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Restaurant POS Systems Review
The Best POS Systems for Restaurants: Our Recommendations
Whether you run a full- or counter-service restaurant, a bar, or a nightclub, a restaurant POS system can help you manage several parts of your business. These include taking orders, accepting payments, and back-office tasks like managing inventory and running sales reports.
Our restaurant POS systems review can help you identify affordable options with flexible terms and strong feature sets. The top three companies in our review offer restaurant POS systems that are compatible with multiple payment processors and suitable for several types of restaurant, including full-service ones. They have ingredient-level inventory tracking with alerts for when your inventory runs low. They also have APIs available for custom integrations.
Here are our top three recommendations along with some of their best features. Read on to learn more about what qualities you should look for in a restaurant POS system and for additional recommendations for specific feature preferences.
- Self-service kiosk ordering
- Customizable mobile app
- No hardware commitment
2. Epos Now
- Month-to-month service
- No hardware commitment
- Supports multiple locations
- Month-to-month service
- No hardware commitment
- Supports unlimited number of users
What Is a Restaurant Point-of-Sale System?
A restaurant point-of-sale system is the software and hardware used either with or alongside the card reader or credit card terminal you use to accept payments from your customers. The software records sales transactions and includes tools for recording customer orders, managing inventory and running sales reports. The hardware for a countertop POS station usually includes a tablet and stand, a cash drawer, and a receipt printer. Many restaurants also connect to a kitchen printer, and you can add peripheral equipment such as a barcode scanner.
Restaurant POS systems differ from retail POS systems in that they include special feature sets for menus, food inventory and tips. Although some retail POS systems are suitable for counter-service restaurants, most full-service restaurants and bars require a system with restaurant-specific capabilities.
Why Is Choosing a Restaurant POS System Challenging?
Each restaurant POS company offers a different combination of software and hardware, and some offer payment processing services as well. As you compare services, you want to consider the pricing for all three components to ensure you get the best value.
Most restaurant POS software applications have multiple plans or service tiers to choose from, each with a different feature set and price. Some systems may include all the features you need, while others may require you to choose a higher service tier or add modules or third-party integrations to get the specific features you need. Likewise, on the hardware side, some companies may offer bundles that include everything you need, while others allow you to use just a tablet and add peripherals such as receipt printers and cash drawers as needed to complete your setup. You want to include the costs for these factors as you calculate pricing for the systems you're considering.
With this year's update, we added a section to our comparison chart that looks at costs and contracts, as we recognize this is key information for comparing systems. Because our research indicates that most restaurant owners want tablet-based systems, the majority of the companies we considered offer this type of system.
Our evaluation began with a list of 23 restaurant POS systems. We scoured websites for information about each system. Where available, we looked through user manuals, watched video tutorials and asked questions over live chat. We removed from our list companies that don't serve restaurants in the U.S., as well as those that don't work with small businesses, bringing our list to 17. The restaurant POS systems that performed best in our testing are presented here as our top 10 picks.
We evaluated each restaurant POS system using the following criteria.
- Pricing transparency: Being able to see the pricing on a company's website saves you time, as you can determine whether or not a POS system is within your budget before you spend a half hour or more on the phone with a sales agent.
- Monthly subscription fees: We looked at how much the POS software costs each month for a single terminal. Although your costs may differ from those we were quoted due to the specific needs of your restaurant (such as number of terminals, devices, users, and feature modules or integrations), this number gives you a ballpark estimate of the monthly fee you can expect to pay per register each month. Monthly subscription fees vary widely because each service offers different features, numbers of users and device licenses. Some companies have a comprehensive feature set but may charge extra for each user or device you add to the system. Others have a low base rate and charge per module, which may save you money if you don't require an extensive feature set and want to pay only for those you select.
- Contractual terms: Month-to-month or pay-as-you-go contracts give you the freedom to move on if the POS system isn't meeting your needs or you find a better deal elsewhere. This is particularly important for restaurants that are new or on a tight budget, as some contracts have lengthy terms and early cancellation clauses that charge hefty fees if you close your account before the end of the term. Others contracts, particularly those from companies offering free equipment, are noncancelable, which means that even if your business closes, you're still responsible to pay on it until your contact expires and you submit written notice to cancel your account before it automatically renews.
- Processing options: Most of the companies that made it onto our list of the top 10 restaurant POS systems allow you to choose between multiple payment processors, which may save you money, since it allows you to shop around for the most competitive pricing. Some are compatible with several different processors, and others are compatible with nearly every U.S.-based processor. Some systems integrate directly with the payment processing service, while others are used alongside it.
- Hardware requirements: We looked at whether you're required to purchase or lease hardware from the POS vendor, or if the system gives you the flexibility of using equipment you already own or purchase from a third-party vendor, as this may save you money.
- Feature availability: Most restaurant POS systems have an exhaustive list of features. For our comparison chart, we limited the features we looked for to those with the most variance between systems. We omitted employee management, marketing and social media features because, although a few systems include these feature sets, many are added to the systems as third-party integrations.
- Support availability: All restaurant POS systems offer customer support via email and phone, though availability may vary by hours or the plan tier you subscribe to. We looked at whether a POS company can remotely connect to your account to help you resolve issues, which can make it faster to fix software-based problems. We also considered whether on-site assistance is available for installation and training, which may be a necessity for restaurants that have multiple registers and several employees using the system.
Restaurant POS Hardware Considerations
The POS industry is moving to cloud-based tablet systems, as they're less expensive, take up less counter space and allow greater customization. Additionally, most allow you to place orders and accept payments tableside. If your restaurant is new or you've got a tight budget, a restaurant POS setup can be extremely simple with just a tablet, a card reader or terminal, a cash drawer, and a receipt printer. In most cases, you supply the tablet, your payment processing company sells you the card reader or terminal, and you purchase the cash drawer and receipt printer either directly from the POS company or from a business that sells third-party POS hardware. You can often choose between purchasing equipment in a bundle or piece by piece.
Most systems allow you to add peripherals such as tablet stands, barcode scanners, kitchen printers, scales and liquor controls. More advanced system configurations can include additional tablets or monitors for kitchen displays, customer displays, and self-serve kiosks that allow your customers to place their own orders. If your restaurant has a bar or your register is located near a drink station, it may be worth looking into water- or splash-resistant equipment or covers.
- Is It Better to Purchase or Lease Equipment? Industry experts recommend purchasing hardware outright, as it's cheaper than leasing and you aren't tied to a contract. Although leasing is less expensive upfront, which may allow you to get a more extensive setup than you could otherwise afford, you'll pay more over the course of the lease than you would if you purchased the hardware (sometimes exponentially so), and in most cases, you don't own the equipment at the end of term. If you want to keep it, you either have to renew the contract and keep paying monthly leasing fees or pay even more money to buy out the equipment. Additionally, most leasing contracts are noncancelable and automatically renew with only a 30-day window at the end of the term in which you can cancel.
What Features Do the Best POS Systems for Restaurants Include?
All the best restaurant POS systems include the following features:
- Cash manager
- Tip tracking and prompts with suggested tip calculators for customers
- Tracking for payouts and voided transactions
- Multiple ticket-splitting options
Menu & Order Management
- Support for menu item descriptions
- Order modifiers
- Kitchen printer support
- Printing for pickup and delivery tickets
- Remote access to management tools and analytics
- Variety of reports, including profit and loss reports
- Integration with or data export to accounting programs
Basic Employee Management
- Configuration for user profiles and permissions
Basic Customer Management
- Customer database
Once you've narrowed down which restaurant POS systems you want to learn more about, you can call the companies for pricing quotes specific to your restaurant. At this time, you can also download trial or demo versions of the software so you can try them out firsthand and determine whether the systems are easy to navigate and have the functions you need. You can also evaluate whether you need to add modules or third-party integrations to the systems. Other features you may wish to look for as built-in features, add-ons or third-party integrations include the following:
Advanced Till & Order Management
- Tab management
- Discount tracking
- Support for gift cards and coupons
- Support for online menus
Advanced Inventory Tools
- Food inventory management
- Accounting for inventory waste
- Support for liquor control devices
Advanced Employee Management
- Employee schedule management
- Staff messaging
Advanced Customer Management
- Customer order history tracking
- Customer loyalty program management
- Automated marketing tools
- Social media integration
Restaurant POS Systems: More Recommendations
For most types of restaurants, our top three recommendations – Revel Systems, Epos Now and TouchBistro – are good options, as they offer a rich assortment of features, are compatible with third-party hardware and allow you to choose which payment processing company to work with. Here are some additional recommendations for specific feature preferences.
- If you have a counter-serve or casual restaurant and don't require table management and reservation tools, check out Kounta and Square.
- If reservation management is an important part of your restaurant's operations, consider TouchBistro, Revel Systems and Harbortouch.
- If you want to text waiting patrons to notify them that their table is ready, look at Revel Systems, Toast and Harbortouch.
- If you want to allow your customers to order with self-service kiosks, look at Revel Systems and Toast.
- If you want a system that works with Android tablets, consider Epos Now, Kounta, Square, Toast and Restaurant Manager.
- If you prefer using touchscreen displays rather than tablets, look at Epos Now, Harbortouch, NCR Silver and Restaurant Manager.
- If you need a system that helps you manage your vendors and create purchase orders, Epos Now, Kounta and Revel Systems are good options.
- If you want to enter inventory into the system using a barcode scanner, consider Epos Now, Kounta, Square and Revel Systems.
- If you want to work with a local dealer, Lavu and Restaurant Manager are worthy of your consideration.
Contributing Reviewer: Jill Bowers