3 Reasons Why the Old Restaurant Cash Register is Dead

By: Kendal Austin

6 Minute Read

Apr 11, 2018

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Cash Register Blog

Cash registers used to be cutting-edge restaurant technology.

The first restaurant cash register was invented in 1879, allowing businesses to keep better track of their cash flow and sales rather than storing money in a drawer (or their pockets). Cash registers are the printing press of the restaurant industry - archaic now, but they were the start of something big.

Fast forward 140 years.

As competition gets higher and margins get lower, owning and operating a restaurant is increasingly demanding and difficult. Remember when it was totally normal for restaurants to be open six days a week? When an independent restaurant owner could take a vacation? It happened once, I swear.

We talk to a lot of folks who are moving to a modernized POS system for the first time. Actually, 10% of new Toast customers are switching from a cash register or pen-and-paper system.

Modern POS systems are eliminating some of the manual labor required to run a restaurant. They’re also enabling businesses to work smarter, not harder. Cash registers for restaurants have evolved to be more efficient, more precise, and more competitive.

If you’re still using handwritten tickets or a standard cash register, here are some key reasons why a modern POS system is worth the investment.

Free Resource: The Definitive Guide to Restaurant POS Systems + POS Comparison Tool

1. A POS system helps your restaurant be more data-driven.

We’ve written a lot about the importance of running a data-driven restaurant business. Accurate and easily accessible data enables you to make informed decisions about which menu items to offer, how many servers to call in, and whether or not you’re running a profitable business.

Imagine the time you’d save and the quick decisions you could make if you knew what your labor cost percentage was right now, if you could see which menu items are selling best at today’s lunch rush, or if you could check your smartphone and see who forgot to clock out last night.

Irene Li, co-owner of Mei Mei Street Kitchen, decided to purchase a POS system when her award-winning food truck opened a brick-and-mortar location.

“[Our POS] has made it really easy for us to see which items are doing well and which items are doing poorly,” she says, “and that is really the key to running a successful restaurant business: knowing what your sales are, what’s working, and what’s not.” Read Irene’s full story.

If you’re using a cash register to track sales, an Excel sheet to track inventory, and a punch card system to clock in staff, it’s safe to say that you spend a lot of time figuring out these data points. Without a POS system to automatically track key business metrics, it’s no wonder you feel more like a bookkeeper than a restaurant operator.

“Everyone’s time is worth something. My time is worth a lot,” says Will Goodwin, owner of Spoken Cafe in Chicago, IL who used a cash register for 15 years. “Eventually it got to be a massive amount of paperwork with handwritten tickets and a standard cash register. I was plugging everything into a spreadsheet and crunching numbers just to get a look at historical data.”

Will’s proud of the fact that he’s grown the business 20% every month since he took ownership in 2013. He’s also proud of the fact that he doesn’t have to spend all day in the back office to figure out that statistic.

“[My POS system] saves me money because I’ll be damned if I’m going to be the one tracking all that data by hand,” he says. “Before, I had to pay my staff to do it. Now, it’s incredibly easy to look and see what the day’s looking like when I’m not here in the restaurant.” Read Will’s full story.

2. A POS system helps your restaurant be more efficient.

It’s becoming harder and harder to keep up with customer expectations for service efficiency and accuracy. I spoke with a restaurant manager in New York City yesterday who said, “It’s amazing, this lunch crowd. If they don’t have their food in 4 minutes, they’re pissed.”

When it comes to efficiency and accuracy, modern POS technology can only help. The operational improvements to your business will help determine the ROI of your POS purchase. Whether you’re taking orders and payment right at the table (we’ve seen Toast customers improve turn times by 15%), using tablets for “line-busting” during a rush, or simply printing tickets at their respective prep stations, technology can shave time off your service time and, in turn, bring in more revenue.

Spoken Cafe implemented kitchen display screens (KDS) to enable baristas and line cooks to get started on the order before the customer has even swiped their credit card.

“KDS screens tell us exactly how long it’s taking to get an order to the customer because each order has a timer on it. We have a better grasp on how we’re managing the line in that moment,” Will says. “We’ve eliminated a lot of unnecessary walking around behind the counter by replacing paper tickets - we’re in tight quarters here!”

3. A POS system helps your restaurant be more profitable.

When it comes to the capabilities of restaurant technology, think big. Your POS system can not only improve in-store experience and efficiency, but it can also open up new revenue streams.

Loyalty programs increase visitation frequency by an average of 35%, getting your regulars in the door more frequently. Once there, they’ll spend 46% more then they would otherwise! If your loyalty program is built in the POS system, customers can use their credit card to collect points while you collect valuable customer contact info.

Also, offering online ordering for your customers through your POS system is like opening up a second restaurant location - without the cost of rent. Online orders have more than doubled in the past 5 years, making up $904 million in orders in 2015. Rather than paying commissions on a service like GrubHub or Foodler, look to your POS system to host your restaurant’s online ordering.

What are your thoughts on using a restaurant cash register?

A restaurant POS system is a major purchase. Most folks that still using cash registers are doing so because they assume they can’t afford a modern POS system. There’s no doubt that a POS system will cost more than a traditional cash register, but if you’re serious about growing your business, it’s an investment worth making, especially if your cash register can work in harmony with your POS system.

Will Goodwin, I think, said it best:

"It’s scary to put more money into your business,” he admits. “But you have to realize that these additions are going to make things better. [Our POS system] has been an investment for us, but it’s a quantifiable investment that’s paid us back.”

For more info on how cash registers compare to POS systems, check out this comparison.

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