The Best POS Systems For Food Trucks
So you’ve finally financed that food truck you’ve been dreaming about since college, and it’s exactly what you always hoped it would be. You’ve fitted it up with gorgeous new equipment and commissioned a killer custom paint job and a perky little striped awning. You’re on your way to Portland, or New York City (or any location with a sufficient mix of hungry foodies, hipsters, and construction workers), armed with a handful of parking permits and your great-grandmother’s famous tamale recipe. Everything is perfect; with such an arsenal of culinary weapons, there’s no way you can fail, right?
Unfortunately, cooking skill and prime location do not a successful food truck make. Not automatically, at least. True success also requires a fair amount of business acumen. Making money in this industry is just like making money in any other industry – you’ve got to keep careful records, study trends, and spend less than you make. There is a reason why 80% of restaurants fail within five years of opening. Take a look at any one of the current restaurant-related reality TV shows. What do you see? Lots of good people and excellent chefs defaulting on loans, losing their homes and livelihoods because they don’t have a clue how to run a successful business. Depressing, isn’t it? If you want to avoid that fate – if you don’t fancy being screamed at by your CPA or the IRS or (if you’re really unlucky) Gordon Ramsay – then pay careful attention to what I’m about to say: You need a point-of-sale (POS) system.
POS software is critical to the success of any business, but it is absolutely vital to the survival of businesses in the foodservice industry. Don’t kid yourself. Food truck owners are not exempt from the general fate of restauranteurs. Every day you get in that truck and sell your wares you are drowning in shark-filled waters; POS software is your lifeboat. A good point-of-sale system keeps you organized, and can do anything from analyzing data to processing coupons/gift cards, managing payments, and keeping orders straight. Some food truck POS software programs are more robust than others, and choosing the one that’s best for you has a lot to do with the size of your business and your priorities. With so many potential features available (and so many POS companies out there), it’s easy for new food truckers to become confused. Fear not! Once you’re armed with a little knowledge about POS software, you will be able to make the best decision for your business.
Let’s start by taking an in-depth look at three of the most popular and effective food truck POS systems currently available. ShopKeep, Revel, and TouchBistro have all invested time and resources researching the food truck phenomenon, and all three have developed products specially designed for the food truck industry. We’ll also examine Square, a payment processor that is one of the most popular POS alternatives for food truckers.
ShopKeep (see our review) is a favorite here at Merchant Maverick and one of the cheapest options around; for food truckers looking for a full-featured POS system, it’s hard to beat $69/month/register. This price includes 24/7 support and 60 days of personal training from a ShopKeep expert, as well as a free, Free ShopKeep Pocket™ iOS app and access to real-time analytics. The initial cost of buying hardware, of course, is not included in the monthly subscription fee for any POS software, though if you’re starting out from scratch it does pay to purchase a hardware bundle from the vendor (see more tips about choosing hardware here).
ShopKeep does not require internet access to accept transactions, so you can keep going even if you’re parked in the middle of nowhere. Conveniently, reporting (which tracks everything from low inventory to your top-selling menu items to the times of day business is best) is actually cloud-based, which means you can check it anywhere. Considering the typically cramped environment of a food truck, it’s nice to know that you don’t necessarily have to analyze your data there! ShopKeep may be inexpensive, but it has an amazing array of features, including gift card integration, digital and traditional tip options, the ability to print, email, and/or customize receipts, and a large selection of modifiers. Like any good food truck POS, ShopKeep also allows you to change tax rates based on your location.
Inventory management with ShopKeep is particularly good; you can keep track of literally every ingredient in your truck with the raw goods tool. Think about it – street food is usually comprised of many different components. If your great-grandmother’s tamale recipe requires a certain number of tomatoes and chiles, a specific amount of meat, and a carefully calibrated measure of cornmeal, you can track each ‘raw good,’ avoid food waste, and be confident that you always have enough. It’s possible to get a free consultation about using ShopKeep with your food truck business, and you should take advantage of that.
Revel (see our review) is an industry leader, known for its robust, feature-rich software and for developing specific apps for different facets of the foodservice industry, including pizza parlors, grocery stores, fro-yo shops, cafes, and – of course – food trucks. Revel is not the cheapest option available, but considering the number of valuable features offered, most people would agree that the software is priced fairly. All plans include 24/7 live support plus unlimited data storage and security, unlimited software updates, and integration with QuickBooks. Revel doesn’t require you to sign a contract at any time, always a good sign, and they don’t charge cancellation fees, though you must give 30 days notice before discontinuing your subscription.
Like all of the company’s POS apps, the Revel Food Truck POS runs on a 4G iPad, offering greater mobility. Your iPad can stand alone or be supplemented with traditional hardware printers and card swipes. And because social media has become a food trucker’s most valuable tool, Revel’s POS system comes with a built-in Twitter integration so you can tweet your location to your hungry followers and monitor feeds directly from your POS. The software also includes employee management and inventory tracking features, which – if not strictly necessary to run a food truck – provide information and analytics that helps you do business more intelligently. Conveniently, Revel allows you to adjust taxes based on location and generate different tax groups (organized by state/region) and set them up to alter as you travel.
One of Revel’s best characteristics is that it integrates with most hardware brands. You’re not forced into using just one kind of cash drawer or printer, so Revel is a great choice if, like many new food truck owners, you’re relying on used equipment or have cobbled together an assortment of different hardware components. Additionally, it’s possible to integrate directly with third-party add-ons, including mobile payments, online ordering, gift/customer reward cards, and financial software suites. Basically, Revel is flexible enough to be whatever you need it to be.
Like Revel, TouchBistro (see our review) is an iPad-based POS solution, and it has been created specifically with food trucks in mind (as well as bars, restaurants, cafes, and other food service facilities). Currently, TouchBistro is the Apple App Store’s number one grossing food and drink application in over 28 countries, and for good reason. This software is feature-rich, easy-to-use, and ideally designed for owners of food trucks. Plans for TouchBistro start at $69/month for one license and go up to $129/month for two, though it’s highly unlikely that a food truck would need more than two licenses, as TouchBistro allows for an unlimited number of users (unlimited licenses top off at $399/month). All plans come with 24/7 customer support and free product updates.
TouchBistro’s food truck POS system allows you to take payments with cash, as well as debit cards, credit cards, gift cards, and even mobile payment options. Furthermore, TouchBistro is forward-thinking, designed not only to interface with almost all current payment methods, but with any that may be invented in the future. Because it is iPad-based, you can detach your TouchBistro POS from your counter and actually take it with you wherever you go. This is most useful for times when lines are long, and allows you to interact with your customers and take orders in a quicker and more efficient manner. Any data collected by your POS is stored on-location, rather than in the cloud, so TouchBistro can still function without an active wi-fi connection. This means that you can take orders, process payments, and access sales reports and other analytics without an internet connection.
For some people, the complexity of a POS system can be intimidating. Perhaps that is why food truck owners have spent $50 million to date with Square (see our review). Square is a simple mobile payment processing solution which allows you to take orders from customers at your window or in line (or online) using just an iOS or Android device. You just download the Square register app and then you can start to accept payments, figure out taxes and tips, and even gain access to a few real-time analytics. The best part of Square is the price: a $0 monthly fee and just 2.75% for swiped/online/invoice transactions and 3.15% + $0.15 for keyed-in transactions. You do have to pay a little extra if you want a stand for your device, a chip card reader, the ability to create gift cards, and other things along those lines, but the prices are reasonable.
Because Square is so simple – usually installed on a pad or mobile phone – it’s possible (and financially feasible) to get an app for every person who works for you. That way, they can move around freely, interacting with customers, taking orders, and making the wait for food much shorter. As Square puts it, your employees “can each be their own point of sale.” Square works fine without any additional hardware, but if you’d like to accept cash or print receipts, it is a simple matter to just buy a cash drawer or a small printer. Square is not for everyone. It works best for food truckers who are just starting out or who have minimal sales. Large-volume trucks need more robust inventory trackers and might find the Square’s reporting tools a bit insipid.
The food truck industry can be fickle and merciless to newcomers. Give yourself, your family, and your wallet a break, and invest in a good POS system right off the bat. Being able to accurately track information and accept differing forms of payment will give you a leg-up on a huge percentage of the competition. I’ve mentioned four of the best POS systems for food trucks, but there are many more. If you’ve used a great POS or mobile payment processor in your food truck, please tell me all about in the comments section. Now get out there, start cooking, and make some money!