Restaurant POS systems are a topic of great complexity. If you're about to take the plunge into a new point-of-sale system, you'll likely receive a range of emotions, including love, hate, appreciation, and defeat. You may also get some honest feedback, including what works, what is necessary, and why. Here's a condensed version of those answers to help you choose the right option for your restaurant.

Know Your Options

When choosing a restaurant POS system, the options are fairly vast. They include old-school, in-house systems like MICROS or Aloha, and cloud-based systems like ShopKeep or Toast. An in-house system requires more of an up-front investment. They were the industry norm for many years and are still going strong due to their powerful capabilities. Along with those capabilities, however, there are some drawbacks. In-house systems occasionally crash, and when they do, they cause a major disruption to the operation. Setup and reporting can be clunky, and there can be a significant learning curve to the overall experience as well. When time is money, that is not exactly a desirable feature. The major players in this market offer support, but that often comes with a substantial charge. Make sure you budget for support in case you need it.

Cloud-based systems offer less investment up front, and are considerably easier to navigate. They offer powerful features with an interface that operates more like an app than a classic POS system. Their intuitive, up-to-the-minute reporting, modifications, and usability make them a great option. Cloud-based systems also offer more mobility, allowing servers to use tablets for ordering and guest payments. This factor benefits everyone involved, as it saves steps, cuts down lines of servers at a stationary terminal, and ultimately helps to turn tables faster.

Consider the Details

POS software of any type is incredibly powerful, so know which features you absolutely have to have up front. Inquire about details like loyalty programs, reporting, and inventory control. Take the time to properly set the system up so it's doing the work for you. Crucial details of your business will be within reach when reports are run correctly, run frequently, and understood completely. Types of reports are vast, ranging from tracking inventory down to the ingredient to checking on labor cost percentages. Remember that reports are only as good as the data that was initially entered, so do your homework and purchase a system that's not going to quickly become a hassle to update.

Implement Your System Before Launch

POS systems can be expensive, but the investment is necessary and completely worth the expense when the system is utilized well. Relying on order pads and spreadsheets is doable in the early days if you're on a budget, but your establishment will be much better off if a POS system is budgeted for from your launch. It's also easier to choose a program that fits your exact model before you open. That said, adding a POS program to an already established restaurant is not a problem, but expect the investment to cost more and take more time to implement.

All restaurant POS systems are powerful, but the one you choose needs to fit the culture of your establishment and your tech skills. The right match and training will arm you with the information and convenience you need make informed decisions and run a successful restaurant.