Tips on Buying a Point-of-Sale System for Restaurants

That cash register may make a satisfying clink each time it opens, but you’ll get more satisfaction — and business value — out of a modern point-of-sale (POS) system.

The Benefits of Moving to POS is a general discussion of the value of a computerized transactions system. We cover the various parts of a system in Understanding POS Components. But the hospitality business — restaurants, bars and hotels — has different needs from retail operations, so it’s important to buy software that supports the way you do business.

In a busy restaurant, the menu planning software is an asset frequently overlooked by a busy kitchen. Yet menu planning is one of the major cost-saving components in a restaurant.

The software gives the chef, owner, or kitchen manager the ability to price out entrees, desserts, appetizers, and other dining offerings. By entering product cost data and following the steps to equate the various portion sizes, many food-costing programs will calculate how much each ingredient costs in any given dish.

Once the total is established, the menu item’s recipe can be adjusted to meet a price point or improve markup. As ingredient costs fluctuate, the menu software will calculate the difference in price if the portion stays the same.

Operational Insight

One problem all restaurants face is a dearth of information. That’s where a modern POS system, replacing a cash register or other primitive device, can make such a difference. You can track sales by various categories, your chef can plan meals and do helpful cost analysis to figure out what is actually making you money. It can even help you make better staffing decisions.

There are two main areas of difference between retail and restaurant POS:

  1. The software is definitely different. This makes sense, because the nature of the transactions is different: In a restaurant, when you open an order, it stays open until each party is finished with its meals and drinks. Moreover, the components you’re selling are different. Instead of packaged goods, it’s meals made up of standard measures of ingredients. The inevitable customization — “Can you leave out the mayonnaise and put on extra ketchup?” — makes inventory tracking interesting.
  2. Some of the hardware and peripherals are different too. You’re still using computerized POS client systems at the door to take customer payments, but you will benefit greatly by adding a network link between your wait staff taking orders and your kitchen, so that the orders are sent electronically to the kitchen. There, they can be displayed on monitors for a fast-food operation, or printed out for the chefs. This means your wait staff will either have to be equipped with wireless handheld order-taking devices that send the order back to the kitchen instantly (cool!), or the wait staff will have to go back and enter the order on an order-station computer that captures the info and prints out a copy of the order back in the kitchen.

POS Tips for the Restaurateur

Don’t overbuy. Some vendors will try to sell you everything on their list, all at once, but if you’re just getting started, you don’t need all that right off the bat. Instead, just get the base system and then add as you expand, and as your needs and usage change.

Fortunately, the restaurant software, which is the critical item, generally will run on any regular PC, though some providers will try to sell you custom hardware and special peripherals at a premium. If you buy the computers from them, don’t overpay. They’re simply standard PCs.

Talk to colleagues, if you can, to decide which software programs you want to start with. In addition to the software that runs on the point-of-sale terminal at the front, there’s software to run in the back office, including cost control, payroll, and accounting software that can be important.

Make sure data entry is easy. It’s Friday night. Full house. The kitchen runs out of New York Strip steak in the middle of the diner rush. The chef can substitute Rib Eye but the price is $3.55 more per plate. Depending on how difficult it is to enter the data into your POS system will make the difference whether the manager 86’s steak altogether, replaces the New York Strip with the Rib-Eye with ease without breaking the rhythm of the dining room, or sells the Rib Eye for the same cost as the Strip Steak.

Invest in training. When you make the deal to buy a system, make sure your contract specifies the amount of training the company will provide on-site. And make sure that once the negotiation is over, you push for five more free hours.

Don’t let the vendor limit how many people can be in the training session. You will want almost everyone on your staff to learn all aspects of the system. Just keep some of the security features, such as credit card batching, back-of-the-house access, and menu cost analysis strictly for management; have those features protected with a password.

Use it! As you settle in and get comfortable with your POS system, make it a point to push yourself to use more and more of its capabilities. For example, you may want to add time-card capability to help with payroll. Don’t put it off! Learn and grow.

For that matter, you will need to make sure your key people are also comfortable with using the technology. For example, when you interview chef candidates, have them do a cost analysis of your menu, using your computer system, as part of the interview process. You’ll see whether they can, and are willing to, use the system. Your managers must also be willing and able to use the technology to manage staff time and payroll.

Spending time and money now to acquire and learn your POS system will let you save time and money every day.