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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 settled on a name yet. 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 one chance for a first impression so you’ll want to 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.
Yet POS Lavu is downright thoughtful in its design, packed with so many industry-specific features essential to food trucks and large restaurants alike that I was surprised to see that no member of the primary Lavu team had foodservice experience. The software was conceived as a wireless experience and jives with the user-friendly interface of the Apple products 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.
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. Read on to learn more.
POS Lavu has joined the ranks of many other POS systems in that its pricing plans no longer include a separate licensing fee. Instead, all charges are included in a single monthly (or annual) payment:
- Lavu: $69/mo ($59/mo with annual contract). Single location. Additional terminals $59/mo each. Includes 300+ features, free updates, 24/7 customer care, and employee management functionality.
- Enterprise: Call for pricing. Multiple locations. Additional terminals $20/mo each. Includes customer regional reporting, global menu push, and enterprise-level support.
Hardware and Operating System Requirements:
The POS Lavu website is very consistent in the message that they are exclusively a software company. Lavu refers you to its partner, Zephyr Hardware, for any iPads and peripherals you may need.
Based on the hardware available for purchase from Zephyr, these are the brands optimized for POS Lavu:
- Apple AirPort
- Credit Card Readers
- Ingenico (EMV-enabled through Moneris)
- Blue Bamboo
- Cash Drawers
You also have the option to install the Lavu Local Server, which is essentially an in-house server backup if you ever lose your Wireless connection. It is run on an Apple Mac mini, but as I understand it, you can’t just pick up any Mac mini and call someone in to make the installation. You must purchase all the hardware (including the necessary Ethernet cable and recommended backup power source) from Zephyr, and they highly recommend you make an appointment to have them install it for you.
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 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 food service industry and can fill most niches within that industry. They also offer some customization to meet the “special needs” of any establishment. From food trucks to 5-star full-service restaurants to cafes to pizza joints, Lavu is already there in over 80 countries.
Specific Size of Business:
The Lavu software features are fairly extensive, intending to support everything from small coffee shops to large dining establishments. However, the system lacks any kind of mass import feature, meaning that if you are a large establishment with a big menu and a lot of customer data to import, you’re going to spend hundreds of man hours entering it all individually. Also, without any kind of accounting integrations (though QuickBooks Pro is in beta testing) or the ability to create and track purchase orders or store supplier information, mid-sized to larger businesses looking for an all-in-one POS will be disappointed. However, POS Lavu is excellent about issuing software updates regularly so if you’re a small business owner, Lavu will have basically everything you need now and will probably have the features you need as you grow.
Ease of Use:
Lavu POS has a sleek, attractive interface that’s largely user-friendly. The front end POS has all the shiny appeal of a well-made iOS app: it is modern looking, responsive, and fluid in its execution. The iPhone version is a little less appealing since it’s difficult to fit a fully-functioning POS on such a small screen, but they still managed to do a decent job. It’s probably not the format you’d want to work from on a regular basis, but it will function very well as a back-up if an iPad starts malfunctioning.
The backend is accessible via any web browser and is laid out well with persistent menus across the top of the window. Upon first logging into the back-office, POS Lavu’s Guided Setup presents you with an extensive step-by-step guide to get you up to speed quickly. New users will definitely appreciate the setup assistance they get, because one of POS Lavu’s greatest strengths—its extensive and highly customizable support for both forced and optional modifiers—is also its most complicated feature, though not prohibitively so. Forced modifiers are those things that the POS interface will force you to select at the time of order: if you select “French Fries” the app prompts you to select Small or Large. Optional modifiers are similar except that they’re, well, optional (i.e. “add onions”). Again, this is not overly complex, but it is definitely something that requires a little knowledge beforehand.
Though not the most robust cloud-based system I’ve reviewed, POS Lavu still boasts an impressive list of functions and features. Instead of taking the time and space to list them all, however, I’ll focus on the aspects that are unique to Lavu.
- Easy order taking. Alternate between Table (for restaurants), Tab (for bars), and Quick Serve (for fast food and cafes) layouts depending on your service needs. Assign customer receipts and kitchen orders to specific printers. Combine multiple orders while maintaining separate checks.
- Simple table management. Create specific multi-room table layouts with the ability to assign seats and course numbers.
- Advanced 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). Selecting “pizza” as an item opens the creator, where you can select crust type, size, and toppings in one screen.
- Convenient employee management. Employees can clock in and out from the iPad app with unique ID numbers. Calculate employee overtime or double time based on daily, weekly, and holiday hours. Specify minimum access level for each discount type.
- Complete inventory management. Track inventory by individual ingredients or complete dishes. Manage inventory levels from the remote back office or front end register. Create low inventory alerts for when supplies reach per-determined levels.
- Full cash management functions. Track incoming and outgoing cash flow for non-sale items, such as petty cash, paying the band, etc. Credit card tips are automatically tracked and subtracted from the end-of-day till count.
- Multi-location management. Maintain multiple tax profiles, menus, discounts, and inventories per location.
- Gift Cards. Lava has its own gift card program which can be used with or without credit card integration.
Integrations and Add-Ons:
Lavu has developed several add-ons that have different capabilities:
- Lavu Pilot – A free iPhone dashboard app that allows you to monitor basic POS data in real-time. View reports from today, yesterday, 7 days, and 30 days ago.
- Lavu Local Server – This is basically an in-house backup in case you lose your wireless connection to the cloud. Because the LLS connects to your router with an Ethernet cable, you can still operate the POS during an Internet outage; you cannot, however, process credit cards and the system is not designed to handle prolonged usage without a wireless connection.
- KDS Lavu 2.0 – 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. KDS has also recently been updated to allow for greater customization. The date and time label that displays when an order was created and when it was sent to the kitchen can be turned on or off. Additionally, the table number and order timer can be turned on or off. Voiding an order has also been made easier and ingredients are clearly shown on each ticket.
- Lavu ToGo – 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. The customer email is kept on file for promotional purposes, and customer order data is tracked.
- Lavu Delivery – Lavu helps you make deliveries with an add-on that allows you to create orders, assign drivers, mark when a delivery is completed, and track your customer’s information.
- Lavu Routing – To be used in conjunction with Lavu Delivery, Lavu Routing will group two or more orders together and determine the most efficient route to take with turn-by-turn directions.
Additionally, POS Lavu also integrates with some third party apps and services:
- LoyalTree – A mobile customer loyalty app, allowing frequent customers to earn rewards based on the accumulation of points.
- QuickBooks Pro – Though not currently available, Lavu is beta testing an integration with QuickBooks.
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 gateways are BridgePay, Heartland, and Mercury Payments, but you can also use Cayan and USAePay. 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.
Customer Service and 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.
- Phone Support – Phone support is available 24/7 at (855) 528-8457.
- Email Support – Another form of 24/7 support, you can email a representative at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Live Chat – Live chat is accessible from anywhere on the POS Lavu site. If you manage to catch them when there aren’t any support representatives available, you can close out of the chat window and your question will automatically become a support ticket, which will be answered over email.
- Knowledgebase – The POS Lavu support page consists of FAQs, articles on new features, and various troubleshooting and how-to articles. You also have the option to submit a specific request for support from Lavu’s customer service team.
- Community Forum – Lavu also provides a forum for users and support folks to hash things out in the open. Based on the response rate, this is not a good place to go looking for immediate answers to your questions, but it is a great place to get multiple opinions on an issue.
- YouTube – The company’s YouTube channel is well developed with multiple 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.
- Blog – 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.
- Restaurant Resources – Lavu also provides a series of helpful business guides for restaurants, including a guide to EMV preparation and one for creating successful menus.
- Onboarding Help – You also have access to a Lavu Certified Specialist who is not employed by Lavu, but has been trained in helping people set up their businesses. They can go to your specific location, help evaluate your needs, and create a deployment plan specific to your business.
- Social Media – Of course, there are the obligatory Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn presences.
Negative Reviews and Complaints:
From what I’ve seen, most of the issues people have reported—even in the last couple of months—have already been addressed in recent software updates. Kudos to POS Lavu for being on the ball there, but with any system, there’s still some room for improvement.
As extensive as its feature list is, POS Lavu is still missing some functionality that is probably deterring a fair amount of business owners from jumping on the Lavu bandwagon:
- No Mass Import – There is no .cvs import option, meaning that all your inventory and customer data has to be entered manually. For even mid-sized businesses with a decently sized menu and customer database, you’re looking at a huge amount of time spent manually entering each product/customer individually. There is also no exporting it out again once you get the information into the system. But, at least reports can be exported, which is something…I guess.
- No PO Management – There is no way to create or track purchase orders within the POS. You also can’t track supplier information. I know both of these things can be done outside the system, but I’ve seen enough POS software with this feature to know that POS Lavu might lose some customers to the competition over this.
- Can’t Transfer Inventory – Having worked in food service, I know how convenient (and sometimes necessary) it is to be able to run across town and grab some supplies from another store. And it’s nice to have a POS system that makes it easy to transfer inventory from one location to another. Like the PO function, inventory transfer isn’t completely necessary, but the lack might deter some prospective users.
While all of these can be annoyances, they can still be worked around with some diligence and intuitive thinking. However, I also uncovered some pretty consistent reports of system glitches and crashes from Lavu users, which is a much bigger problem. One user writes:
“The biggest issue we have is instability. It seems the servers go down when we have a full house. And when I say go down, I mean down… not able to enter orders, print to the kitchen, print out a check for a table. Fortunately for us, we use Square as a back up for payment or we’d be screwed.”
While this is a definite problem that should be addressed, I’m not too worried about it being a long-term issue. Lavu is excellent about updating their software regularly, and the majority of their client-base seem very happy with the system.
Positive Reviews and Testimonials:
Most people know that customers are more likely to write reviews of their negative experiences than positive ones, which is kind of a bummer for great products. Generally, I have to rummage through several sites to collect a pool of positive comments that establish enough of a pattern that I feel comfortable writing: “Users seem to like this feature…” However, this hasn’t been the case with Lavu. Of all the review sites I checked, customers are overwhelmingly pleased with their POS.
Here are the most common compliments:
- Great For Line Busting – Gone are the days when you have a line of people at the register waiting to pay and leave. Because everything is totaled up in the system and the POS is completely mobile, business owners are saying that service runs much faster and more smoothly.
- Ease of Use – Nearly every review notes how easy POS Lavu is to use and how this has allowed for greater accuracy, less shrinkage, faster service, enhanced customer satisfaction, and a better general experience.
- Great Customer Service – Another consistent plus for many users is the friendly, knowledgeable, and (exceedingly) patient support staff. Even people who have reported unusually long wait times say they’re always happy once someone actually picks up. This is actually fairly rare in the POS industry, and it’s a great sign for the company’s future.
- Frequent Updates – Like I noted above, more than half of the problems people reported with POS Lavu in the last couple months have been quickly addressed by a software update. Every time I contacted support to ask about a feature they don’t have, they immediately offered to make a feature request on my behalf. Though not as rare as great customer service, this is still something you don’t see with every POS system.
All told, POS Lavu is an impressive product with near-comprehensive usefulness. It’s not merely a cash manager—it manages your employees, reports, tables, and more.
Both small to mid-sized businesses will no doubt benefit from Lavu’s many features, which can help improve table turnaround and customer satisfaction. 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.
On the other hand, Lavu has yet to achieve perfection. Though it claims to be scalable to every niche within food service, there are some key features missing that will probably be deal breakers for some mid-sized and most large business owners. POS Lavu still has issues to address, but given the company’s track record thus far on improving their software, these 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, POS Lavu may be just what you’re looking for.