How to Buy a Restaurant Point of Sale System

It’s hard to shop for a point of sale system, especially if you haven’t operated a restaurant or vetted a system before.  There are lots of components of a point of sale system that will impact your business and sometimes it’s hard to know what those things are until you actually start using a system.  There are also lots of options out there and it can be difficult to identify which point of sale systems you should look at.

To tackle this problem and find a point of sale system that best suits your needs I recommend that you take the following steps:

1. Make a specification list: Write down the major functions you will need to run your restaurant.  The groupings I would list out might include: table service, bar service, take delivery orders, retail counter, quick service counter, online ordering, and kitchen operations.

Within each of these functional areas one could make a long list of specific features, but that’s not something that you should necessarily do.  Instead focus on the areas that matter to you and drill down.

So for example: “I’m opening a full-service restaurant serving lunch and dinner with a bar.  When we first open we will not do delivery or take-out but we do plan to add that on in the future.”  The areas I would drill down on for this example are: table service and bar service, with a secondary area of delivery.  I would also make a list of general functions that are important but do not fall into these specific areas.

For table service a “drill down” list might include:

  • Easy ability to take reservations
  • Easy ability to manage a waitlist
  • Flexible floor plan management (can you easily make changes on the fly if needed?)
  • Ability to adjust menu layout easily, set menu automatically for day / time of day
  • Split check functionality
  • Flexible modifiers (can you create rules for required vs. optional? can you set the order in which modifiers appear?)
  • etc…

For bar service you would have different priorities:

  • Easy ability to manage tabs (especially if bar has people that are not at seats at all times)
  • Able to enter order quickly and move to next order quickly (if bar gets crowded we don’t want people waiting to order because the system is not fast)
  • etc…

For secondary items (such as delivery in the current example) we don’t need to go into as much detail but we still want to keep them in mind.  For example for Delivery / Take Out I just want to make sure the system has functions to handle these.
“Other” things that might matter to you:

  • Credit card processing options
  • Ability to accept gift cards
  • Time clock functionality
  • Tracking ingredients (more advanced functionality)
  • Integrations (accounting, payroll, etc)
  • Generally easy to use and easy to learn
  • Options to get help with set up and training? If you have more than a couple of terminals and printers it is likely beneficial to have a professional set up your system.  If you have only 1 or 2 terminals you might be able to handle it yourself.

2. Talk to one or more restaurant owners: Find a restaurant that has similar operations as yours.  Find out what system they are using.  Ask them what headaches are caused by their current system.

3. Pull together your own stats: Before you start researching specific systems you should also make a list of the following information:

  • How many locations do you have?
  • How many terminals do you need per location?
  • What is your budget?
  • Cloud based POS vs. local server POS.  You don’t have to decide before looking at your options but you should think about this as there are some major differences between the two types of systems.  If you’re leaning towards a cloud based system then you should look at more systems that are cloud based, but still research server based systems.  Some of the differences worth noting between the two: if you are looking for a system with lower start up costs and with greater flexibility to access your data (remote access to reports, flexible to integrate with other systems), then you should go with a cloud based system.  You may prefer the stability and “ownership” that comes with purchasing a POS that operates on a local server and thus you may elect to go that route.

4.  Evaluate specific point of sale systems: Do research online and make some calls or send some emails.  Don’t spend too much time evaluating any single system.  Ask about the system in general – is it cloud based? What are general start up costs given my needs of x terminals in x locations. Then get into the specific questions from your list – don’t be overly friendly and accept vague answers.  Ask right out: does your system handle reservations? Do you support gift cards? Does your system allow for split checks? Briefly explain how modifiers work in your system – what are some of the advanced modifier functions? By asking these detailed questions in the areas that matter to you and learning about the cost of each option you’ll be able to cull your list down from many options to a few.

5.  Schedule demos with the most qualified contenders:  View a live demo of a few systems – keep your list of questions handy and ask to see the functions that matter to you.  Get into more details about price and review quotes from each of the potential point of sale vendors.  Ensure that everything you need is covered in the package being quoted.

6.  Decision time: Purchase the system that best suits your needs.

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