How to Choose the Best POS for your Restaurant

Choose a pos

Choosing the best POS system for your restaurant is a big decision with potentially game-changing results for your bottom line. Learn about the major factors that should go into your decision.

Your point of sale is so much more than the system where transactions are tallied and paid. Your POS is at the center of an important moment of engagement with your guests. In food service and hospitality, the exchange has the potential to be easy and pleasant — “The barista remembered my name!” — or cumbersome and awkward — “How are we going to split this tab?” 

Choosing the right POS for your restaurant will not only keep your business organized and efficient, it will help you deliver exceptional and memorable service. Read on to learn the five most important factors to consider in choosing a restaurant POS

The Restaurant POS Comparison Tool
A free, customizable Restaurant POS Comparison Tool to research and compare point of sale systems in one Excel spreadsheet or editable PDF.

How to Choose a POS System: Evaluate Your Needs

To begin assessing what you need out of a POS system consider the following:

  1. Service ModelIs your restaurant full service or counter service? Perhaps you run a food truck. Or maybe you’re experimenting with a hybrid model. However you're selling your fantastic food, your service model can help inform the number of terminals you’ll want as well as the specific features that are important to you. For example, a full service restaurant might need check-splitting and course firing capabilities and handheld POS systems to help increase table turn times, while a coffee shop might prioritize an integrated loyalty program to build up their roster of regulars.
  2. Data and Reporting: The insights generated by your sales transactions are a potential gold mine for your business - but only if you can easily access and understand them. Do you like to compare sales data week to week and year to year? Do you have multiple locations? Need to understand your top performing menu items? How dine-in vs. takeout is trending? Decide the key metrics you want to monitor everyday to assess your data and reporting needs, and make sure your POS system has robust reporting and analytics capabilities.
  3. Ease of Use: Both your staff and your guests interact with your point of sale. Easy-to-use systems makes training new hires easier, and helps you deliver a more pleasant guest experience. Consider the learning curve involved with a new POS system. Is it as intuitive to use as browsing Netflix, or will staff and customers need education and coaching?
  4. Accessibility: While your restaurant might represent the fulfillment of a lifelong dream, you still probably don’t want to be there 24/7. Is having your POS data stored in the cloud and accessed remotely an important priority?  
  5. Extensibility: Are you in the market for a POS to exclusively manage orders, sales, and payments, or are you interested in a system that can connect to other parts of your operation? When COVID-19 hit, businesses that had the flexibility to add tools like online ordering, contactless delivery, contactless payments, digital loyalty programs, and e-gift cards were in a better position to serve customers in a safe and comfortable manner. Having the ability to control and maintain some of these features through your own POS system instead of outsourcing to third-party vendors can increase your revenue as well as give you invaluable data about your customers.

Choosing a POS System Provider

With your needs assessment complete, it’s time to begin comparing POS providers. Options on the market today can be broadly organized into cloud vs. legacy systems. 

Cloud-based systems are hosted on the web and be accessed anywhere you have a wifi connection — just like how you access the cloud each time you log into your email or social media accounts. For restaurateurs, cloud-based systems provide the flexibility to manage your restaurant from anywhere - whether you need pop out to Restaurant Depot for a restock or you're on a well-earned vacation. Legacy POS systems rely on data stored on local servers on a closed network. 

Another important dimension to consider is whether the systems you’re evaluating are restaurant-specific. There are both cloud-based and legacy systems designed exclusively for restaurants. 

Retail POS systems (those you’ll see used in salons, pet stores, and other businesses) can typically cover basic orders and payments for a food business, but restaurant-specific systems are better equipped to accommodate the unique needs of restaurants, like tracking courses and seat numbers, comparative reporting between locations, and setting up multiple jobs per employee (for example, a server that picks up shifts as a bartender).

The Restaurant POS Comparison Tool
A free, customizable Restaurant POS Comparison Tool to research and compare point of sale systems in one Excel spreadsheet or editable PDF.

Investigate the Cost of Different Systems

The pricing structures for point of sale systems can vary widely. When shopping for POS systems, there are two key investments to understand: upfront costs and ongoing costs. Component costs may include hardware, software, installation, payments, and support. For each POS, you consider you’ll want to understand which of these costs apply and how you’ll be billed for each. Some companies charge all costs upfront while others offer a SaaS model (software as a service) where you make payments each month. Financing options are also an option to inquire about. Many POS providers offer financing to help mitigate large upfront costs. 

When comparing costs another important consideration is your payback period - the amount of time it takes to recover the cost of your investment. For example, imagine your new POS system is a $9K investment, and in the first month, you drive $12K in incremental revenue. Your payback period in this example would be around three weeks.

Toast offers an ROI Calculator to help you calculate your expected return on investment (ROI) for a new POS system, and check out Toast’s POS comparison page to understand how our system stacks up to competitors.

Read Reviews and Ask Your Community

After narrowing your search to POS systems that meet your needs and your budget, the next step is to tap your network and consult your peers. Restaurateurs using the POS systems you’re considering are your best source for candid feedback. In addition to reading reviews, pay a visit to your friends in the industry and ask them the following questions:

  • Tell me about your experience with your POS system

  • What does your staff say about your POS?

  • Which business operations does your POS make easier? Which does it make harder?

  • If you could change one thing about your POS what would it be?

  • How satisfied have you been with customer support?

A bonus to shopping for a restaurant POS is that you can experience the systems as your guest would! Visit establishments using the systems you're considering. Order a meal or make a purchase. Is the experience simple? Was your order accurate? Are you given options for how to pay and is payment easy to complete? Are you prompted to sign up for marketing emails or a loyalty program? How is your receipt issued? 

Your purchase is an opportunity not only for the restaurant to take your order and payment but to make a good impression and learn more about you. Does their POS allow them to do both?

Get a Demo

You now have a shortlist of POS systems you’d like to see in action. It’s time to get a demo! You should be able to easily request a demo through each POS provider’s website. You can expect to contacted by a sales representative to set up a time that works for you for an in-person visit or phone conversation. 

This will be your opportunity to learn more about how exactly each system would work in your restaurant and the expected value you’ll see delivered. Use the following checklist to prepare for your demo:

  1. Enlist the Appropriate Decision Makers - At the end of the day, who will make the determination about which POS you choose? Is it you? A superior? A joint decision with a business partner? It’s most efficient to have all stakeholders attend the demos you set up.
  2. Share Your Goals in Advance - If given the opportunity, share what matters most to you in a POS system ahead of the demo. Are there specific products you want to learn more about? Features you require? Business objectives you’re looking to drive? This will allow the sales representatives to focus your demo on what’s most important to you.
  3. Prepare a List of Questions - A demo is a great opportunity to dig into specific products and features so it’s a good idea to come prepared with questions about functionality. But it’s also a good time to learn more about the POS provider as a partner. What’s on their research and development roadmap? What do they see as their limitations or gaps today, and how are they addressing them?
  4. Confirm Your Timeline & Next Steps - Assuming the demo goes well and you’re interested in moving forward, confirm your timeline and next steps with the POS provider. Are you opening a new restaurant and have some time before you need your system in place, or are you interested in coming on board ASAP? Be clear with your needs.

Choosing the best POS system for your restaurant is a big decision with potentially game-changing results for your bottom line. With this guide you’re now equipped to narrow the world of options available to the best restaurant POS for you.

Toast Point of Sale
Learn how a better point of sale system can help you run your restaurant.