Here's what you need to know about point-of-sale contracts, hardware and processors.
When you're in the market for a new point-of-sale (POS) system, one of the keys to saving money is to keep your system as flexible as possible. This allows you to shop for deals on each piece of the system and, as your system ages, change things as needed without overhauling your entire system. As you're evaluating POS systems for your restaurant, look for a system that gives you the flexibility to do the following:
- Switch POS software providers without penalty
- Continue using your POS hardware when you switch software
- Work with the payment processing company of your choice
- Add features to the system as needed
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The following five tips can help you save money on your next restaurant POS system:
- Choose a cloud-based system with a monthly subscription. The main benefit of this is that, if you're unsatisfied with the software after using it for a few months, you can switch services without being out hundreds of dollars on a software license for a system you won't be using. You won't have to pay any additional fees for upgrades either, as they're included in the subscription price, so you always have the most recent version at no additional cost. And, although you still need to do your part to keep your data secure, you're not storing sensitive customer payment data on your system – it's in the cloud, and the POS company does all the heavy lifting to keep it secure.
- Insist on a system with month-to-month service. There are two reasons you don't want to sign up for a service that requires you to sign a lengthy contract. The first is that you maintain your freedom to switch to another system without being charged an expensive early cancellation fee if you don't like the POS software and want to try a different system or find a better deal elsewhere. The second is that the POS company should have enough confidence in the quality of its product and service that it doesn't feel that it needs to lock you into a contract to keep you as a customer.
- Select POS software that works with unlocked hardware you can buy outright. There are two problems with systems that have proprietary hardware. First, you have to buy the equipment from the company (or a dealer) and pay whatever it's charging – you don't have the option of shopping around for a deal. Second, if you switch systems, you're stuck with unusable equipment and the prospect of buying new equipment, which may deter you from switching to a new system until your equipment breaks, even if you're experiencing significant issues with the system. Ideally, you want POS software that works with hardware you can purchase from a third-party vendor.
Also, you never want to lease equipment, because it will cost you exponentially more over the life of the lease than if you buy the hardware upfront. Plus, you'll have to sign a leasing contract, and these typically span three to five years and are noncancelable, meaning that even if you go out of business and return the equipment, you're obligated to continue paying on it. Although buying equipment is a higher upfront expense and may mean that you have to start with just the basics (tablet, cash drawer and receipt printer), you can add more peripherals as your restaurant grows and you can afford them.
The last hardware-related point to keep in mind is that even if the system is cloud-based, it may be platform specific, meaning that it only works with iPads and iPhones or with Android tablets and phones. If you have a strong preference for a specific platform, or already own tablets or mobile phones that you plan to use with your POS system, you want to verify that they're supported.
- Opt for a system that's compatible with multiple credit card processors. Doing so allows you to shop around for the best rates, fewest fees and most favorable contractual terms (month-to-month service). While some POS systems integrate directly with nearly every major U.S. processor, others may only offer a handful of options. If the payment processor you prefer doesn't integrate with your POS system, or if you want to use one of the less expensive POS systems that don't integrate with any processors, you will have to process payments alongside the POS system. While this is less convenient than an integration, it may be worth the extra steps to complete a transaction if it offers substantial savings or you're under contract with an incompatible processor and don't want to pay a cancellation fee.
- Consider whether the POS system integrates with other business systems. This is an indirect money saver, as it may save you time, which, in turn, saves you money. If the POS system integrates with business systems you already own, such as your accounting program, it can save you the time it would take to enter or upload data from one system to the other. It also gives you the option of augmenting the system with advanced features as your business grows rather than switching to a more expensive system with built-in features. Popular integrations include loyalty tools, advanced employee and inventory management programs, and email marketing features. Some add-ons and integrations cost extra, while others are free, so you'll want to take into account any additional costs as you compare systems.
Following these tips saves you money in several ways: You'll have the freedom to shop around for the best prices, upgrade select components rather than the entire system, and avoid getting locked into a system, service or hardware that you have to pay extra to get out of or continue paying on even if you dislike it or no longer use it.