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by Justin Guinn,
Market Research Associate
Last Updated: August 19, 2015


The challenge for buyers looking for restaurant point of sale (POS) systems is that the majority available lack restaurant-specific features, such as tip tracking, order entry and recipe costing. To find a system with traditional POS functionality along with features to satisfy restaurant operation requirements, buyers usually turn to large retail suite vendors. We developed this buyer’s guide to help restaurant owners understand the market and begin their search to find the right POS systems for restaurants.

Here's what we'll cover:

What Is Restaurant Point of Sale Software?
Common Features of Restaurant Point of Sale Software
Deployment Options
Market Trends to Understand

What Is Restaurant Point of Sale Software?

Systems exist for both large- and small-scale establishments to support some to all restaurant requirements, including inventory, point of sale, accounts payable and reservations. General ledger, accounts payable and accounts receivable are typical features of POS systems. Historically, customer relationship management (CRM) has played a small role in restaurant software, but social media is driving change and innovation in this area.

Inventory is perishable and in many cases replenished daily or even more often. Therefore, inventory management is a common requirement for buyers. Hazard analysis and critical control point (HACCP) management compliance are also important for regulatory and insurance purposes. Restaurant POS systems should also be able to adjust to different menus and prices for different times of day, and many systems have reservation functionality that integrates with Web-based reservation services like OpenTable. Bars can often use the same systems as restaurants, but some owners may elect to use more specialized bar POS software systems.

Common Features of Restaurant Point of Sale Software

In evaluating software, restauranteurs should evaluate the following functions to meet their unique requirements:

Tip tracking and time clock IRS regulations for tips are strict. The restaurant system needs to properly track, estimate and report tips for the IRS as well as state and local authorities if appropriate. The system must also track hours worked by the staff, track breaks and track compliance for juvenile workers.
Order entry For servers, the view of the restaurant system is the order entry and check handling system. With a handheld device or a kiosk station, the order must be quickly and correctly entered. The order entry system must also handle special orders.
Kitchen printing Once an order is entered, it must be printed or displayed in the kitchen. The system should split the order by kitchen station if appropriate. At the same time, the system will adjust inventory. Advanced systems will sequence the dishes so a table’s order is completed at the same time.
Check handling Checks should be generated by the ordering system. The check system should also suggest tip amounts. Quick service and fast food restaurants will have order entry and check handling integrated at the counter, table service will separate check printing and payment from order entry. Advanced systems will have table side check presentation and payment.
Spoilage reporting Restaurants have perishable inventory that must be tracked and documented. The system must identify expired inventory to be removed from stock and provide compliance documents.
Recipe costing Recipe costing is a key function for a restaurant system. The system must check recipes against inventory and labor costs to determine actual costs and profitability for each dish.
Reservations, queue management, seating If the restaurant takes reservations, the system must record the reservation, manage the queue and balance seating between servers. Advanced systems will send reminders to customers by text or email and will activate restaurant-provided pagers when seating is available for a party.
Menu management The menu management tracks dishes and prices. Advanced systems will also provide layout options and feature pictures. The menu system provides nutrition information and special dietary information where required.
Inventory management In addition to producing the spoilage reports, restaurant inventory sotware systems track inventory use and costs including economic reordering points. It should also produce management reports to help detect theft and over-portioning.
Inventory receiving Restaurants can receive inventory multiple times a day. Fresh inventory can also vary in price frequently. The system should accept advance shipment notice (ASN) reports from suppliers and prepare inventory receiving reports to confirm amounts and prices.
Customer relationship management Newer restaurant systems can send targeted offers to customers by email and text messages. The system must have a way for customers to “opt out” of future offers.

Deployment Options

Many small restaurants just need a basic cash register software to run payments. Typically, these types of buyers will use small business accounting software like QuickBooks or standalone POS applications. But some buyers seek more advanced features such as integrated inventory management, customer relationship management, food cost monitoring and more. These buyers should consider a retail software suite with restaurant-specific features such as Aloha by NCR/Radiant Systems.

Software buyers for larger restaurant chains are typically looking for scalable solutions with sales reporting features, a centralized pricing structure and robust inventory management. Systems like NCR or NetSuite would meet this requirements.

Market Trends to Understand

The restaurant market continues to be influenced by mobile, consumer-facing technology. Here are two trends to keep in mind as buyers begin on the restaurant software search:

Consumer-facing technology. Restaurants are beginning to integrate iPad and consumer technology into the dining experience to meet client demands for faster checkouts, easier payment options with suggested gratuities, and entertainment such as gaming. In June 2012, the Wall Street Journal released a report about iPad apps that restaurants are rolling out to customers. Diners can order meals, pay bills or play games from these devices.

Servers using tablet hardware. In addition to consumer-facing iPad technology, we’re seeing an increase in iPads and mobile devices for line busting in quick service restaurant environments. Servers are using apps for iPhones, tablets, and other mobile devices to take orders in high-throughput restaurant locations.

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