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Time to ditch the old POS?

Can sales spike upward simply by swapping out a restaurant's old point-of-sale system for a newer one? Ralph Desiano sure thinks so. The COO of Creative Restaurant Management in Bonita Springs, Florida, Desiano last October began installing new POS systems in the company's 10-unit Mel's Diner chain. So far every Mel's has notched an uptick in sales, he says. "In the best case, we saw a 5 percent sales increase in the first four weeks after conversion."

Mel's Diners operate all day and average $2.6 million in sales, so even low single-digit gains can amount to some serious coin. Desiano says his new POS system—in this case, Radiant Systems' Aloha—has upped speed of service and enabled the restaurants to turn tables faster. Still, he believes that accuracy is the major factor driving the sales increases. "Everything that's ordered is being entered," he says, "and people are being charged for what they order."

Prompts in the new system take the server through the entire order in sequence, which means they don't have to search for a category and don't forget to enter an item. "Substitutions are also easier to enter," Desiano says. "Servers don't have to type in an item," but can choose from a list of options instead.

It cost $150,000 to outfit all 10 Mel's Diners with Aloha, says Desiano, who'd implemented POS systems at TGI Friday's and Uno Restaurants when he worked at those chains. He appointed an in-house project manager to guide the conversion along—and that project manager spent time with servers, cooks and restaurant managers to pinpoint bottlenecks and problems.

Desiano insisted on having a Mel's staffer on hand while Aloha developed the database. "I'd been through this before. You have to put in the proper work at the beginning. The POS companies claim they can build the database for you, but that doesn't work. You need someone with intimate knowledge of your menu sitting next to them. Don't let the POS company take control."

While the immediate benefit at Mel's has been more accurate and complete order entry, the new system has other pluses. "We weren't able to measure our ticket time [the time between an order being received and served] before, but now we know our average dinner ticket is about nine minutes," Desiano says. And Mel's is just scratching the surface of the system's capabilities. "Our stores can be polled every hour, so I know what's selling, what add-ons are being ordered with a specific item."

What's more, the system's product management module should help increase sales further. "Kitchen managers will be more aware of what products they have on hand and how often they need to order. That may affect food quality."

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