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How to Choose a Bar POS System

Skye Schooley
Skye Schooley
Staff writer
business.com Staff
Updated Aug 31, 2021

Learn what features to look for when choosing the best bar POS system for your business.

If you are operating a business, chances are good that you will need a point-of-sale (POS) system to complete consumer purchase transactions – and bars are no exception. The components of a POS system include hardware, software, and operational features.

Not all POS systems are the same, and some will fit your business better than others. You may only need a simple system to complete business transactions, or you may require a full-service option that also monitors inventory, tracks employee tips, and integrates with other applications. Before choosing from the many great POS systems for restaurants and bars, evaluate your business’s needs and assess how each option fulfills those needs.

Did you know?Did you know? When it comes to shopping for POS systems options abound. Vendors cater to different industries so make sure to go with one that has experience working with bar and restaurant owners.

Chris Ligan, vice president of acquisitions at credit card processing company Auric, listed a few must-haves that every business, bar or otherwise, should look for in a POS system.

“When purchasing a point-of-sale system, make sure to pick a system that is flexible [and] has a good support service … with a strong call center,” Ligan told business.com. “Most importantly, find a system that does not hold you hostage by forcing you to use their merchant services, as the hardware you have should be open source.”

Editor’s note: Looking for the right POS system for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.

 

Bar POS hardware

For a bar POS system, you will need to either purchase or lease your hardware components, though industry experts recommend avoiding leasing, as contracts are lengthy and noncancelable. A countertop POS station usually includes a tablet and stand, receipt printer, and cash drawer. You will also need a credit card terminal or card reader. 

Depending on your needs and budget, you may want to incorporate other peripherals for a seamless POS station, including barcode scanners, scales and liquor control devices. Bars with kitchens and cocktail servers will need additional hardware. For example, if you serve food at your bar, you will need a kitchen printer or a kitchen display system (KDS).

“If you have cocktail servers, you will need a cocktail station or, even better, a mobile POS device to take orders at the table, but it is really a matter of personal preference or theme of the bar,” said Ligan. 

Since bars are typically fast-paced environments that have occasional spills, smaller accessories like waterproof tablet cases can be a good investment to keep your equipment in good working condition. POS hardware like kiosks, digital menu boards and coin dispensers is available, but these are typically not necessary items for a bar POS system.

Bar POS software

Most POS software is a software as a service (SaaS) and either web-based or app-based, although you also have the choice of a local server-based option. Ligan said the best POS software for your business will depend on your bar size and load.

Based on its affordability and ease of use, cloud-based POS software has become very popular in the business community. This type of software can be easily installed on your POS terminal or tablet and has a wide range of capabilities – a notable one being the ability for you to store and view your sales data online. The type of integrations you deploy with this software will depend on the plan you choose from your service provider. Although cloud-based software is easy to deploy and maintain for most bars, Ligan said it can be slow and prone to crash if you have an unstable internet connection. 

TipTip: Before purchasing a cloud-hosted software option, speak with your internet provider to ensure a fast and stable connection.

Locally hosted POS software is the legacy way of operating a POS system. With this option, your data is stored on site, which can cause problems for managers who need to access their data sets away from the bar. This option is more costly and typically only beneficial for extremely large establishments. If you are operating a small or midsize bar, cloud-based POS software is likely the best option for your business.

Choosing the best bar POS system

When choosing the best POS system for your bar, it is important to factor in the POS features you need and your available budget. You don’t want to be stuck with one that has all these bells and whistles you’ll never use or worse can’t grow with your business. To ensure you’re making a sound decision take the following things into consideration:

  • Does it meet your business’s specific needs? Some POS systems cater to retailers, whereas others cater to restaurants. So, be sure to look for one that fits your specific needs. You want to select one that’s designed with bars in mind, not one that makes it an afterthought.  

  • Can it support your growth? It is important to anticipate your business growth and choose a bar POS system that will allow you to expand as you see fit. 

  • Is it affordable for your budget? There are a variety of POS systems on the market at varying price points. You want to select one that fits your budget.  A POS is designed to help you better run your business. If it costs too much, it could negatively impact your cash flow. 

  • Is the software compatible with your other business apps? A good bar POS will easily integrate with your accounting software and other business apps to give you a full view of your business. If the POS system doesn’t integrate with your existing software and you don’t want to change vendors, select a different POS provider. 

FYIFYI: When shopping for a POS system think about what features are important and which ones you can live without. The fewer the bells and whistles the less expensive it will be.

Best bar POS Systems

When choosing a POS system for your bar, there are a number of choices to consider.

Upserve

Upserve POS, formerly Breadcrumb, is our current choice as the best POS system for bars. Our review of Upserve found that it can accommodate large, multilocation bars, as well as smaller taverns and restaurants. focused on small restaurants but can also accommodate large, multilocation bars.

Key features

  • Bar tab management 
  • Campaign capabilities
  • Inventory tracking 
  • Industry app integration
  • Create custom reports
  • App integrations
  • Account management and consulting

Upserve pricing    

Plan Monthly fee Additional terminal costs
Core$59 per month and includes a single POS terminal$60 per additional terminal
Pro$199 per month$50 per additional terminal
Pro Plus (Designed for organizations that manage multiple locations)$359 per month$40 per additional terminal

Lightspeed Restaurant

Our comprehensive review of Lightspeed found that it has POS software designed specifically for bar and restaurant owners. It has a smorgasbord of services aimed at helping the hospitality industry run its businesses. Its mobile app is a bonus, enabling you to stay on top of your business from anywhere.  

Key features 

  • Supports an unlimited number of users
  • Tableside ordering
  • Inventory tracking 
  • Customer and employee management
  • Reporting and analytics
  • Access to a library of popular integration

Lightspeed pricing

  • Pricing starts at $59 a month billed annually or $69 a month billed monthly and supports one register. Each additional register costs $34 a month. 
  • Pricing for add-ons such as a customer-facing display, kitchen display system, advanced reporting and a self-order table menu start at $12 a month. 
  • Premium add-ons, such as accounting integration, a self-order kiosk, a delivery integration loyalty program, and a loyalty app, start at $39 per month.

TouchBistro

When reviewing TouchBistro it was easy to see why it is a leader in the restaurant POS market. It offers customers an affordable, easy-to-use system that has a lot of built-in features bar owners will appreciate. 

Key features 

  • Drag-and-drop table-management tools
  • Tools to track table turn over
  • Online ordering
  • Tableside order and checkout 
  • Mobile POS 
  • Inventory tracking 
  • Customer management and loyalty tools 
  • Employee management 
  • Reporting and analytics 

TouchBistro pricing

  • POS license: Starting at $69 per month
  • Reservations: Starting at $229 per month
  • Online ordering: Starting at $50 per month
  • Gift cards: Starting at $25 per month

Toast

Our review of Toast shows that it has a lot of features geared specifically toward establishments in the hospitality industry. One such tool is  Toast Now, which lets you accept online ordering without the need to purchase more hardware. 

Key features

  • Credit card pre-authorization tool 
  • Toast Go mobile POS
  • Online ordering 
  • Contactless delivery 
  • Email marketing
  • Inventory management
  • Tableside ordering 
  • Reporting and analytics 
  • Loyalty program 

Toast pricing 

Plan Monthly fees
Starter$69 to $90 per month
Essential$99 to $140 per month
Growth$189 to $290 per month

Clover

Clover is a one-to-shop for bar and restaurants owners thanks to its POS and credit card processing services. When reviewing Clover we found that it has a vast network of resellers, making its hardware affordable. Couple that with robust POS software and you can see why it’s a top option for bars. 

Key features 

  • Credit card and digital payment processing
  • Digital payments 
  • Customer and inventory management
  • Gift cards and loyalty programs
  • E-commerce
  • Merchant cash advance services

Clover pricing 

  • Register Lite: $9.95 a month after a free 30-day trial. The transaction fee is 2.7%, plus 10 cents for in-person purchases, and 3.5%, plus 10 cents for payments taken virtually or entered by hand. 
  • Register: $39.95 per month and has more advanced capabilities. The transaction fee is 2.3%, plus 10 cents for in-person purchases, and 3.5%, plus 10 cents for online and keyed-in purchases. 

Features needed in a bar POS system

The size and speed of your bar will play a role in what features your POS system should have. However, there are a few standard features that can be beneficial for every bar:

  • Order taking (and sending to the kitchen, if necessary)
  • Payment processing
  • Employee management (function and data access)
  • Inventory tracking
  • Data recording and reporting

Ligan said bar owners should also look for these capabilities when choosing a POS system:

  • Fast user interface speed – Not all graphical user interfaces (GUIs) are created equal. For example, some can require extra steps when they are exiting screens to modify, start or cash out a tab, which might frustrate your bartenders.

  • Tab transfer and selection between systems – It’s essential to have a system that can seamlessly transfer the tab between servers. For example, if a customer opens a tab at the bar but then moves to the patio seating, the tab will need to be transferred accordingly.

  • Accounting and tip-out – Your system should record transactions and integrate with your accounting software. For example, for a quick and accurate closeout each night, it’s important for bartenders to have a system that can track purchases and calculate tips.

  • Surcharge and cash discount capabilities – These programs are popular with bars and a great way for your business to make additional money.

Determining bar POS system cost

When determining how much a bar POS system will cost your business, you must first decide if you are going to lease or purchase your hardware. Many small businesses benefit from buying their POS hardware outright since POS leases can be tied to credit card processing and have lengthy contracts. Merchants should choose POS equipment that is “unlocked” so they can use it with another vendor if they decide to switch providers.

Although the cost per hardware device varies by provider, tablet-based systems are currently the most popular option and typically much less expensive than bulky legacy systems. Tablet-based systems are also beneficial for small bars that have a limited budget to start with but want to add peripheral pieces as their needs and capabilities grow.

Small bars typically benefit from cloud-based POS software offered on a month-to-month basis. Many companies offer discounts for merchants that pay annually in advance (usually 10% for one year or 20% for two years). Before taking advantage of these long-term discounts, you should be confident that you like the software enough and will still be in business for that length of time because there are usually no refunds. In this case, you can close your account and switch software; you just won’t get your money back.

Ligan said to look for POS systems that are open-source on merchant processing, which means they are compatible with almost any processor. This gives you the flexibility to change processors, if needed, and can ultimately save you money.

“When [a POS system] isn’t open-source, it’s basically like buying a car and then having to buy gas from the person who sold you that car,” said Ligan. “The gas prices are forever set by whatever the seller of the car decides that month.”

Did you know?Did you know? Some POS systems won’t work with every credit card processor. To ensure yours does, choose a POS system that is open-source on merchant processing. That means it’s compatible with most credit card processors.

Benefits of POS systems for your bar

There’s a lot of reasons POS systems are so popular with bar and restaurant owners. They can streamline many of the processes, freeing up time to keep customers happy and business growing. From controlling inventory to speeding up ordering, here are some of the top benefits of using a POS system in your bar.

  • Lower costs from heavy pours: A big problem in bars is heavy-handed bartenders when it comes to pouring drinks. That can add expenses to your business and harm the bottom line if it goes unchecked. A POS system can help with that. It tracks inventory and alerts you when stock is low. If inventory is running out sooner than it should, that could clue you into a pouring problem. Many bar owners link pour spouts to their POS system to accurately track sales of liquor in the bar.

  • Automate ordering: POS systems can automate the ordering process, making it easy to avoid situations where you have excessive or limited inventory of popular drinks or food items. It can help you plan for slow and busy seasons, improving cash flow and the bottom line.

  • Speed up bartender ordering: For bartenders who are pouring drinks and taking orders, a POS system can speed up ordering times. That means your bar can ring up more sales throughout the night. Short lines equal happy customers.

  • Manage staff schedules and POS system access: A POS system is more than a tool to ring up sales and print out receipts. The leading ones have a built-in time clock and scheduling software to help you manage employees. You can run reports to see who your top performers are and reward them with the best shifts. Many POS providers let you have multiple accounts, which means staff can ring up sales and accept reservations. To control who uses it and when POS systems let you set access controls and track employees while as they ring up sales.

Additional reporting by Donna Fuscaldo. Some source interviews were conducted for previous versions of this article.

Image Credit:

Milkos / Getty Images

Skye Schooley
Skye Schooley
business.com Staff
Skye Schooley is a staff writer at business.com and Business News Daily, where she has written more than 200 articles on B2B-focused topics including human resources operations, management leadership, and business technology. In addition to researching and analyzing products that help business owners launch and grow their business, Skye writes on topics aimed at building better professional culture, like protecting employee privacy, managing human capital, improving communication, and fostering workplace diversity and culture.