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How to Choose a Bar POS System

Skye Schooley
Skye Schooley
Staff writer

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.

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."

 

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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.

Cloud-based POS software has become very popular in the business community, since it is affordable and easy to use. 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. Before purchasing this 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.

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 system. 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 the 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."

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.

Choosing the best bar POS system

When choosing the best POS system for your bar, it is important to factor in the features you need and your available budget. Some POS systems cater to retailers, whereas others cater to restaurants, so be sure to look for one that fits your specific needs. It is important to anticipate your business growth and choose a bar POS system that will allow you to expand as you see fit.

Our current pick as the best POS system for bars is Upserve POS, formerly Breadcrumb. Upserve POS focuses on small restaurants but can also accommodate large, multilocation bars. In addition to the standard restaurant-centric features, it offers many useful features specific to bars. For example, it includes bar tab management, campaign capabilities, inventory tracking and industry app integration.

Although Upserve is our choice as the best POS system for bars, there are many great options out there. Here's a look at some of the other ones.

Best bar POS Systems

Lightspeed Restaurant

Lightspeed has POS software designed specifically for bar and restaurant owners. It supports an unlimited number of users, has a bunch of must-have features including tableside ordering, inventory, customer, and employee management, reporting, and access to a library of popular integrations.

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 start at $39 per month. Lightspeed options include accounting integration, a self-order kiosk, a delivery integration loyalty program and loyalty app.

TouchBistro

TouchBistro is a leader in the restaurant POS market, offering customers an affordable, easy-to-use system that has a lot of built-in features bar owners will appreciate. It has a variety of pricing plans starting at $69 a month for one license. The team plan, which includes five licenses, costs $249 a month.

Toast

Toast has a lot of features geared specifically toward bar owners including its pre-authorization tool that lets you verify and securely save card information on a bar tab. That reduces fraud and the risk of unpaid tabs come last call. Toast Go, its mobile POS, lets bartenders take orders behind the bar or on the dance floor. Toast's starter plan runs from $69 to $90 a month; it's essential plan costs $99 to $140 a month; its growth plan runs from $189 to $290 per month.

Additional reporting by Donna Fuscaldo

Image Credit: Milkos / Getty Images
Skye Schooley
Skye Schooley
business.com Staff
See Skye Schooley's Profile
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.