Sharing insights into the world of Restaurant POS

The Best POS?

A few days ago, my wife and I took a drive on the “Peak to Peak” highway, which runs along the Rocky Mountains outside of Denver.  One of my favorite stops along this route is the Sundance Café just outside of Nederland.  While the food is certainly not spectacular, the views certainly are!  I love to take out-of-state guests here so we can sit on the patio, sip some beers, and watch the sun set over the 13,000ft summits of the Indian Peaks Range on clear, Colorado days.  On this occasion, after imbibing Twisted Pines’ Amber Ale (my wife had the Twisted Pine Cream Stout which she loves), we got our bill.  A handwritten bill!  Being a POS Integration Guy, I always scan the check to see which POS is used.  So when I see a handwritten check, I’m thinking thoughts like: Why don’t you have a POS?  Don’t you realize what these systems can do for you; such as track labor, inventory, and of course, your sales?!?  Then I start thinking about the question I am so frequently asked:


Restaurants of all sizes have asked me that, as well as many third party integrators.  I am flattered people want my opinion; I suppose they think that due to my integration experience with multiple POS platforms, I have some “inside” knowledge and strong, personal opinions regarding currently available POS systems.  And, while I certainly do possess deep knowledge and I certainly do have strong personal opinions about various POS platforms (which will all be honestly revealed and shared on this blog), it is difficult to crown any one of the current POS systems as “the best” considering the extreme variability between each platform and every restaurant’s unique needs.  Therefore, since the “perfect” POS model does not yet exist, the POS selection process becomes exceedingly important as each restaurant must select a POS platform best suited to their needs.

When selecting a POS, it’s mostly about the restaurant business’s requirements; but, it’s also about relationships (between you and your POS dealer/manufacturer) and your appetite for managing technology.   Let’s talk about the requirements’ side first.

When it comes to business requirements, the restaurateur needs to think deeply about how they want to run their business and how technology can best benefit their business.   A memorable restaurant blends together an intriguing mix of food, entertainment, and an atmosphere that achieves a very specific vision and ambiance for the patron to enjoy; technology can aid or detract from many aspects of the total patron experience.  Some questions are very basic, such as: “What is the basic format of the dining experience?” and “Will the menu be essentially static or frequently changing?”  Other, more developed questions are: “Is the menu conducive to takeout and delivery? If so, will these options be made available to the patron and how?”  Updated technology and POS systems can also answer questions regarding labor control and kitchen interaction with the Front of House staff.

Regarding the question of restaurant POS “format,” I use some specific terms: “Post-Ring,” “Pre-Ring,” and “Multi-Round.”

A “Post-Ring” format is one where the patron’s food order is made prior to the order being entered into the POS system.  This is typically the simplest POS system environment; no kitchen display or printers are needed, and there is only one interaction (typically very simple) with the patron and the POS.  In this environment, minimal order details are put into the POS; it’s common to enter in only the item itself and any extra cost choices (Turkey Sandwich, add Bacon) and to process the payment.  In the “Post-Ring” environment, POS requirements typically revolve around making the transaction as simple and quick as possible with the patron, making this format unsuitable for detailed inventory or sales tracking.  The bottom line is that if you like having lots of different metrics available from the POS, a “Post-Ring” approach may not be your best choice.  However, both Subway and Chipotle utilize Post-Ring solutions, so this type of POS should not be considered a limiting factor in a business’s potential growth.  Also, since a “Post-Ring” system often consists of a single POS station with attached receipt printer and cash drawer, it is usually the cheapest way to get a POS up and running and it’s the easiest format to program.

A “Pre-Ring” format is where the patron’s order is placed into the POS prior to the food being prepared.  In these scenarios, the patron is typically standing at the front of a line talking to an order taker (cashier) at the ordering counter; the cashier is entering the order into the POS as the customer is verbally placing the order one item at a time.  In a “Pre-Ring” environment, the order taking process is usually highly detailed, with all order detail being captured by the order taker into the POS.  The order may be displayed on a patron-facing display, assuring the patron their order is correct.  The order is sent to the kitchen via kitchen printers or video systems for preparation, typically once the customer has identified how the food is to be packaged (Order Mode: Dine-In, To-Go, etc.); but sometimes, the order is sent to the kitchen as it is being ordered, expediting preparation. The patron pays for the order immediately after selecting the Order Mode and prior to the patron typically receiving any part of the order. The POS terminal is equipped with a cash drawer and a receipt printer; as previously mentioned, the system may well include a wide variety of kitchen video/printing solutions.  “Pre-Ring” systems are great from a metrics viewpoint; with this model you can marry sales metrics to kitchen/labor performance statistics providing a comprehensive picture of the operation’s performance.  A typical “Pre-Ring” solution should allow the restaurateur to highly customize the process flow on the POS terminal to meet specific needs.   With “Post-Ring” environments, there’s a greater richness in interaction variety regarding the patron, including Line Buster applications, Drive-Thru, Self Service Kiosk, Online Ordering, Order Status Boards,  and even Paging Systems.  From a cost perspective, expect a “Pre-Ring” solution to be more expensive then a Post-Ring format, but more rich in its functionality.

The “Multi-Round” format is designed for classic “Table Service” environments where the patron is seated at a table (or the bar), and a waiter/waitress take a series of orders from each party throughout the dining experience.  POS Terminals are typically placed throughout the facility.  In this format, each POS terminal may be used by several wait staff at one time; one wait staff logs in, adds an item or two to the patron’s order, then logs off; the POS is responsible for “routing” the order details to different stations at the kitchen or bar.   Like the “Pre-Ring” model, “Multi-Round” POS system are typically integrated with Kitchen Video/Printing solutions that are placed at various prep stations throughout the kitchen.  Unlike “Pre-Ring” and “Post-Ring” formats, the “Multi-Round” POS format helps the wait staff manage multiple orders for patrons sitting at tables in different states of the dining process.  In the “Pre-Ring”/”Post-Ring” format, the life of the check/transaction on the POS is measured in seconds or sometimes a few minutes, and typically only one check is being actively managed on the POS terminal at a time; in the “Multi-Round” format, the check/transaction is “alive on the POS” for as long as the patron is sitting at the table, perhaps even longer, and each wait staff member may be managing 4 to 6 tables at a time.  From a metrics viewpoint, a “Multi-Round” format provides a comprehensive set of data that tracks the entire dining experience.  Similar to “Pre-Ring,” numerous patron interactions abound, including reservation, wait list, online ordering, delivery systems, self service kiosk, as well as shared wait staff/patron ordering solutions residing on kiosks and of course, mobile payment solutions.  The Cost of a “Multi-Round” POS should be roughly comparable to the “Pre-Ring” POS, at least on a per terminal basis, and kitchen system costs should be similar as well.

Now, let’s switch gears and talk about “relationships” and POS choice.  By “relationships,” I mean to discuss how the restaurateur hopes to interact with their POS dealer over the long term.  When it comes to POS management, are you a DIY person or a delegator? Do you want to be able to manage significant menu changes on your own or do you want the dealer to do it?  This is an area you have to analyze carefully, as not all POS systems are alike in this area.  My experience is that some of the newer, market POS solutions are much more DIY oriented.  And, even though they are typically unable to offer as rich a feature set as the more established POS providers, they can save you from having to deal with INCREDIBLY COMPLICATED configurations that require you to rely on the dealer to make any changes.

I like to think I know both Aloha and Micros pretty well, but I sometimes wonder how I can waste so much time trying to locate a stupid switch that is necessary to turn on/off a feature!  However, if the POS dealer is really service and customer service focused, then does that matter?  Some established POS manufacturers compliment their solutions with a dealer network that really has their act together whereas with others, it’s really “hit and miss.”  The question is, do you want a dealer that’s only in it for the “transaction,” or would you like a relationship with a dealer that will be there for all your future needs?   The cost of the former will most likely be less than the latter, but the latter can be agonizingly expensive over the long term as you may get “locked in” to the only dealer in your market.

Another question: do you want to make calls to only one phone number for all your technology issues, or are you committed to using the “Best of Breed” solutions?    We all like the “one call does it all approach,” but what if your online ordering needs or your patron interaction systems are unique and extremely important to your brand?   If you need “Best of Breed,” then POS Integration Capability becomes an important question for you to consider prior to buying a POS.   That’s the topic for my next blog entry.


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