Toast POS Review
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Toast is the brainchild of three former co-workers: Steve Fredette, Aman Narang, and Jonathan Grimm. In 2012 the trio decided to create a point of sale platform that would allow for greater mobility; easier access to data, integrations, and updates; and–most importantly–stellar customer service. Considering Toast was just named the hottest startup at the 2016 NEVY awards, the company seems to be doing quite well for itself.
Toast is perfectly suited for food service industries of every size and type, and comes with an amazing array of built-in features, including an integrated online ordering system, a loyalty rewards program, the ability to generate, accept, and sell gift cards (both digital and physical), and a recently added restaurant inventory management system. Toast itself acts as the client’s payment processor, and unlike many of its iOS-based competitors in the POS world, runs on Android operating systems, making it at once cheaper and more versatile.
The real thing that separates this POS provider from its competition, though, is its extremely unusual dedication to customer support. This is not a company that is going to sell you a product, ship you some hardware, and make a hasty getaway, speeding off to bigger and better things (or bigger and better clients). Toast is there for its customers every step of the way, and for little-to-no additional charge, I might add. We’ll go into that more in the Customer Service and Support section below, but I have no qualms in saying that Toast’s commitment to user satisfaction and practical customer service is unmatched in the industry.
Toast subscriptions (Core Software) begin at $100/month. This includes the entire gamut of POS features, plus mobile POS technology, full-view reporting, customer data tracking, 24/7 support, take out and catering functionality, and unlimited software updates. After that, each additional device you use is $50/month. If you’re running a large-scale full-service restaurant (or a chain) and need more than six terminals, you should contact a Toast rep for information about custom Enterprise pricing. For more information about pricing in general, check out the pricing page on the Toast website.
Add-ons cost extra, of course.
- $25/month for the Loyalty Program
- $50/month for Physical and Digital Gift Cards
- $50/month for Online Ordering
If you’re looking for more, shall we say, flexible payment options, Toast does offer financing programs to qualified applicants. So, in lieu of paying for your hardware upfront, you can pay for the whole package in monthly installments. If you’re interested, contact a rep for more information about financing.
Cloud-Based or Locally-Installed:
Toast is web-based, though the company does create an LAN network for customers; all of the POS data (the menu and other configurations) is downloaded and cached on each connected device. That way, if the internet goes down, all devices can still function normally in offline mode. Printing is communicated via the LAN, and credit cards are encrypted and stored locally until the internet comes back up.
As an “all-in-one restaurant management system,” Toast customizes neatly to full-service restaurants, quick-service restaurants, bakeries, cafes, bars, nightclubs, and pizzerias. Basically, Toast works well anywhere you would serve food and/or alcohol.
Specific Size of Business:
Toast is suitable for small establishments (cafes, bakeries, and the like), but it is fully capable of multi-restaurant management. Data syncs automatically across all locations; the owner of the chain or franchise just needs to use the same username and password.
Ease of Use:
Even if you did not have a Toast representative holding your hand and guiding you through every stage of the software’s implementation and use (and you will–usually whether you like it or not!), this system is easy to learn, for the most part. It’s robust enough to require more than just a cursory 30-60 minute training session, but the touch-screen is intuitive and most of the processes are fairly self-explanatory. Because it is so feature-rich, it does take time to master, but in no way is it difficult or beyond the reach of anyone with average intelligence and basic technological skills. (If you can’t read or use your fingers to push buttons on a screen, you might be in trouble and–I’m just spitballing here–probably shouldn’t be running a restaurant. Everyone else should be okay.)
The following are some of the most user-friendly and efficient components of the Toast POS system:
- Splitting Checks: With Toast, it’s easy to split checks. You can either drag and drop menu items onto separate bills, split the total evenly (into however many checks you want), or divide items according to seat numbers. Similarly, transferring a check to a different table (or to the tablet of a different server) requires just a swipe or two from a manager.
- Simple Voiding: The voiding process is child’s play. Just press a few buttons, whether you’re voiding single items or full orders, and voila, you’re done. Toast also allows you to track all the nitty-gritty details of each void or comp. You can instantly know what happened, who initiated the void, and who ultimately authorized it. Then, if/when a guest calls to dispute a charge, you can simply pull the data from historical transactions to clear up the matter or issue a refund.
- Close Out Day Function: One of the most handy-dandy little features available is the Close Out Day function page–basically an audit report which apprises you quickly of the current status of all checks and employee activity. You don’t have to use it, of course: Toast is designed to automatically close out any paid, but un-closed checks and clock out employees who have forgotten to clock out every night (at 4 am, to be exact), so your manual intervention is not strictly necessary. Nevertheless, you can use the Close Out Day function as a good review tool. And, since Toast will NOT automatically close out unpaid checks, it gives you a good opportunity to see and handle issues before you or your night manager leaves for the evening.
- Creating Service Areas: It is so easy to create custom service areas that my grandmother could do it. And that is saying something, believe me. As you can see below, you can choose from a variety of different table shapes and sizes, and then simply drag and drop them where you want them to go. If you click on any of the placed icons, you can assign it a table number, name, size, width, or height. Any alterations you make to the layout of the service area are instantly saved when you publish the changes and synced to all devices.
Hardware and Operating System Requirements:
Toast offers mobile point of sale tablets, terminals, bar printers, card readers, kitchen display screens, and more. Hardware packages start at $450 for a handheld tablet bundle and $1,350 for a terminal bundle (includes a receipt printer, cash drawer, tablet, stand, case, and credit card reader). Routers and kitchen printers are not sold in packages and must be purchased separately. Click here for a fuller look at the hardware you can purchase through Toast.
- 7″ Samsung Galaxy Tab 4
- 5.5″ OnePlus.
- 10″, 15″, or 22″ Elo Touch I Series
- Epson T20 Thermal Printer
- Epson U220B Kitchen Printer
- Meraki Router
- Open Mesh Access Points
- APG Cash Drawer
- Honeywell 1400G Scanner
- Brecknell 6710u Scale
- Pole Display Pos-X XP-8200
For as simple as it is to use, Toast manages to pack quite a punch when it comes to the sheer number and variety of feature options.
- Ordering: With Toast, your staff can take orders in two different ways, either by using handheld tablets or with counter-top terminals that swivel to become customer facing. Unlike some of the tablets touted by competitors that can only deal with ordering and taking payments, Toast’s handheld tablets are capable of accessing the whole application (including reports). Directly from a tablet, your waitstaff can take orders, send orders and firing instructions to the kitchen, and manage their customers’ tabs and payment options.
- Digital Receipts: Toast gives guests the option to receive receipts as hard paper copies, or via text and/or email. Having the option to send digital receipts is also a sly way for you to build up a guest database; Toast intentionally stores guests’ phone numbers, email addresses, and food and drink order information, allowing you to run targeted marketing campaigns in the future and “cultivate regular customers.”
- Tips: Toast offers customized tip percentage options. When a guest checks out, the system automatically nudges the customer to tip by providing a number of fair tip options (10%, 15%, 20%, and so forth, or whatever tip percentages you want to present – you can put a 50% tip option in there if you really want to test the limits of your customers’ goodwill). This method provides, um, gentle pressure to promote tipping, playing on the natural human instinct to save face when someone else is watching. Personally, I detest being shamed into tipping, but I have to admit that it is an extremely effective way to increase tips for your staff. No one likes looking cheap. Toast also enables you to save time at the end of the day by automatically calculating tips, distributing them, and conducting server payouts. Toast’s newest update also allows for servers to declare negative tips. Another update includes the ability to calculate tip percentages based on multiple sales categories.
- Menu Creation: The POS menu will generally correspond to any physical menus you use in your restaurant, and can be divided just like your normal menu would be, into Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Cocktails, Dessert, etc. Each separate menu in the Toast system can be further broken down into menu groups (in a dinner menu, this might be Appetizers, Salads, Entrees, etc.). Each group then contains the actual menu items (artichoke dip, club sandwich, General Tao’s Chicken, Tutti Fruitti pancakes, or what have you). Items may be further customized with any number of modifiers and sub-modifiers. You can learn more about creating, using, and editing modifiers here, but I will say that Toast’s modifier system is comprehensive and feature-rich enough to be especially useful for pizzerias, sandwich shops, and other restaurants that make food to order on a regular basis.
- Pricing Menu Items: Toast allows you to strategize when costing your menu items and create pricing rules that can be applied to entire groups, different item sizes, and/or to items that need special pricing based on the menu they are located in (for example, if you usually sell an app for $8.00 on your regular dinner menu, you could modify the price to $6.00 when it is ordered off the Bar menu). Group pricing is straightforward; all you need to do is specify a price for all items under a specific menu group. If you use the size pricing option, you can identify multiple size categories and designate prices accordingly, as seen in the example below.
- Restaurant-Based Reporting: Internal reporting is one of Toast’s most compelling offerings, and there are a wide variety of reports available, from simple sales reports to labor reports, product mix reports, tip reports, and more. Reports update in real time and can be accessed anywhere, anytime.The summary report is especially robust, and shows net sales, gratuity, tips, total guests, table turn time, and a breakdown of all service types and payment methods. It is designed to give you a quick, “scannable overview of the sales metrics you really care about, at a high level.” From there, you can drill down into any metric if you want “more detailed insight into sales as they relate to orders, payments, shifts, cash drawers, and house accounts.”
- Customer Data Collection and Customer-Based Reporting: The Toast system has great internal reporting, but it also features an integrated customer relationship management (CRM) system that works to collect customers’ contact information and order history. Using the customer report, you can see which customers have visited your restaurant the most or spent the most amount of money in any time frame you choose. You can then drill down further by selecting individual customers, and view detailed information about the person’s average checks, days since last visit, and most frequently ordered items. Similarly, the gift and rewards reports gives you a bird’s eye view of all active rewards and gift cards, along with information about how the cards were used.
- Labor Management: User-based permissions allow you to control exactly what your employees are seeing and who has access to what. If you want, you can require manager approval for voids and discounts, and even set separate schedules for your kitchen and service staff. In addition, you can customize your Toast account to create different services/roles for your staff and designate specific hours of operation.
- Time Tracking: Time tracking is a feature that few POS companies dare to tackle, but with Toast you can assign each of your employees a unique 4-digit pin number (used to clock-in and to clock-out on the Toast tablets). This is a simple way to track labor, and managers can see a quick overview of everyone who is currently clocked-in and out whenever they need to.
- Inventory Management: Toast recently added an inventory management system. Specifically, this new feature includes inventory control, inventory reporting, a recipe costing tool, a food cost calculator, an inventory variance report, and a menu engineering chart that helps you analyze your best-selling and most profitable menu items.
- Loyalty Programs: For an additional $25/month, you can add a fairly hefty loyalty program to your usual subscription. The Toast loyalty program is great for two reasons: one, it’s fully integrated with the rest of your POS system and any data therein; and two, it is set up so that customers can opt in right at the table or counter. All they have to do is check a box on the tablet screen when they are closing their tab or paying for their food. People will almost always take the path of least resistance, so having an easy, one-click sign up process (on a screen the customer would have to look at anyway) is a no-brainer. Once they’ve signed up, your customers will get a unique code via email, as well as a rewards account number which they can use to check their rewards balance any time they want. As the restaurant owner, you can choose how you want to customize the loyalty program; depending on how your restaurant/menu is set up, you can use a dollar to points exchange, create points milestones, and/or select specific menu items or groups to be reedeemable with loyalty cards. You can actually even set up your rewards program so that customers get signup bonuses “to further incentivize loyalty opt ins.” I’ve mentioned this before in other sections of the review, but the CRM data collected by Toast can also be used for loyalty purposes. When you know what kind of food your guests order, how often they frequent your establishment, and how much money they tend to spend, it’s easy to send custom messages and personalize deals and coupons for each customer.
- Online Ordering: Integrated online ordering is one of Toast’s most popular features. This add-on costs an additional $50/month, but most people agree that it is worth every penny. Toast will help you create a webpage “that customers can access on their computers, tablets, and mobile phones to view your full menu, to purchase gift cards, and to order food online.” If your restaurant already has a website, all you would need to do is add a link that would take visitors to your online ordering page. The best thing about online ordering with Toast is that the whole system is integrated. For example, menu changes made in the POS are instantly reflected online (you can also control which menu groups and specific items are actually available for online ordering). If you want, as soon as your customer places an online order, their ticket can be automatically fired to the kitchen (and routed to specific prep stations). However, you can always require online orders to be approved by a manager first if that fits your restaurant better.
- Delivery: With Toast, you can completely customize your delivery system and sync it nicely with online ordering. It’s possible to set specific delivery zones (see image below), customize your fees based on distance (or percentage of the order total), select which menu items are available for delivery, and designate the times of day when deliveries can be made. It’s also possible to route orders directly to the kitchen, assign orders to specific delivery drivers, and track an order through its entire lifecycle – from the instant it is created to the moment it is delivered to the customer.
- Gift Cards: The ability to create and process digital and physical branded gift cards is another valuable add-on, though it will run you an extra $50/month. Because the gift cards are directly associated with the POS system, it becomes very easy for you to sell, track, and complete transactions using both physical and digital restaurant gift cards. If you opt to use traditional plastic gift cards, “Toast will completely customize, print, and program the cards to integrate with your system.” In order to sell them directly to customers, all your staff has to do is select the gift card option (as they would do with any regular menu item); it must be swiped (like a normal credit card) to activate, and this will also load the card with desired dollar value. Digital gift cards, of course, are a whole lot simpler and only require guests to give you their email or phone number (which is automatically stored in the Toast database) and select the dollar amount they would like to purchase. The digital gift card is then just emailed or texted to the intended recipient, almost immediately. I tried the system out; it literally takes just a few seconds for the recipient to gain access to the gift card. Customers can also purchase digital gift cards online and include a personal message to the recipient. Gift cards purchased online may be emailed or texted immediately, or at some point in the future.
Customer Service and Support:
When the creators of Toast set out to design a POS system, they decided that customer service was paramount. And unlike many of their industry competitors, who give lip service to the importance of customer support but do not back up their claims with any evidence of care or concern for the end user, the people at Toast really care about whether your experience with the software is positive. Okay, that’s a bit of a maudlin sentiment–I actually have no way of knowing whether the Toast crew has any warm fuzzies for their clients. What I do know, however, is that they have taken the time and effort to build customer care features into their business model.
Toast has invested in a level of support I’ve never seen in any other company, from hands-on training material that is available to anyone (even the casual visitor to the Toast website), to personal customization of the software for every customer, to menu configuration and 24/7 technical assistance. And many of these services are free, 100% included in the monthly service fee. Platform configuration and installation are available for a small fee, enough to cover costs for the people providing the services (in fact, Toast loses money by offering installation services). Nothing rubs me the wrong way more than a company that charges extra for technical support. That kind of money-grubbing attitude really steams my bean. So needless to say, I have a soft spot in my heart for companies like Toast, who at least appear to give a hoot.
Toast provides the following tools and services for customer support:
- Platform Configuration: After you pull the trigger and buy a subscription, a Toast expert will start collaborating with you to customize your entire platform (everything from your dining room layout to menu configuration, modifications, and staff permissions). They will also “advise you on ways to optimize your menu and streamline processes at your location.” The Toast representative I spoke with told me that (in most situations) they want to ship the POS already fully configured so that business owners can start using it right away, rather than having it sit in a box gathering dust until someone has the time/energy/expertise to set it up.
- Installation: Toast offers on-site POS installation for every customer. Depending on the size and scale of your restaurant, one or more experts will actually come to your physical location and set up the entire system for you. If you want to set things up yourself, Toast will ship you everything you need with detailed instructions and 24/7 phone support.
- Staff Training: Toast is user-friendly, sure, but it is also multi-faceted and can take time to master. For this reason, after installation, a Toast expert will show up at your restaurant and conduct staff POS training. They literally “won’t leave until you and all of your staff feel comfortable with the system.” According to one sales rep I talked to, the Toast expert(s) may actually stay and guide you through your first business day using the new system.
- 24/7 Support: The monthly fee also includes 24/7 support from a US-based technical support team. You won’t be shuffled off to a call center in India, in other words.
- Support Tickets: Support tickets are easy to create. The Toast website puts it this way: “In a busy restaurant environment, it is not always possible to pick up the phone or sit down at a computer to open a ticket with our Toast Support team. We have created a section of Toast so that a ticket can be submitted quickly without even leaving the app! All you need to do is fill in your email address, the subject of your question/request, and a brief description of the problem. Then you can just return to the Toast main menu and continue working.”
- Training Material: Toast has invested in a huge amount of training material, some of the best I’ve ever seen. There are full programs complete with training videos for staff, managers, and admins. In addition to the video tutorials, there are innovative hands-on training demos, which allow you to push buttons, complete orders, take payments etc., just like you would on a Toast terminal. I’ve never encountered such robust, professional training material on a POS website. Ever. I cannot stress enough that Toast takes customer service and support seriously.
- Knowledgebase: If you don’t get the answers you need from the training material, Toast provides a comprehensive (searchable) knowledgebase with FAQs, troubleshooting tips, and information about anything from menu management to close-out training. It’s not as impressive as the training material (though the bar is set pretty high there), mainly due to the fact that it is littered with typos, syntax errors, and the like. It works, it’s comprehensible, and it’s accurate, as far as I can tell, but it looks for all the world like it was hastily slapped together by someone who was also juggling, studying for the LSAT, and watching Bob Ross paint trees at the same time. However, Toast provides such stellar support tools in other respects that I’m willing…just barely…to forgive a bit of sloppy text. Yes, I know, I’m such a magnanimous person. Please hold your applause until the end of the review.
- Blog: The Toast Blog is actually better than many I’ve seen from POS providers, and contains a lot of good information and helpful articles.
- Social Media Engagement: Toast has a standard Facebook page, as well as aTwitter feed, LinkedIn and Google+ accounts, and, oddly, an Instagram feed.
Compatible Credit Card Processors:
As I’ve mentioned a few times before, secure credit card processing is included in the general Toast package–in fact, it is mandatory. If you want to use Toast as your POS solution, you must use Toast as your payment processor as well. This can be a bit of a problem for some of you, especially if you’re happy with the provider you have now, but Toast does offer to match the rates you’re receiving from your current payment processor. That sounds great–in theory–but appearances can often be deceiving. Here at Merchant Maverick we have reviewed enough payment processors and merchant account providers to have nurtured a healthy suspicion of the
I instinctively recoil from a no-choice system like this; I’m a stubborn American, after all–the surest way to get my dander up is to tell me I don’t have freedom to do what I want! But, even I must admit that integrating payment processing with POS services does manage to neatly cut out the middleman. And it is great for support purposes as well. If something goes pear-shaped, you don’t have to agonize about whether it is the POS or the payment processing that has gone awry, and you only have one number to call for technical assistance.
Toast allows you to accept checks, cash, gift cards and it works with any American-issued (and most non-American-issued) credit and debit cards with a Visa, MasterCard, Discover, or American Express logo. Another perk is that you can set your credit card authorization to always process as if it was offline, so your payments will print a receipt without waiting around for official authorization. This is optional, of course, and slightly risky, but it does tend to increase transaction speeds and get customers through your lines faster.
Integrations and Add-Ons:
Until just recently, Toast concentrated primarily on developing internal features and add-ons instead of external integrations with third party applications. Fortunately, the company has expanded this area as of 2016 and now integrates with the following programs:
Toast also has an open API (which allows you to develop your own integrations).
Negative Reviews and Complaints:
First things first: Toast, Inc. is not listed on the Better Business Bureau website, so I could not look there for information, and I could not find any registered complaints on RipOff Report, Complaints.com, or Complaints Board. The company is too new to have left much of a negative impression on the internet yet. There are a few common gripes I noticed when scanning through customer reviews of the POS, though:
- Overly Simple Interface: I’ll admit that this one throws me for a loop, because Toast is one of the more feature rich POS systems I’ve ever seen, but apparently some users wish that the software was a bit more intricate.
- Payment Processing: Overall, people’s biggest problem with Toast–a problem which I share to some extent–is that payment processing options are…limited. Okay, they’re non-existent. If you use Toast, Toast will be your payment processor, end of story. There are good and bad aspects to this, as discussed in the Payment Processing section above, but suffice it to say that the lack of options gets people’s ire up.
- Customer Service: I found several complaints regarding Toast’s customer service. A few customers stated that their requests for help went unanswered. Other users were frustrated at being directed to Toast’s online knowledge database instead of receiving help from customer service personnel.
- Bugs: There were a couple Toast users who reported issues with bugs in the software. One client has had issues with the system not sending complete tickets to the kitchen and messing up customer orders.
Positive Reviews and Testimonials:
Overall, the public reaction to Toast has been very positive. People seem most stoked about these qualities:
- Android-Based: Not everyone in the world is an Apple aficionado, and many people like the relative freedom and flexibility that come with reliance on Android devices.
- Inexpensive: Toast’s monthly subscription prices are average for the POS market–neither ridiculously spendy or amazingly inexpensive. However, because Toast relies on Android-based devices and hardware, it is overall much cheaper than its iOS competitors, especially when you’re just starting out.
- User-Friendly: In general, most users agree that Toast is user-friendly, easy to learn, and easy to train others on.
- Loyalty Cards: Integrated loyalty cards are a rarity in the POS world, and many restaurateurs use Toast just for this feature.
- Online Ordering: Like integrated loyalty programs, integrated online ordering is rare in restaurant management software–a kind of POS Holy Grail. Toast’s online ordering system is really very good, and it is the exclusive reason that some people use the system at all.
- Excellent Customer Support: I know, we’ve gone over this, but it bears repeating: Toast has the best customer service plan in the industry, period.
One thing I really appreciate about Toast is that it is a full-service point of sale–a true management system for your whole restaurant. There are a few exceptions, of course, a few things Toast does not do well by itself, but in general this POS wears many hats with aplomb. A wide variety of features does not a five-star software make, however, and the primary reason I’ve rated Toast so highly is their extraordinary, above-and-beyond approach to customer service. The best POS system in the world is worse than useless if you don’t know how to use it, or can’t reach technical support when bugs, glitches, and/or inevitable user error start to plague your business. Toast is amazingly feature-rich, and I’m especially impressed with the available add-ons for online ordering and loyalty rewards, but the real value of any software is, and always will be, in the integrity of the company that makes it. And from what I’ve seen, Toast is a company you can trust to be on your side when, y’know, stuff starts to hit the fan.
No point of sale is perfect, of course. If I had my druthers, I’d prefer that customers were given a choice whether to use Toast as their payment processor. This isn’t a deal-breakers, per se, but it is concerning enough for me to recommend at least a bit of caution before diving into a subscription.
Overall, though, I have no qualms in recommending Toast. Because it relies on an Android operating system, this point of sale is going to be cheaper and more versatile than the majority of its competitors in the food-service POS industry.
Are you new to Toast or do you already use this system in your restaurant? Let us know what you think in the comments below!