Some would say the heart of a restaurant is its menu. Others would say, its staff. Still more, the ingredients themselves. One thing is certain: a vital organ of any successful restaurant operation is its POS. And choosing your POS is a weighted task indeed.
Where do you even begin? Google, most likely. Or maybe you’ve asked a trusted friend what they’ve used in the past. Either way, you’ll come across all kinds of solutions: on-premises, legacy, cloud-based, mobile – each with benefits and drawbacks. But the fact is, your restaurant has its own unique set of needs, which further complicates your search to finding the perfect POS. So how do you navigate these complexities?
There’s that old saying that there are no bad questions. This may be true, but there are some questions that are definitely better than others. In order to help you navigate the uncertain waters of the restaurant POS world, we’ve composed this set of must-asks that you should have on hand when evaluating the right POS for your restaurant.
1. How frequently is your product updated and are those updates free or paid?
This is an important question and one that’s often brushed off in fine print. But it’s important you know what you’re getting before you sign on the dotted line. Some POS vendors, especially on-premise legacy systems, require you to pay for updates. Updates that come long overdue and with a hefty price tag, meaning many restaurant owners opt to not update and instead run their business on an expensive machine that gets slower and more burdensome over time.
The thing is updates should be free! You shouldn’t have to pay to keep your POS functioning top notch. In fact, the best-in-class point of sale companies consistently improve their software, regularly adding new features – at no cost to you.
So, when comparing point of sale products, inquire about updates. A modern POS company is proactive and constantly working on improving their product. A healthy answer is that updates come out regularly, like every six to eight weeks.
2. Is your POS support outsourced or in-house?
As a restaurant owner, there are times when you need a customer service representative – now.
When POS support is outsourced, the ability to have quick fixes for emergencies becomes compromised. Why? Because communication is fragmented between customer support and product knowledge. The right-hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, so fixes take much longer and questions often go unanswered.
Outsourced support also means reintroducing yourself to a customer service representative every time you call in. Sure, there might be a log of history, but the service will lack context and even more of your time will be wasted because of the disjointed relationship.
In-house support means there is a direct line to product experts and developers, so if there is an issue that exceeds support’s knowledge, they can access technical resources much faster. Plus, it’s likely you know your support contact and have a relationship with them, so previous issues are addressed with your customer history and your specific business needs in mind.
3. Is this POS specifically for restaurants?
You wouldn’t pay for shoes that don’t fit. Or buy a twin duvet when you have a king size bed. Just as you wouldn’t purchase an ill fitting suit, you shouldn’t buy a retail POS if you’re a restaurant.
A generic POS isn’t any better. As one frustrated POS user, Ryan Swallow remarked in an online forum about POS use, “In my opinion, the most annoying thing about POS software is the fact that those who created it and those who maintain it, have never worked in a restaurant and don’t understand the real world functionality of the software.”
Point of sale systems built for restaurants are created with the specific hospitality user experience top of mind. Often, their staff has worked extensively in hospitality or with hospitality professionals in order to develop their program. This way, common restaurant-specific issues like bill splitting, table management, custom floor plans, and menu changes, are addressed as out-of-the-box features – not special requests that require custom coding, bandaid workarounds, or chaotic integrations with third party extension software.
A restaurant POS is built with front end features specific to food service. Bill-splitting, floorplans, menu organization, and staff permissions, on top of ordering functionality are imperative for a restaurant point of sale. In addition, the need for restaurant-specific analytics is essential. Generic templates for sales reports just won’t do for restaurants who need specialized insight in order to effectively manage inventory, sales, and scheduling. Now, best-in-class restaurant POS systems have put together analytic suites that deliver specific numbers to restaurant owners that drive down food costs, help with scheduling, and overall, provide deeper insight into the inner-workings of a restaurant that would otherwise go overlooked.
4. What if my restaurant grows?
Congratulations! That’s what you should be saying to yourself if you’ve added a patio, or a second floor – not fretting about the cost of an additional terminal, or worrying about your POS adapting to the higher volume. The excitement behind opening up a second location or a food truck becomes significantly dimmed when a cost analysis reveals a traditional POS price tag of $20,000. But what if the process wasn’t a painstaking operation involving cumbersome hardware and excessive costs? What if it was just a matter of a couple of iPads and a few new licenses?
The only solution that scales that easily is a mobile POS solution. Not only can you upgrade licensing in a flash, but adding hardware is as simple as purchasing an additional iPad or tablet. No terminals, costly maintenance, or time-consuming installs.
5. How are your customer reviews?
No matter how great a POS company says they are, the best judge will be the customer. How can you hear what they’re saying? Both customer success stories promoted by the POS company and unsolicited reviews online.
Think about it: if a busy restaurant owner takes the time to write a customer success story or be featured in a video testimonial, they must really be invested in the product and the impact it’s had on their business. Most customers who’ve had an outstanding experience should be willing to share it.
And of course, it’s always good to look at third party tech review sites as well. While it’s wise to take all reviews with a grain of salt, (one survey revealed that 52% of participants were more likely to share negative experiences on an online review site) if there is an overwhelming unsatisfied number of customers, this would be a time to cut your losses and seek out another alternative. In the same breath, when good reviews are left on third party sites, it speaks to the quality of the product because the customer has gone out of their way and produced the review of their own free will.
6. Can you put me in touch with a customer so I can learn more about their experience with you?
If customer testimonials and third party review sites aren’t giving you the reassurance you need, ask to be placed in touch with a customer who has a similar restaurant model as you. This will allow you to get an unscripted, unfiltered, genuine review of the solution with someone who is currently using it. The willingness of a customer to be a reference is significant in and of itself. By having a one-on-one conversation with them, you’ll get a behind-the-scenes view of what you’ll be working with should you select that particular product.
7. Can your system integrate with my existing restaurant software?
According to Hospitality Technology, POS integration with other systems is demanded by 52% of restaurants. This comes as no surprise as more and more systems coming onto the market are moving from nice-to-haves to must haves. If you have systems already in place for payment, staff scheduling, loyalty tools, online ordering or accounting, your POS should integrate seamlessly. If it doesn’t, you might find yourself scrambling between disparate technologies, or spending money on overlapping functions.
The goal behind complete integration is threefold: reduce your TCO (total cost of ownership), avoid malfunctioning patches, and unify separate systems. On top of this, your POS company should be striving to create partnerships with other technology leaders. For example, it is estimated that mobile payments will reach up to $142 billion by 2019, up from $52 billion in 2014. Is your POS ready to accommodate this shift? What about delivery apps and other online ordering platforms you’re expanding into? What about logistics like chip and pin and EMV compliance?
The bottom line is that the POS you choose should be as agile and adaptable as possible, integrating when you need it to, and adapting to market trends before they emerge. This way, when you’re ready to adopt a new technology, there’s no second thought as to whether or not your POS can come along with you.
While there are no bad questions, we can definitely conclude there are less than desirable answers. Your POS is the central communicating vein connecting all your restaurant’s activities. Getting the right answers from the right company is essential to your continued success.