Tablet or conventional POS?

Restaurant operators went through large outlays of capital in recent years to get their POS systems up to PCI Compliance standards, many upgrading just recently. So, naturally, new technology and impending regulations are forcing them to reconsider their systems—and their spending on new tech—yet again.

While Apple Pay, Tap-and-Go and other forms of e-payment have caught the interest of consumers, it’s the October 2015 deadline to have EMV-enabled devices—the expected date for a shift in fraud liability—that’s driving the need to update. Yes, it’s important to accept all forms of contactless payments, so as not to alienate any guests, especially as mobile wallets increasingly catch on, says Adam Scott, CFO and co-founder of Atlanta-based WingZone. But it’s crucial to implement chip-and-pin readers to protect against the cost of a data breach.

“The reality is that there will be significant hardware upgrades,” says Scott. And many restaurants are wrestling with what their next generation of POS should look like. Right now, the biggest challenges, according to Scott, are cost and timeliness. So here’s a side-by-side comparison of those factors in the two big POS avenues on the market:




Hardware cost

It’s a shining ray of hope for those not ready or able to spend. Hemant Phul, owner of Barca, a tapas restaurant in New York City, says he spent tens of thousands up front to purchase traditional POS hardware and software at a previous operation. At Barca, he manages all ordering and payment on four iPads (the newest models ranging from $249 to $829 a piece); he paid less than $3,000 for all tablets and printers. “For big stores with 15 to 20 registers, the cost will be exorbitant,” says Scott. Operators aren’t just looking at a new computer system; they also can expect new handheld devices for staffers to be able to take payment tableside and at drive-thru windows.


In addition to cheaper hardware, software costs can be considerably less, as many tablets run on apps with a lower operating fee. The benefit of the apps is that, as technology changes and developers come out with advances, new features and fixes to bugs are implemented through a simple update. But apps often are simpler systems that don’t integrate back-of-house functions like payroll, inventory and purchasing, so separate systems are needed. Additionally, with many of today’s apps coming from start-ups, glitches do initially pop up, says Phul, leaving customers as guinea pigs.While it can be costly to make fixes and upgrades, major bugs often are worked out before deploying new systems. Fortunately, POS suppliers “already have good road maps [for EMV] in other countries, like Canada and the E.U. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” says Scott. Plus, even though the final EMV regulations are a moving target, many of the major companies are in touch with the credit-card companies and banks, so they are tied in to what’s coming down the pipeline. And as POS vendors work on the chip-and-pin upgrades, they’re also working e-wallets and other mobile and contactless payments into the program. “My expectation is that new devices will be all-encompassing,” says Scott.


As tablets are small, light and often not in one fixed location, they’re easy to use on the floor, but breakage and theft is a constant concern. Fortunately, tablets are comparatively cheap to replace.While they’re typically harder to break, they’re a lot more expensive to fix. Crashes are cumbersome and support is costly, says Phul. 


When asked about getting his tablets EMV-ready, Phul says it’ll be as simple as purchasing a dongle (swiper) to attach to the tablets for about $150 per iPad. They’re already portable, so taking EMV payments at the table isn’t an issue. The drive-thru, though, is another concern, as QSRs are passing tablets—their operating systems—into the hands of customers who can drop the tablets or drive off.The majority of the big POS companies aren’t yet releasing their new systems that incorporate EMV technology. With the policy still not concrete, there’s a chance suppliers will only lease equipment until the rules firm up. While suppliers currently are reassuring their clients that they’re on top of it, Ivan Olmedo, director of IT for Philadelphia-based Philly Pretzel Factory, didn’t want to wait around, for fear that there will be competition for devices once the shift in liability gets closer. Instead, he turned to a Canadian company operating in the U.S. that already has EMV integration.


Members help make our journalism possible. Become a Restaurant Business member today and unlock exclusive benefits, including unlimited access to all of our content. Sign up here.


Exclusive Content


Restaurants bring the industry's concerns to Congress

Neary 600 operators made their case to lawmakers as part of the National Restaurant Association’s Public Affairs Conference.


Proposed TGI Fridays sale is no home run, but has promise for both sides

The $220 million all-stock deal would get Fridays’ owner TriArtisan out of its decade-long investment and give the struggling chain a like-minded partner in franchisee Hostmore, experts say.


Podcast transcript: Virtual Dining Brands co-founder Robbie Earl

A Deeper Dive: What is the future of digital-only concepts? Earl discusses their work to ensure quality and why focusing on restaurant delivery works.


More from our partners