Whether you're looking to upgrade an existing point-of-sale system for your restaurant or in the market to buy your first one, you should consider an iPad-based system. These full-featured systems are smaller, sleeker and less expensive than traditional restaurant POS systems. They can help you easily handle front-of-house tasks like taking orders and accepting payments as well as back-of-house responsibilities like managing staff and tracking inventory. To help you choose the best iPad restaurant POS system, we evaluated dozens of options and narrowed them down to the following recommendations.
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What Is a Restaurant POS System?
A restaurant point-of-sale system is the hub of your business. You use it to take orders and send them to the kitchen, accept payments from your customers, record sales data, track inventory at the ingredient level, generate reports, capture customer contact information, and manage employees.
A restaurant POS system has three components: software, hardware and payment processor.
- The software comes as an app that you download and install on your iPad. Most are also available as a cloud-based web app that lets you easily access reporting and management features from any browser. Restaurant POS systems differ from retail POS systems in that they include special feature sets for menus, food inventory and tips. Although some retail POS systems are suitable for counter-service food and beverage businesses, most restaurants require a system with restaurant-specific capabilities.
- The hardware for your restaurant POS system can be as basic as just an iPad and a credit card reader or credit card terminal, but most also have a cash drawer, receipt printer and tablet stand. As your food and beverage business grows, you can add more tablets, a kitchen printer or kitchen display system, a barcode scanner, digital menu boards and other accessories.
- The payment processing service either integrates with your restaurant POS software or runs alongside it. Many POS system providers have their own credit card processing service, but the best still allow you to work with the processor of your choice – or at least give you a choice of processors – so you can comparison shop for good rates. Having a choice in processors is important because if your rates go up and you want to find a better deal, you only have to switch processors – you don't have to switch out your entire POS system.
After you select two or three iPad restaurant POS systems to learn more about, you'll want to call the companies for pricing quotes specific to your restaurant. You'll need to ask for pricing for all three parts of the system: software, hardware and processing.
Before deciding on any iPad restaurant POS system, schedule demos and download trial versions of the software so you can take them for test drives and see for yourself which system is easiest to use and has features that will streamline your restaurant's processes.
iPad Restaurant POS Software Costs
As you begin looking at pricing online, you'll notice that most restaurant POS providers list a monthly fee. If you read the small print, you'll find that these prices are often based on an annual subscription or annual prepayment. There are month-to-month plans available, but they're harder to find and may cost a bit more than the prices published on company websites.
While the best POS providers have monthly or annual terms, some require you to sign a two- or three-year contract. This isn't ideal, because the contracts strongly favor the service provider, with automatic renewals and short cancellation windows, early termination fees (some with liquidated damages clauses that make it very expensive to exit early), and clauses stating that the company can raise your rates at any time as long as it gives you 30 days' notice.
In addition to the POS subscription costs, you should ask about remote and/or onsite installation and training costs. Some companies don't charge anything extra for these services, some offer installation assistance as an optional service, and some charge hundreds or even thousands of dollars. If you have a complex setup with multiple registers or lengthy menus with recipe and ingredient lists, it may be worth it to pay for setup help, but make sure you're aware of all possible costs so there aren't any unpleasant surprises when you get the bill.
iPad Restaurant POS Hardware Costs
Some POS providers have proprietary hardware that you must use with their point-of-sale systems. Others use third-party POS hardware with their systems; some sell it themselves, while others don't, but they generally list compatible brands and models on their websites so you can comparison shop.
For most restaurant owners, it's more cost-effective to work with a POS provider that supports third-party hardware, especially if you already own some and want to continue using it. It may also allow you to continue using it if you switch POS providers later on.
iPad Restaurant POS Processing Costs
More and more POS providers are offering in-house credit card processing. The benefit of this arrangement is that the processing service seamlessly integrates with your iPad restaurant POS system. The downside is that it can be more expensive than working with a third-party processor.
Over the long term, payment processing may be the most expensive part of your iPad restaurant POS system – which is why some companies offer you free POS hardware if you sign a long-term contract agreeing to use their processing. It's also the reason companies like Square and PayPal give you free access to basic POS apps as long as you use their processing services.
For this reason, it's best to get a POS system that lets you choose your own credit card processor or, at the very least, gives you a list of compatible processors to choose from. The best iPad restaurant POS providers do this – even if they also offer in-house processing. This way, you can shop around for a better deal if your rates increase or you aren't satisfied with the credit card processing service.
Restaurant iPad POS Features
Managing a restaurant business isn't easy, which is why you need a full-featured iPad POS system that streamlines processes and helps you stay on top of it all. Here's a sampling of the features you want to look for in a restaurant POS system. When you're looking at your options, keep in mind that some features are built in (included with the subscription price), some are add-ons that cost extra, and some are third-party integrations, depending on the system.
Once you've downloaded and installed the restaurant POS app, your iPad becomes a powerful mobile point-of-sale that you can use to run the front of your restaurant. It can help you seat customers, take orders, add modifiers, split bills, accept payments, manage tabs, track tips and more. Many also offer access to the system's back-of-house features as well.
All of the best iPad restaurant POS systems have cloud-based software that works in tandem with the iPad app to give you access to real-time data and reports from any browser. The POS provider hosts your data in the cloud, so you don't have to manually back up your data on a local server.
The restaurant POS system should help you manage cash by tracking how much money is in the cash drawer, recording payouts and voids, and logging your employees' activities at the till. Register features should be easy for your servers to use, giving them the ability to split tickets in multiple ways with just a few taps. When customers are ready to pay, it should prompt them to tip and suggest tip amounts. It should also track tips, making them easy to report to the IRS.
Menu and Order Management
The system should allow you to update or change the menu at will – adding, removing and editing items as needed, and adding pictures and descriptions. If you have an online menu or display boards, it should give you the option to sync updates across all of them at once rather than updating each one separately.
If your menu has items that allow for customization, your POS system should support order modifiers and allow your servers to add customer notes that alert the kitchen staff to customer food allergies or special preparation requests. The server should be able to fire orders to the kitchen printer or kitchen display system with a tap. If you offer takeout or delivery, the system should print tickets for those orders as well.
Ordering ingredients is challenging – especially when they're perishable. Order too much and they spoil. Order too little and you run out, disappointing hungry customers who were eager to order their favorite menu items. For this reason, you need a system with real-time inventory tracking and ingredient-level detail, showing you the exact quantities you use so you can optimize your supply orders. Some systems alert you when supplies are running low and have automated purchase-ordering tools that can save you time.
Food cost analysis is another useful feature, showing you how much it costs to make each menu item so you can set prices with a profitable margin. Food waste tracking helps you spot inefficiencies so you can figure out how to reduce waste, whether from spoilage, mistakes or other issues. If you serve liquor at your restaurant, you want a system that tracks liquor consumption or integrates with a liquor control device so you can track those amounts as well.
The best iPad POS for restaurants have a dashboard that shows your sales data and other key data sets as charts, giving you an at-a-glance overview of your restaurant's performance. You'll want to be able to run multiple reports and apply filters to drill down on the information that's important to you. The system should integrate with your accounting software to automatically sync your data, saving you the time it would take to manually accomplish this task each day. It should also offer remote access to your reports and other back-office features so you can generate reports and take care of management tasks anytime, anywhere.
One of the advantages of using a cloud-based iPad POS system for your restaurant is that it gives you real-time data about your sales, inventory and staff, so even when you're away from your restaurant, you can monitor how it's running. When you're running reports or analyzing data, you can be confident that you have accurate, current numbers to base your business decisions on.
If you have employees who will be using the POS terminal, you'll want to create user profiles, assign passcodes and designate access permissions, whether by role or customized for each employee. If you use your POS system to track your labor costs, it should prompt you to enter pay rates.
Several restaurant POS systems have built-in timeclocks so employees can clock in and out through the system. A few systems include or integrate with scheduling tools to help you staff shifts efficiently. Some systems also include in-system messaging, allowing you to communicate seamlessly with your staff while they work.
Because it's more expensive to find a new customer than to retain an existing one, you want a restaurant point of sale that helps you keep in touch with your customer base. It should make it easy to capture customer contact information that you can use for your marketing campaigns and delivery services. Some track order histories, which can help you understand and cater to your best customers' preferences, and allow you to add notes, such as customers' birthdays or favorite menu items. If you choose to offer a loyalty program, a POS that offers this integration and automatically tracks points makes it easy to manage.
Ordering takeout and delivery online is increasingly popular with consumers, so it's wise to choose an iPad POS system that either offers this feature as an add-on or integrates with online ordering software. If you don't offer your own delivery service, look for a system that integrates with ordering partners like DoorDash, Grubhub or Uber Eats.
If you deliver food to your customers, look for a system that has delivery management features like caller ID, Google Maps support, driver tracking and delivery time estimates.
Most of the top restaurant POS systems run on iPads, while just a few, like Toast, are built for Android tablets. In addition to a tablet, you'll need a credit card reader, and you can add other peripherals like a cash drawer, receipt printer, kitchen printer and barcode scanner. In addition to using iPads as registers, some systems allow you to use them as customer-facing screens and self-ordering kiosks.
Although nearly every iPad restaurant POS system allows you to email receipts to your customers, most restaurant owners choose to add a receipt printer to their systems, since many customers still request paper receipts. Also, table-service restaurants may still need paper receipts to encourage tipping.
If your restaurant accepts cash as well as credit cards, you'll want to add a cash drawer to your system so you can organize your paper money and coins and quickly make change, as you would with a cash register.
POS Features for Full-Service Restaurants
If your restaurant offers table service, you'll need a system with a floor map that shows open and occupied tables, helping you to seat customers efficiently. Reservation and waitlist texting features may be useful as well. You'll want your servers to be able to take orders and accept payments tableside with iPads, and if you have a bar, you'll also want tab management tools and either liquor inventory tracking or an integration for your liquor monitoring system. You should also look for online ordering, catering support and delivery management features if your restaurant offers these services.
POS Features for Quick-Service Restaurants
A customer-facing display that shows your customers their orders as you enter them into the system improves accuracy, as your customer can see whether the order is correct before they pay for it and you send it to the kitchen. Another helpful feature to consider is self-service ordering that allows your customers to place their own orders on iPads that you set up as kiosks.
Benefits of Switching to a Restaurant POS System
There are several advantages of using an iPad POS system for your restaurant. Here are just three:
- The biggest advantage is that it's usually much less expensive than traditional POS systems. There's some very affordable, highly capable restaurant POS software with month-to-month terms. Most include 24/7 support and regular updates with your plan, so you don't have to sign a long-term customer service or maintenance contract or pay for annual upgrades.
- Ease of use is another big benefit. Most of these systems are intuitive to set up and use and have cloud-based software, so you don't have to fuss with cords and wires or worry about backing up your system every night. Some are hybrid systems that require you to have a local server to keep things up and running if your internet connection lags or drops, but they also back up your data to the cloud automatically.
- Mobility is a huge advantage of iPad POS systems. Instead of having one or two point-of-sale stations or cash registers that servers have to go back and forth to – and sometimes wait their turn for – to enter orders into the system, charge credit cards, and print receipts, you can arm each server with an iPad so they can take orders, send it to the kitchen with a tap, and process payments tableside. All of these functions tend to increase accuracy, speed and customer satisfaction.
How Does Switching to an iPad POS System Benefit the Customer's Experience?
iPad POS systems allow your servers to take orders at the table directly on the iPads, which is not only faster but also reduces the chance that your servers will enter orders incorrectly, since they won't be jotting down orders on a notepad and then taking them to the back to enter into the system.
Also, even though EMV chips have reduced credit card fraud, customers are still nervous about letting their credit cards out of their sight. With an iPad POS system, your servers can accept card payments at the table instead of taking the cards to a point-of-sale station in the back, bringing your customers peace of mind and increasing their trust in your business.
How Do You Know if You Should Switch to an iPad POS System?
If you're looking for ways to streamline processes at your restaurant, ways to save money, and a new system that looks sleek and modern, you should look into an iPad POS system.
How to Choose a Restaurant POS System
There are many factors to consider when you're shopping for a restaurant POS system, but the first thing you want to know is if it's in your budget. It can have all the latest bells and whistles, but if you would have to go into debt to buy it, it's probably not the right system for you. There are several options that have minimal startup costs so you can start with just the basics and then add features and peripherals as your business grows.
What Do You Need to Know About Your Business in Order to Choose the Right iPad POS System for You?
You need to have a clear understanding of your processes so you can identify the features you need, the features you want and the features you probably won't ever use.
What Steps Should You Take to Choose an iPad POS System?
When you're in the market for an iPad POS system, the first thing you'll want to do is look at your options. Ask other restaurant owners what system they use and what they like and don't like about it. Check out POS system reviews like this one to see what they recommend and why.
Once you have three or four systems that you're interested in learning more about, check out their company websites and sign up for demos. Pick your top two and call the companies for quotes to find out exactly how much they will cost you, the term length of the contracts, and if they're compatible with third-party POS hardware and payment processors. If a company offers a free trial, download the point-of-sale software and take it for a spin. Try out all the features so you can decide if it's the right iPad POS system for your restaurant.
How Does Your Target Customer Base Affect Which iPad POS System You Should Choose?
You'll want to keep your restaurant type and your target customer base in mind when you're looking at features. For instance, if your target customer base is the lunch crowd that wants to order and pay quickly so they can get back to work, you might want a system that supports self-serve kiosks to speed up those processes. If you want a system that caters to takeout customers, you would look for one that has online ordering and delivery management tools.
Business Sizes Using Restaurant iPad POS Software
Food and beverage businesses of all sizes can benefit from iPad POS software. Although most iPad POS companies focus on small and midsize restaurants, most are scalable, support multiple locations and offer enterprise plans.
Why Should You Consider Your Business's Size When Choosing a POS System?
The size of your business will help determine the number of POS terminals – or iPads – and any additional hardware that you need. It will also influence the plan level and add-on features you need. If you have a small restaurant, a basic POS software plan with one iPad license might be plenty, whereas a slightly larger restaurant might need a higher-tier plan with an online ordering add-on and multiple iPad licenses.
What Are the Main Differences Between POS Systems for Large Businesses and Those for Small Businesses?
POS systems designed for large businesses tend to be more customizable, whereas those designed for small businesses usually have three standard plans to choose from.
How Do You Know Which POS System to Choose Based on Your Business's Size?
No matter how big or small your food and beverage business is, you want a scalable POS system, letting you start with just the features and number of registers you need and then easily add on to your system as you go or even downsize if needed. That way, you aren't saddled with a system that's too big and complex for your current needs as you anticipate future growth.
In our search for the best iPad restaurant POS systems, we examined several dozen options and considered pricing, contract requirements, features and more. For details on our evaluation process, see the methodology section below.
Best iPad Restaurant POS System Overall: TouchBistro Restaurant POS
- Scalability to work with nearly any type or size of restaurant
- Robust selection of restaurant-specific features, including ingredient-level inventory tracking, customer-facing display, self-service kiosk ordering and delivery management
- Compatibility with third-party POS hardware and several credit card processors
- Curated selection of integrations
Best iPad POS System for Quick-Service Restaurants: Linga POS
- Transparent pricing with one of the lowest-priced basic plans, costing $19.99 per month per register (billed annually); month-to-month plans also available
- Full selection of restaurant-specific features, including discounting, combo ordering and pizza portioning
- Optional add-ons and integrations, including customer display, self-service kiosk ordering and loyalty programs
Best iPad POS System for Full-Service Restaurants and Bars: Lightspeed Restaurant
- Choice of month-to-month, annual or multiyear subscription as well as a choice of payment processor
- Strong feature set with table, tab and reservation management
- Add-ons and integrations for loyalty programs, self-service kiosk ordering, advanced reporting and accounting
Our top recommendations – TouchBistro, Linga and Lightspeed – are great POS solutions for most restaurants wanting an iPad-based system, but if you're looking for more specific features, consider these additional recommendations:
- If you need reservation management tools to keep your busy restaurant running smoothly, check out TouchBistro, Revel Systems and Lightspeed.
- If your customers would enjoy ordering with self-service kiosks, consider Lightspeed, Linga POS, Revel Systems, Talech and TouchBistro.
- If you want timed menus or automated discounts for events such as happy hour, check out Upserve, Lightspeed, Linga POS, NCR Silver, Revel Systems, Talech and TouchBistro.
- If you need a system that helps you manage your vendors and create purchase orders, Upserve, Epos Now, Linga POS and Revel Systems are good options.
- If you want a good Android-based tablet POS solution, check out Toast.
What Are the Top Overall POS Systems for 2020?
To see our recommendations for the top overall POS systems for 2020, check out our POS systems review.
What Are the Best New Restaurant POS Systems for Small Quick-Service Restaurants?
If you have a small quick-service restaurant and don't need a lot of extras, check out Square. You do have to use Square as your processor, but its free POS software has a lot of useful features for quick-service restaurants like tip prompts, customer management and feedback, basic inventory management, and reports. If you want a more advanced system that supports multiple menus and table management, Square for Restaurants may be a good POS solution for you. It costs $60 per month but provides service on month-to-month basis, so you're not locked into a long-term commitment.
What Are the Top New Restaurant POS Systems That Integrate Inventory and Accounting Features?
All of our best picks have ingredient-level inventory tracking and integrate with accounting software.
We began our evaluation by compiling a list of iPad restaurant POS systems. Starting with systems we already knew, we added companies that reached out to us plus several we found online. We combed company websites for details about each system, looked through resources like user manuals and video tutorials, and asked live chat agents about features, pricing and terms. We used the following criteria to evaluate each iPad restaurant POS system.
Monthly Subscription Fees
We considered how much the POS software for a single iPad costs each month. Though the price you're quoted may be different – owing to various factors, such as the number of users, iPad registers and features you add to the system – this number is useful, because it gives you a ballpark idea of the subscription fee you can expect to pay per iPad each month.
We value transparent pricing because it's a timesaver; it allows you to decide whether an iPad restaurant POS system fits in your budget before you call the company and spend time talking on the phone or going through a demo with a sales agent.
The best terms are month to month, as this allows you to avoid incurring a cancellation fee or waiting out a lengthy term if the system doesn't meet your expectations. If you are confident that the system is a good fit and want a discount more than flexibility, though, an annual subscription might be the better option for you. Be wary of contracts with multiyear terms – you'll be charged hefty fees if you exit your contract before the term expires.
The ability to choose your payment processor can be a money-saver, because it lets you shop around for the best rates and terms. Some restaurant POS systems for iPad require you to use their in-house processing services, but many give you at least a few third-party processors to choose from.
The best systems are compatible with third-party hardware, which can save you money because you can look for deals or use the POS equipment you already own. This may also allow you to continue using the hardware if you switch to a different POS company later.
We looked for features specific to restaurant POS systems and the availability of third-party integrations or add-ons that you can use to customize the system.
Every iPad restaurant POS system provides customer support by email and phone, though availability varies by company hours or your subscription tier. We looked for 24/7 support, since many restaurants keep late hours.
Frequently Asked Questions About iPad Restaurant POS Systems
iPad vs. Android: Which restaurant iPad POS platform is better?
While some POS systems are compatible with either iPad or Android tablets, many only work on one platform. If you prefer iPads, chances are you won't be satisfied with a system that only works with Android tablets. If you want to use the iPads and iPhones you already own, platform is an important consideration as you evaluate systems.
iPads are well known for their user-friendly interface and stability, as Apple designs both the hardware and the operating software. iPads also have superior security because iOS is a closed platform, making it a less attractive target for hackers (though it isn't immune to malware attacks, so it's still important to keep your devices updated). However, iPads tend to be more expensive than Android tablets because they're produced by a single company rather than multiple manufacturers.
Why do you need a restaurant POS system?
Running a successful restaurant requires you to manage not just front-of-house elements (menus, staff and customers), but also back-of-house tasks (the kitchen, inventory, purchase ordering and reporting). To do this, you need software that brings it all together in one place, helping you efficiently and effectively manage every aspect of your business.
What features do the best iPad POS systems for restaurants have?
The best restaurant POS systems for iPad offer all the features you would look for in a traditional restaurant POS system, plus tools for creating menus, taking orders, managing inventory at the ingredient level and recording tips. Features are discussed in greater detail above.
What hardware do I need for my restaurant POS system?
Cloud-based restaurant POS systems are popular because they're cheaper, sleeker and easier to customize than legacy POS systems. Restaurant POS setups can be very basic, with just an iPad, a card reader, a cash drawer and a receipt printer. You typically supply the tablet and buy the card reader or terminal from your payment processor. You buy the cash drawer and receipt printer from the POS company or a third-party POS hardware reseller. Most companies offer equipment both in bundles and as individual components.
Most systems let you add peripherals, such as iPad stands, barcode scanners, kitchen printers, and liquor controls and scales. System configurations can be very advanced, with additional iPads for kitchen displays, customer displays and self-serve kiosks that customers can use to place their own orders. Splash-resistant covers may be worth investigating if you'll use iPads at the bar or near a drink station.
Is it better to purchase or lease restaurant POS equipment?
You'll save money by purchasing your POS hardware outright, and you won't be tied to a multiyear contract. Leasing can seem like an attractive option because it costs less upfront and allows you to get a fancier setup than you could afford otherwise. However, by the end of the lease term, you'll have paid much more than you would have paid to purchase the equipment. Plus, you don't own the equipment at the end of term, so you have to either renew the lease and continue monthly payments or buy out the equipment.
Most leases are noncancelable, and you only have a 30-day window at the end of the term to cancel and return the equipment before the lease automatically renews.
Which restaurant POS software has the smoothest implementation?
This depends on your restaurant's specific needs and whether you prefer to use a local server, a cloud-based POS, or a hybrid system that uses a local network to run the system but backs up your data to the cloud for remote reporting capabilities.
A cloud-based system is the easiest to set up: All you need to do is download the mobile app to your iPad and connect any peripherals, such as your printers, via Bluetooth.
Why is choosing an iPad restaurant POS system challenging?
Many iPad restaurant POS companies offer several software service tiers or plans to choose from. Some systems or plans may have all the features you need but cost more. Others have fewer features and cost less, but these plans may or may not save you money, depending on whether you need to add modules or third-party integrations, which cost extra. As you compare system costs, consider which features you need, whether they're included on basic or advanced plans, and which ones you need to add to the system at an extra cost.
You also need to consider the hardware side. Some companies have proprietary hardware that's your only option for their system, while others work with open-source POS hardware that you can buy from the vendor of your choice. Keep in mind that if you switch POS systems in the future, you likely won't be able to use the vendor's proprietary hardware, but you may be able to continue using open-source hardware.
What to Expect in 2020
As in other segments of the payments industry, mobility and the customer experience are key topics for restaurant POS systems in 2020. Tablet-based systems continue to grow in popularity, partly because they give you the flexibility to create a better ordering and payment experience for your customers.
To improve the customer payment experience, more restaurants will use tablet POS systems with mobile card readers to accept payments tableside. Although this technology has been available for several years, American restaurants have been slow to adopt it, even though many use tablets to take orders.
TSYS's 2018 study of restaurant payments reveals that 69% of diners would prefer to pay at the table. Although only 6% of consumers ranked it as the most important restaurant payment feature, the top two picks – secure payments and speed – provide insight on why accepting payments tableside improves customers' dining experience. First, it allows customers to keep their cards in view during the entire transaction, which gives them peace of mind. Second, it's faster, since customers don't have to wait for the server to bring the check, come back for the card, walk to the back of the restaurant to process the card and then walk back to the table.
More restaurants will also use tablets – installed either on tables or at stand-alone stations – as self-serve kiosks in 2020 to allow customers to place their own orders and pay for their food. Customers enjoy the convenience of shorter lines and the novelty of ordering and paying at a kiosk. They tend to spend more with this setup, helping your bottom line. Kiosks may also be a solution for restaurant owners who need to reduce labor costs as wages continue to rise.
Your customers will use their mobile devices to interact with your restaurant more frequently in 2020 as well. Ordering ahead by mobile is expected to continue to grow in popularity as both a takeout and dine-in option, and more dine-in customers will pay with mobile wallets like Apple Pay and Google Pay.