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.