Restaurant POS Systems Review
How Can a New POS System Help?
The top performers in our review are Revel Systems, the Gold Award winner; Restaurant Manager, the Silver Award winner; and NCR, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing a system to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of these ten restaurant POS systems.
If you have not been using a modern restaurant point-of-sale (POS) system, implementing one can transform your business. A good system, used to its full potential, decreases order errors, improves inventory buying decisions and increases customer satisfaction. For owners and managers, POS systems provide useful reports, which can help you make better business decisions. For staff, lightning-fast terminals can accurately process complex tickets and orders. Restaurant POS systems are not just payment processors; in fact, they are far more. They can help you streamline nearly every facet of your business. POS systems can send orders to the kitchen, update your menus, track your food inventory, monitor sales and much more. Although they perform many tasks, they are also simple to learn and use. If you are looking for an iPad POS system for your restaurant specifically, see our iPad restaurant reviews.
It doesn't matter what type of food business you run, you can find a system to suit your needs. Mixed systems (may include terminals, tablets, printers and displays) can run large, full-service restaurants. Simple-to-use tablet options can easily process sales in counter-serve cafes. Other POS solutions are designed for quick-serve (QSR) businesses. And still others are mobile, which operate via a 4G or Wi-Fi connection making them suitable for mobile food trucks. To learn more about POS systems in general, see our articles about POS Systems.
Restaurant Credit Card Processing
POS systems consist of three parts: hardware, software and payment processing. Few restaurants these days operate on a cash-only basis, and many customers prefer to pay by card, which makes contracting with a card processor necessary.
Payment processing can easily become one of your restaurant's most significant expenses. Therefore you'll want to consider the companies and processing terms carefully. You'll also want to ensure that the restaurant POS system supports the processor of your choice. To learn more about credit card processing, including an explanation of common rates and fees, see our credit card processing reviews.
Most of the POS companies on our lineup allow you to use the processor of your choice, and some offer integrated (connected) card readers. However, when switching to or upgrading your POS system, we recommend that you first acquire an upgraded card reader that can support EMV-chip-and PIN cards and has the ability to process mobile phone payments. This ensures you can process all types of card payments and that you are EMV compliant. In addition, because the POS is EMV compliant, it reduces your liability and any costs resulting from credit card fraud. If you are not sure what being EMV compliant is or what is required, be sure to read our article "Guide to Becoming EMV Compliant."
Once you decide on a card processor, next you'll want to decide how and where you want to process payments. These days you have a few options. Traditionally, payments have been processed at a main terminal at the front counter away from customers. You can still process cards this way, of course, but you can also implement tableside processing. Using an iPad or other mobile device, your staff can process payments tableside, which means cards never leave customers' presence. Another benefit of processing cards tableside is that it speeds up table turnover times.
Benefits of a Modern Restaurant POS System
You may wonder whether investing in an updated POS system will make a difference in your restaurant. Not only is the answer "Yes," but you might be surprised to learn just how big of a difference it can make. A well-designed POS system can help you manage your restaurant's toughest management challenges and eradicate long-standing communication issues between your front-of-house and kitchen staff. You'll also be able to manage your food inventory better, and your customers will respond well to a new system.
Here are just a few advantages to utilizing a new POS system:
Imagine paperless order placement and servers no longer having to run back to the kitchen to check on orders or straighten out miscommunications. You can achieve this with a modern POS system. Servers transmit orders directly from the counter or tableside to the kitchen. Back in the kitchen, you can choose to have orders printed or digitally displayed on a monitor. Servers can easily handle modifications so even complicated orders are communicated clearly and correctly. Once an order is ready, kitchen staff alert the server the order is ready to be picked up. One helpful tool to add to the efficiency of your POS system is an onsite router, which allows you to process orders quickly even if your internet or Wi-Fi connection temporarily goes down.
Increased Order Accuracy
With restaurant POS systems, your staff no longer have to waste valuable time trying to decipher someone's handwriting. The best systems quickly and easily handle even the most complex order modifications. In addition, you can set up complete menus with detailed ingredient descriptions and images in the system, so servers relay accurate information to customers, which saves your staff time since they don't have to run back to the kitchen to ask questions.
Rapid Tableside Card Processing
With tableside processing, customers like that their card never leaves their sight. Tableside processing is fast and helps your front-of-house crew turn tables more efficiently without compromising customer service. Another benefit of POS systems for your staff is that many automatically calculate and provide suggested tip amounts for patrons. In many cases, this has led to increased server tips.
Easier Ordering for Customers with Allergies or Special Dietary Needs
Processing orders for those with allergies and special dietary needs is challenging for everyone; however, POS systems can help with accurate menu descriptions and complex modification tools. Using your new system, you can easily tag entrees or other items that contain allergens such as shellfish or nuts, so your staff can accurately inform customers who many have life-threatening allergies. These systems also allow you to save customer notes, so you can add special diet information to your regular customers' accounts.
Improved Inventory Accuracy
Every restaurant owner knows that managing food inventory is not only tricky, it's expensive. On top of it, any mistake, whether it's ordering too much or too little of one item, can have severe consequences. Restaurant POS systems come with inventory-management features that not only maintain an accurate, real-time count of everything, they even go so far as to track ingredients that are required to create unique items such as the olive oil that goes into your popular house salad dressing or a specific type of rum that goes into a signature drink. And because you're busy running your restaurant, you can configure the system to send you alerts whenever an item is running low or is near its expiration date. Besides inventory, though, POS systems help you track your vendor information, so when you receive an alert an item is running low, some systems can auto create a purchase order so your inventory is always fully stocked and you can turn your attention to more important matters.
What We Tested, What We Found
We tested and ranked 10 of the most popular restaurant POS systems. We focused on three aspects of the system – server, management and kitchen features. We separated routine tasks you would use a restaurant POS for into two categories: front-of-house and back-of-house functions. We then tested each system to see how easy it performed common tasks without any prior training. Restaurant owners and staff are pressed for time, so it's essential that a POS system be easy to use so a new employee can quickly learn and master the system in just a manner of minutes. While we anticipate a certain amount of training for advanced operations, such as configuring reports, it was important in our testing that routine functions were simple to perform without any prior training.
We did have a few constraints when testing restaurant POS systems. For example, we don't have an actual restaurant in our test lab. We also could not test the system over a long period of time. However, as much as possible, we strived to replicate the needs and wants of restaurant owners and managers and tested the software's most essential functions that business owners and staff use every day, and we conducted each test (using the PC version or iPad apps, depending on the hardware requirements) over a sufficient period of time that gave us ample insight into the features, strengths and weaknesses of each system.
We found most restaurant systems easy to set up and use. We ran each system through the same tests, and awarded scores based on the system's performance in the areas of order processing, management features and server tools. Those rated the highest in ease-of-use we found simpler to use than the others tested.
As you evaluate POS companies, many offer a free trial of their software and their tablet apps. We recommend you take advantage of the free trials and test several systems for yourself. We also recommend working closely with company representatives to communicate all of your questions, concerns, wants, needs, etc. to ensure that you buy the best system and that it's configured correctly for your business.
Counter-Serve vs. Full-Service Systems: Which POS System is Right for You?
Each type of restaurant has specific needs. Counter-serve restaurants usually have simpler requirements than full-service restaurants. Counter-serve restaurants, such as coffee shops, delis, sandwich shops, or bakeries, usually offer a limited menu and no table service. Full-service restaurants provide table service and often need to manage complex inventories, numerous vendors, catering and reservations.
Some counter-serve restaurants get by well with a simple iPad system such as Square or an Android system such as Clover. Busy, full-service restaurants can benefit from a system such as Revel or NCR. These systems often have the ability to incorporate handheld devices for tableside ordering and payment processing. Most of these systems also include functions for bars and nightclubs.
How Tablets Improve Table Service
Handheld technologies are changing the daily routines of servers and kitchen staff, and for the better. In addition to faster credit card processing, iPads help your staff and customers a number of ways. For instance, you can load helpful information, such as full menus with pictures, entree descriptions and daily specials. Kitchen staff can even load real-time alerts such as when an entrée or other item is no longer available. Better-informed servers serve your customers better and turn tables faster. In addition, the software helps your staff easily stay on top of tough tasks like splitting tickets, managing seats and modifying orders.
Increasingly, full-service restaurants are providing tablet services to patrons at the table. They are utilizing tablets for displaying menus and specials, easy ordering and payment processing. Some even provide tablets to entertain customers, especially restless children. Large chains such as Applebee's, Olive Garden, Chili's Grill & Bar and Outback offer tableside tablets, and many report increased sales since they began utilizing these devices. Self-serve kiosks are also becoming popular as a replacement to human order-takers; Ziosk and Presto are two popular options.
Back-of-House Management Simplified
Performing management tasks using a tablet can be cumbersome without a keyboard, but no worries. Most POS systems are connected online nowadays, and you can use a standard PC or laptop for complex management functions such as entering menus, updating food inventory lists or entering in new hire information. Certainly you can access management features using a tablet or mobile phone, but you can use your PC for more complex functions.
Since most systems are online these days, you also don't have to worry about onsite backup. The POS company will back up your business data in the cloud as part of your service. Restaurant management software includes much more than just order processing. It also provides numerous business functions such as tracking tips for tax purposes, sending data to accounting software, creating employee shift schedules and boosting your marketing efforts. Some systems even allow you to send schedule change information via text or email directly from the system to your employees.
Restaurant Hardware Considerations
Before you buy a POS system, consider the hardware you need to acquire to help you run your restaurant better. At a minimum you'll need a payment processing terminal, which may or may not also be able to place orders. Besides the main POS terminal, there are many other hardware items you can choose from to help your restaurant become more efficient. You may also want to connect a kitchen printer and or display. Other hardware items include scales, customer displays, liquor monitors, patron tablet-ordering systems, routers, cash drawers, kiosks, table-ready pagers and more. You'll benefit from consulting with your POS representative to help you create a customized system.
Restaurant POS systems, in most cases, are no longer tied to a specific type of hardware but rather a mix of platforms. Online versions can be accessed by business owners and managers via PC systems as well as iPad and or Android tablets. Multi-platform options include Restaurant Manager and Aldelo. Nowadays, most also offer an iPad-compatible version. Some may require you to lease or purchase specific hardware to use the system such as Harbortouch. You'll want to carefully consider your options, as well as the required peripherals, before you make your commitment to a new system.
Our Verdict & Recommendations
After carefully considering the needs of your restaurant business, you'll have a good understanding of the features you'll require to better run your eatery. You may benefit from a full system, such as Revel Systems, that can be tailored to support any type of restaurant, including multi-level or multi-location restaurants or bars. Or you may want to consider Restaurant Manager, which can easily support counter- and quick-service restaurants, but that also has tools available for full-service restaurants. Another option is NCR, which provides high-end hardware options for counter-serve, mobile and full-service restaurants. All have options to employ onsite routers to keep the system running smoothly at all times. These three POS systems also allow you to choose the credit card processor of your choice, which can save you a significant amount of money over time.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. We obtained access to the dashboards of these systems for comparison by utilizing their free trials or by obtaining access directly from the provider. The companies had no input or influence over our test methodology, nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.