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Updated Apr 10, 2024

How to Choose a Bar POS System

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

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Skye Schooley, Senior Lead Analyst & Expert on Business Operations
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If you run a bar, there is a good chance you will benefit from having a point-of-sale (POS) system to complete consumer transactions. But with so many options to choose from, it can be difficult to figure out which one is right for your business. You may need only a simple system, or you may require a full-service option that monitors inventory, tracks employee tips, and integrates with other applications. Here are some factors to consider when you’re choosing a POS system for your bar.

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.

Choosing the best bar POS system

When choosing the best POS system for your bar, you must first consider the POS features you need and your available budget. You don’t want to be stuck paying for a system with a ton of bells and whistles you’ll never use or that can’t grow with your business. To ensure you’re making a sound decision, consider the following questions:

  • Does it meet your business’s specific needs? Some POS systems cater to retailers, whereas others focus on bars or restaurants, so look for one that fits your specific needs. You want to select a system 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 your business to expand. 
  • Is it affordable for your budget? There are a variety of POS systems at a range of prices, so select one that fits your budget. A POS system is designed to help you run your business better, and if it costs too much, it could negatively affect your cash flow
  • Is the software compatible with your other business apps? A good bar POS system will integrate easily with your accounting software and other business apps to give you a complete 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.
  • Is it flexible? It’s crucial to find a POS system that is flexible and supportive. “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,” Chris Ligan, head of account acquisitions at credit card processing company Auric, told us. “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.”
TipBottom line
POS system vendors cater to different industries, so make sure to choose one that has experience working with bar and restaurant owners.

Best bar POS systems

There are several solid options for POS systems that cater to bars. Here are some of the best vendors to consider.

Lightspeed Restaurant

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

Key features 

  • Unlimited number of users
  • Table-side ordering
  • Inventory tracking 
  • Customer and employee management
  • Reporting and analytics
  • Library of popular integration options

Lightspeed pricing 

Plan

Monthly fees

Starter

$69 per month

Essential

$189 per month

Premium

$399 per month

Enterprise

 Custom pricing

Users can also add tools and services, like delivery, property management and accounting systems integrations, gift cards, customer-facing display systems, order pickup screens and kitchen display systems.

TouchBistro

If you read our TouchBistro review, you’ll quickly understand why this vendor is one of the best bar and restaurant POS systems. It offers an affordable, easy-to-use system with many built-in features that bar owners will appreciate. 

Key features 

  • Drag-and-drop table-management tools
  • Tools to track table turnover
  • Online ordering
  • Table-side ordering 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
  • Loyalty programs: Starting at $99 per month
  • Marketing: Starting at $99 per month
  • Kitchen display systems: Starting at $19 per month
  • Profit management: Starting at $330 per month

Toast

Our review of Toast shows that it has many features explicitly geared toward establishments in the hospitality industry. One such tool is Toast Now, which lets you accept online ordering without purchasing more hardware. 

Key features

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

Toast pricing 

Plan

Monthly fees

Quick-start bundle

Starting at $0 per month

Core plan

Starting at $69 per month

Growth plan

Starting at $165 per month

Build your own

Custom pricing

Clover

Thanks to its POS and credit card processing services, Clover is a one-stop shop for bar and restaurant owners. When researching and writing our review of Clover’s POS system, 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 

  • Full-service dining: Starting at $1,699 plus $84.95 per month (or $160 per month for 36 months)
  • Quick-service dining: Starting at $799 plus $54.95 per month (or $100 per month for 36 months)

Bar POS hardware

For a bar POS system, you must either purchase or lease your hardware components, though industry experts recommend that you avoid leasing, as contracts are lengthy and noncancelable. A countertop POS station usually includes a tablet and stand, a receipt printer, and a 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.

“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,” Ligan said. 

Because 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 options such as kiosks, digital menu boards and coin dispensers are available, but these items are not typically necessary for a bar POS system.

Bar POS software

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

Because of 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 — notably, the ability 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 for most bars to deploy and maintain, it can be slow and prone to crashing if you have an unstable internet connection. 

TipBottom line
When you're shopping for a POS system, think about which features are essential and which ones you can live without. The fewer bells and whistles it has, the less expensive it will be.

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 when they’re away from the bar. This option is more costly and typically beneficial only for the largest establishments. If you operate a small or midsize bar, cloud-based POS software is likely the best option for your business.

Features needed in a bar POS system

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

  • Dynamic menu creation
  • Order taking (and the ability to send to the kitchen, if necessary)
  • Split-check options
  • Payment processing
  • Tip recommendations
  • Employee management (function and data access)
  • Food and alcohol inventory tracking
  • Data recording and reporting

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

  • Fast user interface: Not all graphical user interfaces are created equal. For example, some require extra steps for 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.
FYIDid you know
Before you purchase a cloud-hosted software option, speak with your internet provider to ensure a fast and stable connection.

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 limited budgets 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 percent for one year or 20 percent 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 suggested looking 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,” Ligan said. “The gas prices are forever set by whatever the seller of the car decides that month.”

Bottom LineBottom line
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, meaning it's compatible with most credit card processors.

Benefits of POS systems for your bar

There are many reasons POS systems are popular with bar and restaurant owners. They can streamline processes, thus freeing up time to keep customers happy and the business growing. Here are some of the top benefits of using a POS system in a bar:

  • Lower costs from heavy pours: A big problem in bars is when bartenders are heavy-handed when pouring drinks, which can add expenses to your business and harm your bottom line if it goes unchecked. A POS system can help with that by tracking inventory and alerting 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 liquor sales.
  • Automated 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, thereby improving cash flow and your bottom line.
  • Faster 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.
  • Staff schedule management 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, allowing you to set access controls and track employees as they ring up sales.

Donna Fuscaldo contributed to this article. Some source interviews were conducted for previous versions of this article.

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Skye Schooley, Senior Lead Analyst & Expert on Business Operations
Skye Schooley is a dedicated business professional who is especially passionate about human resources and digital marketing. For more than a decade, she has helped clients navigate the employee recruitment and customer acquisition processes, ensuring small business owners have the knowledge they need to succeed and grow their companies. In recent years, Schooley has enjoyed evaluating and comparing HR software and other human resources solutions to help businesses find the tools and services that best suit their needs. With a degree in business communications, she excels at simplifying complicated subjects and interviewing business vendors and entrepreneurs to gain new insights. Her guidance spans various formats, including newsletters, long-form videos and YouTube Shorts, reflecting her commitment to providing valuable expertise in accessible ways.
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