-party payment processors, such as Adyen or FreedomPay. You may face an extra monthly fee if you choose a third-party provider over Revel Advantage.

Contract Requirements/Warnings

You need to sign up for a three-year deal and agree to use Revel Advantage to get its best rates, but this isn’t a requirement to use Revel’s services.

There is a substantial early termination fee, so consider negotiating a short-term plan over a longer contract until you’re sure Revel is the right POS for your business.

Get Started With Revel POS Systems

Read our in-depth review

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5. Square: Best For Small Restaurants On A Budget

Square For Restaurants POS


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Pricing

$0-$60/month/location + custom option

Online Ordering

Yes

Equipment Cost

$0-$799

Get a free card swiper from Square at no cost when you create a free account. Claim your card reader.

Pros

  • Unlimited KDS on paid plan
  • SMS order updates
  • 86 items from KDS and expo station
  • Integrations with all popular third-party delivery platforms

Cons

  • No perishable inventory management
  • Not as customizable as other systems

square KDS system

Why We Chose Square KDS System For Small Business

We are huge fans of Square’s very affordable KDS and POS software and the fact that you can use Square KDS on just about any iPad or Android device. Square has the most affordable KDS software out of any provider on this list, making it the best option for smaller establishments on a budget.

You may route in-person, third-party platform orders, and orders from your own free online ordering website to your KDS screens. Square is easy to set up and use for all kitchen staff and includes a highlighted modifier feature to ensure that no modifiers are missed (and no food is wasted, which is very important for restaurants that don’t have a lot of expendable funding.

Square KDS System Pricing

Square For Restaurants POS Plans Price  When To Use
Free $0/month Use if you need the basics in restaurant POS software plus simple processing
Plus $60/month/location Use if you need advanced inventory and 24/7 customer service
Premium Custom Use if you process more than $250,000 a year

Kitchen displays used with the free plan cost $20/device/month.

The paid Plus plan includes unlimited KDS systems.

Square KDS System Features

Square For Restaurants POS Features Availability
Multi-Store Support
Contactless Payments
Multi-Channel Selling
Gift Cards
Customer Loyalty Add-on
Marketing Tools Add-on
Online Ordering
Inventory Management
Reporting
Menu Management
Delivery Management
EBT Acceptance
Employee Management
Text Messaging

Square’s KDS software has pre-designed kitchen and expo screens to help restaurant owners get set up with minimal amounts of effort. Kitchen staff can mark off individual items on a ticket as complete, while expeditors mark entire tickets as complete before they move into the completed tickets tab.

KDS screens can receive orders from several sources, including self-serve QR code orders. Using QR codes as a self-serve ordering kiosk is a low-cost way for restaurants to offer self-ordering, which reduces wait times and can be a lifesaver when you’re short staffed.

Square KDS systems

Square KDS screen self-serve order ticket.

Customers who purchase using your online ordering page or self-serve QR codes will get order updates when their orders have been accepted and when they are finished. SMS updates is a feature that often costs extra among KDS providers.

Square’s most unique KDS feature is the ability to mark items as sold out (86ing) from both prep and expo stations. As soon as a menu item runs out, servers will be unable to choose that item on the POS and online order platforms will not show those items as available. Never again will you promise an item that’s not in stock.

Kitchen staff will also take note of modifiers and special requests since Square has added a modifier highlighter, which shows modifiers in bold red blocks. You can customize order prioritization settings by changing the amount of time before a ticket header turns from green to yellow to red. Staff can bump and un-bump a ticket on the touchscreen or using a bump bar. Paying close attention to customers’ orders and wait times will help new restaurant owners build a good reputation and loyal customer base.

Hardware Cost & Options

Square KDS is technically a self-contained KDS software, so you don’t actually need to use Square POS software with Square KDS systems. At the same time, Square POS is an excellent point of sale systems for small restaurants and eateries, and naturally works well with Square KDS, so we recommend pairing the two.

You can use the Square POS app on most phones and iPads/tablets. Kitchen displays will require an iPad or Android device.

To take payments, you’ll need at least a Square Card Reader, which costs $49. This will allow you to take chip and tap card payments, mobile wallet payments, and digital payment apps, such as Apple Pay and Google Pay.

Countertop POS options include the all-in-one Square Register with customer-facing display (starting at $799) and Square Stand for iPad (starting at $149, not including iPad).

As for mobile options, which are great for taking orders at sit-down restaurants, the handheld Square Terminal costs $299, while the restaurant-specific Square Restaurant Mobile Kit costs $249.

Read our guide to Square POS hardware to figure out exactly what you need for your restaurant.

Payment Processing Costs

Square for Restaurants has payment processing rates of 2.6% plus $0.10 per card-present transaction, while card-not-present transactions (online orders, QR code payments) are charged at 2.9% plus $0.30 per transaction.

Contract Requirements/Warnings

Square has incredibly transparent monthly subscriptions with no early termination fees. The company’s hardware warranty covers Square hardware from the company website and third-party companies.

Get Started With Square For Restaurants POS

Read our in-depth review

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6. Fresh KDS: Best Low-Cost KDS Software Integration

Fresh KDS


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Pros

  • More affordable than many KDS software
  • Integrates with a lot of restaurant POS systems
  • SMS order updates
  • 86 modifiers without losing orders

Cons

  • Doesn’t integrate with all POS systems

Fresh KDS kitchen display systems

Why We Chose Fresh KDS System For Small Business

We like that Fresh KDS is an affordable standalone KDS system that integrates with several popular restaurant POS systems. This system’s interface is straightforward, easy to use and customize, and accepts several order types from your POS system. It can also be a viable option for delivery-only foodservice businesses that never plan to take in-person payments.

Fresh KDS System Pricing

Fresh KDS offers two subscription plans. The Basic plan costs $24/month for one device software license ($19/month with annual billing) and an added $5/month for each device up to 10 screens.

The Advanced plan, which includes the core KDS software plus SMS text updates and an order tracker screen costs $44/month for one device ($35/month with annual billing) and an added $5/month for each additional one (up to 10 screens.)

Fresh KDS System Features

Fresh KDS system’s biggest draw is the fact that it integrates with POS systems like Square, Clover, Lightspeed, and Poynt. You can also create integration tokens to build your own connection with your current POS. If you don’t want to use a built-in KDS system included with a POS system, you can use Fresh KDS.

One of Fresh KDS’s best features is the ability for kitchen staff to strike item modifiers from tickets without striking through an entire item. This allows kitchen staff to fulfill parts of orders and lets servers know that they should go notify a customer then ask for a replacement modifier.

Fresh KDS kitchen display system

Fresh KDS system strike though modifier on KDS screen.

Customers who get SMS updates from Fresh KDS will also get a link to click when they’ve arrived to pick up their order. Once a customer clicks the link, Fresh KDS will play a distinct sound to alert servers that they’ve arrived to pick up their order. This will keep customers from waiting to be noticed and help speed up kitchen staff if a customer arrives earlier than expected.

You can also change ticket color transition times (from green to yellow to red for visual prioritization) for different order types, which allows you to give kitchen staff more time to prepare takeout and/or delivery orders.

Hardware Cost & Options

Since Fresh KDS is just software, you’ll source your KDS screen hardware yourself. You can use iPads, Android tablets, or touchscreen monitors (Kitchen Armor ones are recommended by Fresh KDS and retail at around $850.)

Payment Processing Costs

Since Fresh KDS is specifically KDS software and you don’t use it to take payments, your payment processing fees will come with the POS system you decide to integrate with Fresh KDS.

Contract Requirements/Warnings

Fresh KDS offers monthly and annual plans with no early cancellation fees. You won’t get a refund if you cancel a yearly plan early, though.

If you want to cancel your Fresh KDS subscription, you can do it in your own account settings with no issues.

You get a 7-day free trial with Fresh KDS, no credit card required. We suggest you take advantage of trials like these to really test out what the system is capable of.

Get Started With Fresh KDS

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Our Methodology For Choosing The Best KDS Systems For Restaurant Owners

To choose the best KDS systems, we reviewed 12 popular and newer KDS systems based on pricing, order management capabilities, third-party software and hardware integrations, and customization features.

We looked for systems that allow you to send customers SMS order updates, accept orders from third-party order platforms, customize your KDS interface, and 86 items to inform servers and customers when a substitute is necessary. We considered user friendliness, recent unincentivized customer reviews, as well as ideal restaurant size for each KDS system in our evaluation.

Since the majority of KDS systems on this list are an extension of a POS system, we also considered how well each KDS system worked within the larger framework of its connected POS software.

Which KDS System Is Right For Your Business?

While KDS systems may not be a restaurant owner’s top priority when they’re starting out, they are valuable assets to any foodservice business. KDS software will help your restaurant improve order accuracy, speed, and customer satisfaction. You’ll reduce food waste and lost profits by getting orders right every time.

Read our post on the best restaurant POS systems and take all these KDS system options into consideration when choosing the restaurant POS and KDS software that’s right for your business.

FAQs: KDS Systems

What is a KDS system?

A KDS system (kitchen display system) is software that takes orders from POS systems, online orders, third-party ordering platforms, and any other ordering channel, and displays those orders on screens for kitchen staff.

KDS systems replace printed kitchen tickets so orders are more accurate, more efficient, and will help food business owners save money in the long run.

How much does a KDS system cost per month?

A KDS system costs at least $19/month, with Square and Fresh KDS having the cheapest KDS systems.

More expensive, customizable KDS systems from providers like TouchBistro and Revel POS are custom-quoted and you’ll usually get a lower price per KDS if you purchase multiple KDS software licenses at once.

How do you use a KDS system?

To use a KDS system, first purchase your KDS hardware (usually an iPad or proprietary KDS hardware). Then, connect it to any POS systems and online ordering platforms you receive orders from.

Depending on your KDS system, you’ll have extensive customization capabilities, such as choosing your KDS system layout and routing different parts of orders to different KDS screens for cooks at different stations.

Finally, test your KDS by sending test orders. This step is important because if there’s something you’re missing, you will end up with dissatisfied customers.

Does Square offer a KDS?

Square offers unlimited KDS systems for no added cost on the $60/location/month Square For Restaurants Plus plan. On the free plan, Square KDS screens cost $20/device/month.

Read our Square KDS review here.

How much does the Toast KDS cost?

Toast KDS software has a starting price of $25/month, but you must buy it as an add-on to a Toast POS system, which costs $0-$165+/month to start with. Toast KDS hardware costs around $425 per screen.

You’ll usually get a lower price per system when you purchase several KDS systems at once.

Does Clover have a KDS system?

Clover does not have its own built-in KDS system. There are, however, several KDS system apps on the Clover app market.

In Summary: 6 Best KDS Systems For Small Businesses

  1. Toast POS:
    • Multiple item firing and fulfillment management options, send order updates to servers and customers, durable KDS and POS hardware
    • $0-$165+/month
    • Standard two-year contract
  2. TouchBistro:
    • No added monthly software fee for KDS, KDS works offline, multilingual display
    • $69+/month
    • Monthly and custom contract lengths
  3. Lightspeed Restaurant POS:
    • Excellent delivery platform management, several user interface customizations and filters, SMS order status updates
    • $69+/month
    • Monthly and custom contracts available
  4. Revel POS Systems:
    • Drive-through equipment integrations, digital menu board integration, order status update screen for customer pickup
    • $198+/month
    • Standard three-year contract
  5. Square For Restaurants POS:
    • Unlimited KDS on an affordable paid plan, easy to use, free online ordering for takeout and delivery
    • $20+/month
    • 30-day free trial
  6. Fresh KDS:
    • Low-cost KDS integration, SMS order status updates, 86 modifiers without striking through orders
    • $24+/month
    • Monthly and annual contracts available
Nicolette Kier

Nicolette Kier

Senior Staff Writer
Nicolette began writing on small business topics in 2020. After hundreds of hours researching, testing, and assisting small business owners with web building and point of sale software, she is now an expert on all things eCommerce and point of sale. She has a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Pittsburgh and resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Nicolette Kier
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