When it's time for a new POS system

With so many new features out there, it's a good idea to understand what you need before you buy. Here's a guide to walk you through the process.

Getting started: Make a list of the features, components and capabilities you want in your ideal point of sale (POS) system. Figure out if you have to start from the ground up or simply upgrade your current system. To narrow down the choices, you might want to visit or speak to operators with similar menus and operating platforms. Inquire about up-front support, installation and customization of the POS system. When you talk to potential system or software vendors, ask for references.

Handling change: If you are buying POS hardware, will it accept the inevitable software updates and upgrades without having to scrap the hardware? A number of POS system providers guarantee software compatibility, some for up to ten years. Ask for customer references and contact a few veteran users, to see how their systems have kept up with and handled change.

Post-sales support: If the system goes down on a Saturday night, is local on-site help available? Find out what the warranty covers, the hourly service rate and what (if any) after-hours or overtime rates will be charged. Preventive maintenance (PM) contracts are often available. Again, contact customer references to find out what happens when that “good POS system goes bad.”

Systems for Any Situation

Point of sale systems and software changes happen at the speed of light, driven by the latest chip, wireless and even GPS technology, plus a growing understanding of the real-world needs of restaurants. Most POS hardware and software vendors package and tailor systems for different types of operations, including counter or quick service, table service, bar service and even pizza/delivery service—a segment that has unique caller I.D., driver dispatch, routing and mapping requirements.

Some of the latest POS developments are designed to improve and speed service at sit-down restaurants. PDA technology has now brought POS order entry to the table. With the ability to do paperless order taking, wireless order relay to the kitchen, automatic check tally and at-table credit card processing and sign-off, these hand-helds can speed transaction time, increase table turns and improve customer satisfaction. The back of the house benefits, too. POS technology can track top sellers, inventory and menu item costs.

Q&A about POS

If doing quickservice, do I want to use tower PC CRT or LCD terminals, small form factor or all-in-one touch screen/ computer combinations?

PC terminals are less expensive, have lots of speed and memory but take up more space. Small form factor systems are also fast, but smaller and more stylish than towers. All-in-ones combine a touchscreen with the
computer, are the most stylish and require less wiring and space, but speed is a bit slower.

Should I opt for terminals with integrated cash drawers or separate cash drawers? How many and where?

The answer hinges on your restaurant’s layout, design and operating platform. Terminals are usually placed out of customers’ line of sight and should blend in as much as possible with the decor. Put enough terminals in place to avoid service delays.

Are kitchen and bar order printers or order display units more appropriate?

Order printers provide a hard copy record and make enough noise to alert kitchen or bar staff that an order is inbound. Display screens eliminate the need to change paper or ink cartridges and allow use of bump bar/box software, for shuffling order priority.

If doing delivery, do I want/need caller ID, driver dispatch, routing and mapping capability?

If delivery is a big part of your business, this technology can pay for itself in reduced costs, higher customer satisfaction and more repeat business.

If planning to do tableside PDA ordering, do I want to print receipts at the table or at a central or remote printer?

Small belt-mounted printers can keep servers at the tables and increase table turns. They may not be appropriate for an upscale bistro or fine dining.

What back-of-the-house report generating functions are essential? Do I need or want web-based “enterprise-level” reporting capabilities?

As restaurants grow in unit count and geographic penetration, it becomes more difficult to monitor and control the enterprise. The latest management systems can provide real-time reporting of unit or even individual item sales, promotions and operating costs.

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