Powerful point-of-sale systems have become a critical component of today’s restaurant environment, but—with dozens of POS systems available—choosing among them can be a Herculean effort. They all claim to provide the best interface, great integration with tasks like reservations or inventory tracking, and good tech support.

While traditional systems with their own hardware remain a popular option, advances in technology allow developers to create more software-based solutions, giving operators the flexibility to purchase off-the-shelf equipment.

“The software-as-a-service model is a low-cost answer based on the features an operator wants,” says Danny Bendas, a managing partner at Synergy Restaurant Consultants of Melville, New York. “The traditional models are definitely more costly.”

Many software POS system providers simply charge a monthly fee, offer free updates to their technology, and provide complimentary, round-the-clock support. The cost of the hardware—a tablet and printer—may amount to $1,000, compared with traditional systems that can cost in the tens of thousands of dollars plus a licensing fee.

Whether the cost is actually less in the long run, however, depends on an operator’s business expectations and need for additional capabilities. “You may have more of an upfront cost with a wired point-of-sale system, but it may cost less going forward, depending on the growth you project,” Bendas says.

Two young companies, TouchBistro and ShopKeep, demonstrate the low-cost model’s expansion. Both use iPad-based point-of-sale technology; TouchBistro employs a server-based system, while ShopKeep is a cloud-based provider.

The companies were launched by individuals who saw problems with traditional systems.

For TouchBistro CEO Alex Barrotti, who has a software background, this occurred when a restaurateur friend sought a way for waitstaff working in the outdoor-dining section to send orders to the kitchen without entering the building. Most options were bulky or didn’t work. And then the iPad was announced. “I thought, this would be amazing for point-of-sale,” he recalls, and TouchBistro was born.

The iPads effectively serve as registers, and they, along with traditional cash registers, are linked to one another, a server, and printers in the kitchen and dining room through a local area network (lan) using a wireless router.

ShopKeep’s founder and chief strategy officer Jason Richelson began his New York–based company because of his own frustrations.

“I was, and still am, a retailer,” he says. “I wasn’t always in the stores, and I was having a hard time getting information out of them. When the server crashed for the final time, I said, ‘We are switching to cloud-based point of sale.’”

ShopKeep started as a Windows-based model but switched to Apple when iPads were introduced. Among recent software updates is a wireless feature allowing operators to open and close tabs from multiple registers with or without an Internet connection.

Since TouchBistro and ShopKeep are based on iPad technology, restaurant owners say it doesn’t take long for a restaurant’s staff to learn how to use these programs. And both companies provide free trials of their systems.

ShopKeep, which has more than 16,000 registers—devices running its software—costs $49 per month per register, while TouchBistro, with 2,600 restaurant customers, runs $69 per register a month. Both offer discounts for larger numbers of devices.


Server-Based Provider

Two Atlanta eateries, Paul’s Restaurant and Social Vinings, were among the early adopters of TouchBistro, and owner Patrick Albrecht says he has watched the software company develop a great product. “Two years ago, I could have given you a list of 20 things that I would have liked to see improve,” he says.

A self-acknowledged tech nerd who also owns a technology consulting company, Albrecht was looking for a POS system to replace an existing one that was “big, expensive, and had to be wired.” Now each restaurant has a small server on a shelf. Social Vinings has nine connected devices and Paul’s has six. Each includes an iPad mini for waitstaff at banquet events.

When brothers Thibaut and Alexis Piettre planned the opening of their French restaurant, Frere de Lys, in New York City last year, they knew they wanted an iPad-based POS system. TouchBistro’s approachability was key in their decision-making. “They respond right away,” Thibaut Piettre says. “In my business, everything has to be done fast, especially for a restaurant that just opened.”

James Nichols Sr., owner of Crosstown Pub with two units in Naperville and Batavia, Illinois, says he worked “hand-in-glove” with TouchBistro on his point-of-sale systems. “I feel we’re part of the solution to help them refine the product.”

He knew he needed a system that would allow him to do tasks like inventory control but also something that would make the work easier and quicker for his staff.

After switching to TouchBistro, “I saw the efficiency immediately,” he says. By arming waitstaff with iPad minis to take orders, “we cut 10 to 15 minutes from the time it takes to order a meal.” Each restaurant’s network has a server connected wirelessly to about 20 iPad minis, three printers in the kitchen, and other printers to provide receipts for customers.

Cloud-Based System

Some restaurant owners, such as Kevin Canfield, who operates O’Neill’s Irish Pub in San Mateo, California, don’t want to deal with network servers and would rather have a point-of-sales system linked to the cloud. That’s one reason he chose ShopKeep.

“We do all of our payroll management, scheduling, and inventory through this, and syncing it with the cloud was probably the biggest thing for me,” he says, adding that it allows him to work remotely on these aspects of his business.

By having all the iPad terminals linked, including one that enables staff to take orders at tables, O’Neill’s has improved its efficiency by 20 percent, Canfield says.

Ruth Hudin, co-owner of Crepes Sans Frontieres in Los Angeles, says ShopKeep has been “very simple and makes things easier for everyone. The fact that you can have three or four iPads that communicate with each other is very good.”

This is not to say that there aren’t small issues to deal with. Piettre notes TouchBistro has problems with reporting discounts, thus it can be confusing for guests. At O’Neill’s, Canfield notes ShopKeep works on a daily calendar that closes at midnight each day, but the bar closes at 2 a.m.

Even so, operators are willing to give the systems space and time to grow. “If something doesn’t work, they fix it,” Nichols says. “It’s really a breath of fresh air.”

Feature, Technology