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What Is A Kitchen Display System & Do You Need One For Your Restaurant?

    Matt Sherman

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

In this day and age, keeping up with society’s constantly changing slang can feel like a bit of a chore. For restaurateurs who want to maintain a competitive edge, there is an additional need to stay on top of new food-service-related tech terms and acronyms. If you’ve heard the term “KDS” floating around the industry and have found yourself at a bit of a loss, you’ve come to the right article!

Short for “Kitchen Display Systems,” these digital screens replace the need for receipt printers or handwritten orders (although some point of sale systems do still require a traditional thermal printer be used in conjunction with their KDS screens). But is this something your restaurant needs? Is the potential uptick in efficiency worth an added cost for hardware? Let’s first give a little background as to what exactly a KDS is and how it can help your restaurant.

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CompanySummaryNext StepsSummary
Toast POS

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Best for restaurants that want to take advantage of mobile and online ordering.
Best for restaurants that want to take advantage of mobile and online ordering.

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Upserve POS

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Best for restaurants that want a customizable and intuitive interface.
Best for restaurants that want a customizable and intuitive interface.

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Best for restaurants looking for an affordable and feature-rich KDS.
Best for restaurants looking for an affordable and feature-rich KDS.

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Read more below to learn why we chose these options.

How Does A Kitchen Display System Work?

It’s amazing just how fast technology can change and transform an entire industry. It was not that long ago that the thought of sending orders directly from terminals in the front of the house to thermal printers in the back of the house would have been mind-blowing. This advancement has been a major improvement for many kitchens, especially when it comes to efficiency. Today, there is no longer a need for chefs and waitstaff to yell orders back and forth or for handwritten orders to be magnetically clipped to dirty revolving wheels. And while traditional kitchen printer systems are not going to be driven from the restaurant industry anytime soon, they are being enhanced and outshone by their much sleeker competition.

While once this technology may have seemed unattainable for the masses, the advent of cloud-based point of sale and subsequent mass production of tablets and iPads have opened the KDS door for mom and pop operations around the world. Kitchen Display Systems digitalize the order-making process for those in the kitchen. Instead of taking the form of paper tickets or verbal instructions, all orders are sent directly from the POS system to the digital screen in the kitchen.

There are many Kitchen Display Systems on the market today. Here are some basic features you would expect to see 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, preparation procedures, and even manage quality control.
  • Routing Capabilities: This feature sends each food item to the correct kitchen station.

Can You Run A Kitchen Display System From An iPad?

So many businesses these days rely heavily on iPads or similar tablets. But is this a viable solution for your kitchen display needs? The annoying answer is: it depends. For smaller kitchens with perhaps only a few cooks, an iPad is likely going to suit your needs just fine. While the screen size may not be ideal, your employees should be able to easily track orders coming in. And with an iPad stand, the device will be sturdy enough to withstand some normal kitchen jostling. However, once you graduate into a larger kitchen with more bodies and rapid-fire orders coming in, not to mention a more chaotic kitchen, you’ll likely want or need something larger and sturdier. Multiple cooks needing to check out orders will struggle with a single iPad and its screen can be easily smudged or cracked with heavy use.

7 Benefits To Using A Digital Kitchen Display

  • Environmentally Friendly
    • Reduce paper and printer related waste
  • Increased Efficiency
    • Orders are sent immediately to the kitchen display screen
    • Orders are sent from tablets or terminals and help reduce human error
    • Mistakes made while taking orders can be quickly corrected in the POS system and will automatically update on the KDS screen
    • KDS screens can be set up at each individual station
    • When orders are completed in the kitchen, waitstaff receive notifications to come pick up orders and take them out to diners
    • If a KDS has a grid option, kitchens can keep track of upcoming orders
  • BOH Aesthetics
    • Staff will appreciate the sleek modern look of a KDS system
    • Reduce the clutter of paper tickets
  • Order Tracking
    • Track how long orders take to get out of the kitchen
    • Many KDS systems offer color-coded ticket options for orders like the following:
      • Late Orders
      • Online Orders
      • Deliveries
      • Voided Orders
      • Paid Orders
  • Reduce Cost
  • Insight  Reporting
    • Track how long it takes any given employee to complete orders
    • Track average order fulfillment times
    • Track the efficiency of shifts and staff
  • Integrated Online Ordering
    • Online orders automatically appear on the KDS screen and don’t require staff members to re-enter them into the POS system
    • Some systems offer an option that requires a manager to approve all online or cash only orders before they are sent to the kitchen

Note: This non-exhaustive list of benefits may not apply to each and every POS system offering KDS features. Make sure you do your homework before signing any dotted lines.

The Best Kitchen Display System Options For Small Businesses

If you’ve decided that a kitchen display system is the right choice for your restaurant, choosing a POS with an excellent KDS is probably going to be high on your priority list. Here are a few companies that excel in that category.

1. Toast

Toast POS

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By now, you might know how much we love Toast for restaurants. The company has very few weak spots and some of the best customer service in the industry, so it’s no surprise that it also provides an excellent KDS solution called Toast Flex for Kitchen. This system is rated highly for temperature and durability and can accommodate multiple screen sizes.

Toast Flex for Kitchen also integrates seamlessly with Toast Go, convenient mobile ordering hardware allowing for orders to be sent directly from servers to the kitchen as they punch them in tableside. Toast’s KDS also integrates with online ordering if that is something your restaurant offers or is looking to offer in the near future. The system has an intuitive routing system for orders and runs reports to check on productivity in the kitchen.

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2. Upserve

Upserve POS

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Upserve is another POS company that handles the restaurant industry extremely well with a user-friendly and intuitive interface and robust reporting. As for its KDS, Upserve allows up to nine screens in a kitchen, giving it the ability to handle large-scale operations. Upserve partners with Epson for its KDS hardware to provide a sturdy solution and includes a convenient “bump bar” for easy navigation.

Up to 10 orders at a time can be seen on Upserve’s default screen and the interface is highly customizable, featuring color-coding and other screen options that can be changed to suit your employees’ or your kitchen’s needs. Upserve also has the ability to run on an iPad and, like Toast, integrates with its tableside ordering system and with digital ordering.

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3. TouchBistro


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Save up to $2000 off restaurant tech bundles from TouchBistro from now until December 31st. Learn More

TouchBistro is another favorite company of ours, specializing in the restaurant industry. It’s one of the more affordable options for small restaurants in particular and has a deep offering of features. TouchBistro’s KDS offering checks all of the boxes. You can easily track cooking times and view a ticket history from the front screen.

The TouchBistro KDS system is also highly customizable, even allowing you to change the size of the displays depending on how large an order may be. You can fly through the interface with quick swipes and allow your cooks and servers to prioritize individual tickets. TouchBistro’s KDS runs on iPads and also pairs seamlessly with a variety of kitchen printers.

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Is It Time To Invest In A KDS System For Your Restaurant?

Just last year, an industry report found that 73% of restaurants updated their technology in 2016. While a KDS system may not sound like a significant piece of technology, it has the ability to modernize your kitchen and raise your restaurant’s efficiency level. If you’re just starting out or operating on very slim profit margins, the thought of adding new hardware might seem daunting. However, many POS companies may offer discounts on systems in hardware bundles. (Also, hardware used to benefit your company can usually be written off on taxes.) If you’re short on cash but really feel like a KDS could give your restaurant a boost, you can always look into financing options.

With more and more cloud and tablet-based POS systems offering KDS, it is easier than ever for anyone to take advantage of these features. Start with just a basic iPad and then upgrade to multiple screens if your business expands.

In Summary: The Best Kitchen Display System Options For Small Businesses

  1. Toast POS: Best for restaurants that want to take advantage of mobile and online ordering.
  2. Upserve POS: Best for restaurants that want a customizable and intuitive interface.
  3. TouchBistro: Best for restaurants looking for an affordable and feature-rich KDS.
Matt Sherman

Matt Sherman

Expert Analyst & Reviewer at Merchant Maverick
A former sports editor and journalist, Matt Sherman has been writing about and researching small business software since 2015, with a special emphasis on retail and restaurant sales. Matt's expert opinions are cited in various industry publications, including Fox Business. He is a graduate of the University of Oregon.
Matt Sherman
View Matt Sherman's professional experience on LinkedIn.

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Merchant Maverick’s ratings are editorial in nature, and are not aggregated from user reviews. Each staff reviewer at Merchant Maverick is a subject matter expert with experience researching, testing, and evaluating small business software and services. The rating of this company or service is based on the author’s expert opinion and analysis of the product, and assessed and seconded by another subject matter expert on staff before publication. Merchant Maverick’s ratings are not influenced by affiliate partnerships.

Our unbiased reviews and content are supported in part by affiliate partnerships, and we adhere to strict guidelines to preserve editorial integrity. The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone.

Easy-To-Use POS For Full-Service Restaurants Sleek & intuitive system that is popular in the restaurant industry. Run your entire restaurant on an iPad, including reservation management. Learn More Starting at $69/month

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