Untangling The Point Of Sale: From Old To New and Understanding Your Expectations
Updated: Feb 1
To understand the POS world, I’ll have to go back to my early days in the restaurant industry. Everyone used Micros and later Aloha as their provider. For a small fee of $10,000 to $60,000 in your start-up budget you purchased a system from a local third party provider with installation costs, regular service costs, 24/7 service costs etc. Your monthly fees could be paid yearly but averaged hundreds of dollars a month. For all of this money, you received a product that if setup correctly, would do a decent job of running your restaurant, provided you didn’t need it to perform a certain way, you were lucky enough to not have the server crash on your busiest hour, or you were lucky enough and ended up with a third party provider that actually had good customer service when your POS crashed at 2:00 a.m. In reality, things turned out a bit differently and it probably left a sour taste in your mouth about POS systems.
Everyone had a very different experience with their POS at every restaurant I have ever worked in, spoken to, or heard about. Everyone had a hate/hate relationship with their POS. I quickly realized when I opened my own restaurant why POS systems have such a bad reputation. While they are just a tool to run your restaurant, every tool has flaws, and every technological tool has bugs.
The POS system that you choose is something of an arranged marriage. You don’t want to pay for it, up keep it, or learn to use it the way it was designed, but you don’t have a choice. The mindset of a restaurateur isn’t one of excitement when buying a POS. Instead, it’s one of dread and anxiety. This tool is critical to every aspect of restaurant function. Sending orders, keeping track of sales, labor, etc. It’s essentially the heartbeat of any restaurant that no one wants to think about- similar to our own hearts. You don’t ever think about your heart until something is wrong with it…..THEN things get serious.
The Stain They Left Behind
As a restaurant owner/general manager everything from service, food quality, vision etc. falls on your shoulders. There has never been an issue that has arose that I haven’t asked myself “what role did I play or not play in this that could have made a difference.” If something goes wrong it all rests on the shoulders of the person in charge. The POS system has as much resting on it’s shoulders as the rest of the staff. All it has to do is function the way it was designed, but if it makes a mistake it can send the house of cards crumbling down. In any given shift a number of stressful scenarios present themselves that have to be artfully dealt with. Let me explain……. Consider the following sequence of events took place. A 10 top suddenly turns into a 15 top, a server and a dishwasher call in sick, you have an unruly guest at a table, the bar is completely backed up, the kitchen is backed up and your ticket time is starting to slow down, and on top of all that, you are training a new hire. THIS is all happening at the same time.
For those of you not in the restaurant industry, these kinds of nights are par for the course. It’s what good hospitality professionals thrive in and when they can handle it all without the guest ever knowing, that’s what makes good restaurants great. Imagine this for a second, all of that is going on and the POS system goes down, printers stop working, credit cards won’t swipe, and no one has any idea why! This is all too common and that is the exact reason the POS systems have so much shade thrown their way. If you paid $40,000 for a car and drove 100 miles an hour in the rain with no windshield wipers and managed not to die, you would be a good driver but probably feel a little pissed at your brand new car. What if the car decided to not respond at all but kept going 100 miles an hour? That is how the whole restaurant feels when the POS goes down in the heat of a busy night. You are still going, but there is nothing you can do about it. Paying that amount for a POS system, I would demand for it to work perfectly. It’s a new era for the POS and we should be excited.
“It’s what good hospitality professionals thrive in and when they can handle it all without the guest ever knowing, that’s what makes good restaurants great.”
The New Era: Transition Into The Cloud
Now that new restaurant owners have been introduced to the history of POS challenges and veteran restaurant owners have been reminded of their worst nightmare, I want to talk about the transition into the cloud. The first cloud-based systems to come onto the market were awful, awful, awful, one more awful! They pushed the tech way too fast to market and my restaurant paid the price. You might be asking yourself “why did you choose to go with such a new, unproven technology on something so important as your first restaurant?” Well, there is only one answer, price. My partner and I figured, if really expensive POS systems weren’t all that reliable, then let’s save some money and try something new and sleek to introduce our vision to the world. We were wrong, oooooh so wrong. The numbers didn’t match up, the system crashed, and it just plain didn’t work very well.
We almost took out a loan to dump our first cloud-based POS system because it was literally going to sink us. It got a little better over time but I had to become an I.T. expert and find every workaround possible. We once had our computer hooked up to a hotspot, connected to our sound system, and we were hand writing tickets and running credit cards through an online portal. On a busy Saturday night, that will stress even the best restaurant people.
Cloud-based POS systems have gotten much better and even cheaper than when I first started to use them five years ago. However, these systems have grown so fast and only focused on scaling and they seem to have missed the point. Yes they are cheaper now than the old legacy systems but most of these new companies didn’t rethink anything. They simply took the old way of thinking and jammed it onto a much smaller platform. They also have failed miserably in their care for the restaurant owner. Customer service should be priority number one when dealing with hospitality professionals. We have the ability to rewrite what a POS means to the restaurateur. There used to be limited options that all functioned the same way. There is now an entire industry focused on making the POS experience better. It is up to us as innovators in the POS world to rethink how it works, how it services and the legacy it will leave behind. It’s a tough game to play because restaurateurs are demanding, stressed, overworked and have people to entertain every night. It’s like getting ready for a thanksgiving feast at your house with 100 of your not so close family EVERY NIGHT.
For this reason, my partners and I have built our own. Our philosophy was erected out of deep disappointment in the care a POS company has for its clients. Restaurateurs are simply seen as a number. Every POS problem is essentially an emergency, due to restaurants’ dependence on the system. At Brigade, we want to make sure that if something goes wrong, and it will, that we treat you like we own the restaurant with the crisis. We will always innovate, we will always rethink, we will always be honest, and we will always serve the restaurateur. Now to the point of the blog post.
Understanding Your POS Expectations
To my first point….recently I have had a lot of restaurants say to me “I just want the cheapest and best option”. That is very fair but the cheapest option will not always be your best option and the most expensive option will not always be the right choice either. Not to long ago you didn’t have a choice but to spend tens of thousands of dollars. Now there are a lot of options to get a two terminal restaurant open with hardware for less than five thousand dollars.
If you are going to enter a marriage, I urge you NOT to nickel and dime a company that you really like, or choose a cheaper POS just because it’s cheap. Restaurants essentially pay double, if not triple, for a reservations system because they believe it brings in customers. Customer acquisition is something any restaurateur will pay for if it’s making them money. The POS is arguably much more important to running your restaurant efficiently than a reservation system. Choosing the right POS company is like eating oatmeal every morning and running 5 miles for your human heart. Your POS is the heartbeat of your restaurant technically speaking, you should take the time to build a relationship with your POS and the company providing it.
My second point…..I urge you to manage your expectations or at least understand your expectations. Like I said earlier, POS systems are just tools to run your restaurant and they need a methodology to function well. No POS is designed to meet the needs or wants of every restaurant. If you constantly demand and expect the POS to be perfect for every scenario you come up with, you will never have a good relationship with your POS. You need each other to be successful.
I’m pleading with restaurateurs who are about to purchase a POS system to go with a company you can TRUST and realize that no POS will ever have everything you want. You will never be able to “set it and forget it” but instead you will have to build a relationship with your POS company and choose someone you can grow with, a company that cares and is striving for innovation and not a quick buy out. A company that can help you come up with alternatives that fit with the POS system and your business. Most importantly, go with a company that treats you like they own that restaurant themselves. If you get a sales person shoving that POS down your throat, I can tell you that they won’t be there when shit hits the fan.