What Is a POS System for Restaurants?

Achieve maximum efficiency with the perfect POS system


Times have changed. Once upon a time, all a business needed to ring up customers was an old-fashioned cash register. But modern commerce has introduced modern challenges such as keeping things running smoothly at checkout — and when it comes to the restaurant industry, customers and staff have specific expectations.

Whether you’re new to the industry or looking to upgrade, you may find yourself wondering, “What is a POS System for restaurants?” These systems are designed with the specific needs of the restaurant industry in mind, streamlining the process of booking reservations, seating patrons, relaying orders to the kitchen, and processing the check at a meal’s end. Staff at every level of the business hierarchy use them; a good one can raise customer satisfaction and employee efficiency all at once. A bad one, meanwhile, can lose a restaurant cash and customers in equal measure. From hardware to software, here’s what to look for when choosing the right POS system for your restaurant or bar.

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Key features for restaurant POS hardware

If software is the magic that keeps your restaurant running smoothly, then hardware is the spellbook that contains it. Software is all the programs and apps you use on the day-to-day (more on that later), and hardware is the physical objects on which that software runs.

Most restaurant POS systems offer a variety of hardware options running a gamut of sizes. They can range from the desktop computer-sized terminal you may encounter walking into your local fine dining establishment to the handheld device carried by each of the servers at the neighborhood dive. Some even offer tablet-sized POS devices that fit in well for counter-service, especially when used in conjunction with a stand that lets it swivel to face the customer for digital signatures.

Whatever combination of devices you opt to employ, your POS will hook them all into a single network, enabling easy communication. That’s particularly useful when it comes to sending orders to the kitchen, where some POS systems can enable a kitchen display system to show your back of house what they’ve got coming down the line.

POS systems can often be installed on consumer devices such as phones and tablets, turning them into de facto POS hardware. When it comes to ease of use and rapid onboarding for employees, this prospect can be hard to beat. But remember how chaotic a restaurant can get. Your POS devices will likely see their share of damage, whether that’s being knocked to the floor or splattered with grease. It’s important your hardware can stand up to the pressures of the restaurant industry.

What is a POS for a restaurant without payment processing? Not very useful, that’s what. And here in 2023, plastic is the preferred payment method among restaurant customers. In one survey, only around 16% of US customers reported having used cash for their most recent restaurant transactions. Meanwhile, just over 70% reported using a debit or credit card. That means that although a cash register retains an important place in a restaurant’s POS, credit card processing is essential.

Contactless payment is also growing increasingly popular, with 24% of consumers saying they would be more likely to patronize a restaurant that offered it. Contactless payments, be they debit cards, credit cards, or phone-stored digital wallets, make payments faster and easier by bypassing the need for PIN input and eliminating faulty magstripe swiping. American Express says contactless payments are 63% faster than cash and 53% faster than a traditional credit card — which makes for higher customer satisfaction and quicker table turnover. In other words, payment options are among the most important features to look for in POS hardware.

Key features for restaurant POS software

An intuitive interface

Simple though it may seem, an intuitive interface is not a given on restaurant POS software — anyone who’s ever worked in a restaurant can tell you horror stories about a rogue POS locking up during the dinner rush or sending the wrong order to the back. The simpler and more straightforward the interface, the more quickly your servers can record and place orders. Diners themselves can use these interfaces in some cases — when ordering online, for example, or at a kiosk in your establishment — and the system must be even simpler in that case. Where your servers have time to learn the intricacies of the interface, your customers just want their food, and if the machine is making it hard, they’re less likely to return. So keep it simple, software.

Automatic inventory management

Maintaining inventory is one of the most important and onerous tasks in the restaurant racket. It’s crucial for informing customers what items you have (or do not have) available to order, for understanding how regularly you need to re-up with suppliers, and for preventing theft and waste — it is, in a word, essential. But keeping manual tabs on how many potatoes go into the fryer each day is a huge pain.

Enter automatic inventory management. With the right restaurant POS system, you’ll either have a built-in inventory management system or be able to integrate one you already use. Either way, you’ll get a constantly updating tally of what you have on hand as customers quite literally eat their way through your stock. This means less manual tracking of inventory, saving you and your staff time; it means less employee theft because they know everything will be accounted for in the system; and it means less waste because you’ll be able to identify what actually sells, what does not, and what sells but not enough to justify its costs. Speaking of which…

Sales and labor reporting

Many restaurant POS systems will integrate with your menu and build a heatmap of ordered items, giving you a better sense of how popular your individual items are. This can make it easier to find your restaurant’s niche and dig into it. It can also help you optimize your menu by pushing the most high-performing dishes to the front to speed up ordering, or by moving underperforming items up to see if they receive a boost from their new placement. With a digital menu or customer kiosk, you can easily A/B test menu adjustments and get real-time data to help you maximize sales and customer satisfaction.

A good bit of POS software can also track payments and labor, giving you a clearer picture of how your employees are spending their time and where more opportunities for efficiency can be found. Restaurant POS systems make it easier to identify pain points in your staff’s workflow, which you can then iron out to up your revenue.

Kitchen communication

Opening lines of communication between the front and back of house teams can do more than build camaraderie among your staff — though that’s important, too. It can also streamline the ordering process by sending tickets to the kitchen quickly (especially if you’ve got a kitchen display system), moving customers through their meals, and freeing up their tables for new guests. Substitutions and dietary restrictions can be made clear with open communication. And if there’s trouble brewing on either side of the pass, clear communication can help avert disaster.

Integrations with your current systems

Even if you can’t find the exact right POS for your restaurant — maybe it’s too expensive, maybe you have some special consideration the system can’t account for — you should be able to find one that integrates with your current systems. Many POS systems support a wide range of integrations, and the more interconnected your systems, the fewer chances for important information to fall through the cracks. You’ll also benefit from employees needing to learn less new information before they can operate at peak efficiency. If you’re already happy booking reservations through OpenTable or scheduling shifts through CheddrSuite, look for a POS system that can communicate with those apps.

Customer data management and security

Customers tell us a lot about themselves when they come to a restaurant or bar. A good POS system can harness that data securely, empowering you to understand your customer base and better serve it. You’ll be able to personalize your interactions with individual customers, deepening their connection to your business and building loyalty. But all of that comes with the implicit understanding that their data will be kept safe. Your restaurant’s POS must be completely secure to have any chance at all of building and maintaining customer loyalty.

Mobile payment

Contactless payments grow ever more popular, both in the United States and abroad. There were an estimated 4.4 billion near-field communication (NFC) transactions in 2022 in the U.S. alone, and they contributed to a total global payment value of $4.6 trillion. A healthy 94% of smartphones in the world are capable of NFC payments, so it's no surprise that global NFC payments are expected to value $10 trillion by 2027. Just about every customer in the U.S. is likely to have a phone capable of mobile payments, and the more time passes the more customers will use that feature for its convenience and speed. Mobile payments keep customers happy and tables turning.

With CityCheers, mobile payment becomes even faster and easier. The ExpressCheck feature allows customers to pay on their phones without even waiting for the bill, leaving them with a final positive experience of your restaurant and freeing up their table for more business. ExpressCheck also integrates with leading restaurant POS systems, and protects against credit card fraud and walkouts. To learn more about how CityCheers can benefit your restaurant or bar, book a demo with us today.