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The Best Restaurant POS Systems for 2020

By
Lori Fairbanks
,
business.com writer
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Nov 01, 2019
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The Best Restaurant POS System Comparisons

Update: Upserve has changed its pricing, and we have revised this page to reflect that.

When you have the right point-of-sale (POS) system for your restaurantevery part of your business runs smootherIn addition to taking orders and accepting paymentsit can help you manage tables, staff, menu and inventory. Whether your restaurant is full-service, quick-service, bar or other type of dining establishment, we want to help you find the restaurant POS system that’s right for you. We evaluated dozens of options to come up with our best pick recommendations. Read on to learn more about them and the features you should look for in a POS system for your restaurant. 

Best Picks


Editor's note: Looking for a POS system for your restaurant? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you with free information.

Restaurant POS System Reviews

From taking orders to accepting payments, the right POS system can help you run your restaurant more efficiently, which is why it's important to read reviews, evaluate costs and download free trials before making your decision. Here you can find all our reviews for restaurant POS systems – our best picks as well as other popular systems.

What to Expect in 2020

As with 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, in part because they give you the flexibility you need to create a better ordering and payment experience for your customers. 

To improve customers' 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. However, 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 as self-serve kiosks in 2020 – either installed on tables or stand-alone stations – 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 also spend more, which helps your bottom line. Kiosks may also be a solution for restaurant owners that 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 their phones using mobile wallets like Apple Pay and Google Pay.  

Pricing

Each restaurant POS company offers software, and some offer POS hardware and payment processing services as well. As you compare services, you want to consider the pricing for all three components to ensure you get the best value.

Once you've narrowed down which restaurant POS systems you want to learn more about, you can call the companies for pricing quotes specific to your restaurant. At this time, you can also download trial or demo versions of the software to determine whether the systems are easy to navigate and have the functions you need. You can also evaluate whether you need to add modules or third-party integrations to the systems, which may cost extra.

 

Our Methodology

Our evaluation began with a list of 56 restaurant POS systems, comprising companies we were already familiar with, those that contacted us and some we came across in our research. We looked at costs and contract terms, as we recognize this is key information for comparing systems. We also looked for tablet-based systems, because our research indicates that most restaurant owners want this type of system. We scoured websites for information about each system, looked through user manuals, watched video tutorials and contacted the company, posing as a potential client, to ask questions about pricing, terms and features. Here's the criteria we used to evaluate restaurant POS systems.

Monthly Subscription Fees

We looked at how much the POS software costs each month for a single terminal. Although your costs may differ from those we were quoted due to the specific needs of your restaurant (such as number of terminals, devices, users, and feature modules or integrations), this number gives you a ballpark estimate of the monthly fee you can expect to pay per register each month. Monthly subscription fees vary widely because each service offers different features, numbers of users and device licenses. Some companies have a comprehensive feature set but may charge extra for each user or device you add to the system. Others have basic feature sets and charge extra for additional feature modules; this type may save you money if you don't require advanced features.

Pricing Transparency

Being able to see the pricing on a company's website saves you time, as you can determine whether or not a POS system is within your budget before you spend time on the phone or going through a product demo with a sales agent.

Contractual Terms 

Month-to-month contracts give you the freedom to move on if the POS system isn't meeting your needs or you find a better deal elsewhere. This is particularly important for restaurants that are new or on a tight budget, as some contracts have lengthy terms and early-cancellation clauses, charging hefty fees if you close your account before the end of the term. Other contracts, particularly those from companies offering free equipment, are noncancelable, which means that even if your business closes, you're still responsible to pay on it until your contact expires and you submit written notice to cancel your account before it automatically renews.

Processing Options

Most of the companies that made it onto our short list allow you to choose between multiple payment processors, which may save you money, since you can shop around for low rates. This may also be an important consideration if you're currently under contract with a processor, to spare you the expense of early-cancellation fees.

Hardware Requirements

We looked at whether the system gives you the flexibility of using equipment you already own or allows you to purchase it from a third-party vendor, as these options may save you money.

Feature Availability

In addition to standard POS features, we looked for restaurant-specific tools and the availability of add-ons or integrations that allow you to customize the system and connect with other business applications.

Support Availability

All restaurant POS systems offer customer support via email and phone, though availability may vary by hours or the plan tier you subscribe to. Restaurants often keep irregular hours, so we looked for systems with 24/7 phone support.

Frequently Asked Questions About Restaurant POS Systems

What is a restaurant point-of-sale system?

A restaurant point-of-sale system is the software and hardware used either with or alongside the card reader or credit card terminal you use to accept payments from your customers. The software records sales transactions and includes tools for recording customer orders, managing inventory and running sales reports. The hardware for a countertop POS station usually includes a tablet and stand, a cash drawer, and a receipt printer. Many restaurants also add a kitchen printer or kitchen display system and a barcode scanner.

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 restaurants, most restaurants require a system with restaurant-specific capabilities.

What are the key functions of restaurant POS software?

Your POS system brings together all the moving parts of your restaurant, streamlining your processes and giving you insights into your sales data that make it easier to run your restaurant. Here are some of the things it will help you do:

  • Take orders and send them to the kitchen printer or kitchen display system
  • Accept payment, either tableside or at the counter
  • Record sales data and generate reports
  • Track inventory on an ingredient level
  • Capture customer contact information
  • Manage employees

What hardware comes with your standard restaurant POS system?

The POS industry is moving to cloud-based tablet systems, as they're less expensive, take up less counter space and allow greater customization. Additionally, most allow you to place orders and accept payments tableside. If your restaurant is new or you've got a tight budget, a restaurant POS setup can be extremely simple with just a tablet, a card reader or terminal, a cash drawer, and a receipt printer. In most cases, you supply the tablet, your payment processing company sells you the card reader or terminal, and you purchase the cash drawer and receipt printer either directly from the POS company or from a business that sells POS hardware. You can usually choose to purchase equipment in a bundle or piece by piece.

Most systems allow you to add peripherals such as tablet stands, barcode scanners, kitchen printers, scales and liquor control devices. More advanced system configurations use additional tablets or monitors for kitchen displays, customer displays, and self-serve kiosks that allow your customers to place their own orders. If your restaurant has a bar or your register is located near a drink station, it may be worth looking into water- or splash-resistant equipment and tablet enclosures.

Is it better to purchase or lease equipment?

Industry experts recommend purchasing hardware outright, as it's cheaper than leasing and you aren't tied to a contract. Although leasing is less expensive upfront, which may allow you to get a more extensive setup than you could otherwise afford, you'll pay more over the course of the lease than you would if you purchased the hardware (sometimes exponentially so). Plus, in most cases, you don't own the equipment at the end of term, so if you want to keep it, you either have to renew the contract and keep paying monthly leasing fees or pay even more money to buy out the equipment. Additionally, most leasing contracts are noncancelable and automatically renew with only a 30-day window at the end of the term in which you can cancel.

 

Restaurant POS Features

Many restaurant POS software applications have multiple plans or service tiers to choose from, each with a different feature set and price. Some basic plans may include all the features you need, while others may require you to choose a higher service tier. In some cases, you may need to add modules or third-party integrations to get the specific features you need.

As with retail POS systems, you want to look for a system that helps you manage inventory, customers and employees. You also want it to generate sales reports and integrate with other business applications, either to share data or to extend the capabilities of your POS system. Additionally, you want restaurant-centric features that help you manage orders.

Here's a sampling of features you should look for in a restaurant POS system, plus some that may be of special interest to full- and quick-service restaurant owners.

Till Management

  • Cash management tools: You need till management features that support your cash-handling procedures, log staff activity at the till and track how much money should be in the cash drawer at any given time. They should also track payouts, voided transactions and discounts.
  • Tip tracking: You're required to report tips to the IRS, so you need your POS system to help you track them, saving you the time of recording them on spreadsheets.
  • Digital and printed receipts with tip prompts or suggested tip amounts: Digital receipts capture customer email addresses for your marketing purposes, such as coupons or discounts that encourage repeat business. Tip prompts save customers the time it would take to calculate tips and totals. They also result in higher tips for your servers.
  • Gift cards and coupon support: If you offer gift cards and coupons, you want your POS system to accept them as readily as it accepts cash and payment cards to avoid delays and confusion at the register.

Menu and Order Management

  • Menu management: You want to be able to make changes to the menu yourself, updating it at will. If your menu is online, on self-serve kiosks or on digital display boards, you want the option of syncing any updates or changes across all your menus rather than one at a time.
  • Order modifiers: If menu items require customer input, such as how they want their steak cooked, you want forced modifiers that prompt servers to ask for this information. You also want to be able to add notes to orders so you can notify the kitchen staff of allergies or special requests.
  • Kitchen printer and kitchen display system (KDS) support: Your servers should be able to send orders to the kitchen or bar with the tap of a button. Not only is this faster than relaying orders verbally, it increases order accuracy.

Inventory Management

  • Ingredient-level inventory tracking: Food is one of your biggest expenses, and tracking it at this level gives you an accurate picture of the supplies your restaurant uses so you can optimize your food ordering.
  • Accounting for inventory waste: Knowing how much food you throw out and why can help you identify and fix issues that cost you money. For example, the POS system shows you if you're purchasing too much of certain items that then go bad and must be thrown out, if there are certain dishes that are regularly sent back, or if there are employees who frequently make mistakes with ordering or preparing menu items.
  • Food cost analysis: You need to know exactly how much every menu item costs so you can set menu prices that have a healthy profit margin.
  • Vendor management: You should be able to note in the system which vendor(s) you purchase each inventory item from so you don't have to hunt down this information when reordering stock.
  • Low-stock alerts and automated purchase orders: These features help you avoid running out of the supplies you need to make your menu items.

Reporting Tools

  • Remote access to management tools and analytics: You should be able to keep tabs on your restaurant in real time and accomplish back-office tasks when you're away from the restaurant, whether you're at home or on vacation.
  • Variety of reports: It's easier to make good business decisions for your restaurant when you have data insights on profit and loss, sales trends, labor costs, and other key metrics. Reports should have filters that allow you to dig deeper into your data and a dashboard that gives you at-a-glance information on your restaurant's performance.
  • Integration with accounting programs: You want your POS system to automatically share your sales data with your accounting software so you don't have to export and upload or manually enter it into the software each day.

Employee Management

  • User profiles and access control: When you add employees to the system, you should be able to assign each one a password or passcode and decide what information and tasks they can access.
  • Time tracking and employee scheduling: If these functions aren't built in to the POS system, you'll want to see if an integration is available, as these are important features for managing staff.
  • Staff messaging: Communicating through the POS system is an easy way to update your staff on menu changes, promotions or other timely information.

Customer Management and Loyalty Programs

  • Customer database: Capturing customer contact data helps you build your mailing list for marketing campaigns and identify your regular customers. Some systems link customer names to their order histories and allow you to add notes.
  • Loyalty program management: Built-in or integrated loyalty programs grant points automatically at checkout, saving you the hassle of printing and managing physical loyalty cards (and sparing your customers from carrying around yet another loyalty card in their wallets).
  • Automated marketing tools: Built-in or integrated marketing tools use your customer data to run targeted campaigns and evaluate the effectiveness of your promotions.

Full-Service POS Systems

  • Table and seat management: A floor map mimics the layout of your restaurant and shows you which tables are open or occupied so you can seat customers efficiently. Some also show order status, how long it takes for orders to be served and the time it takes to turn a table.
  • Reservations and waitlist texting: These features help your guests plan their visits, and texting eliminates the need for a pager system.
  • Tableside ordering and payment acceptance: Entering orders on a tablet at the table reduces errors and allows your servers to send orders to the kitchen with a tap. Accepting payments tableside is efficient and allows your customers to hold on to their cards, reassuring them that their cards won't be skimmed when out of sight.
  • Multiple ticket-splitting options: With just a few taps, your server can split tickets by seat or item, which is a useful ability when serving groups and large parties.
  • Online ordering: This feature makes it easy for your customers to place takeout and delivery orders.
  • Delivery management: Some systems map out the best delivery route and allow you track your drivers.
  • Catering support: If your restaurant caters events, you want to be able to accept deposits, record the balance due and schedule large orders of food.
  • Tab management and liquor inventory tracking: These tools make it easier to run a profitable bar. Look for a system that integrates with liquor monitoring systems if you need an advanced solution.

Quick-Service POS Systems

  • Customer-facing display: This shows your customers their orders as you enter them into the POS system, letting them visually verify that the order is correct before they pay and you fire the order to the kitchen.
  • Self-serve kiosks: Whether you set up kiosks or place tablets at tables, you can give customers the option of placing their own orders and paying with the device. Many restaurants find that customers place larger orders when using this technology.
  • To-go orders: You can track phoned-in or online orders and decide whether you accept payments over the phone, online or in person when customers pick up their food.

Our Recommendations

Here's a bit more about our top recommendations for restaurant POS systems and some of their best features.

Best Restaurant POS App: TouchBistro

  • Choice of month-to-month or annual subscription
  • Compatibility with third-party POS hardware and payment processors
  • Full suite of restaurant-specific features

Best POS System for Full-Service Restaurants: Revel Systems

  • Comprehensive features, including those for table service, reservations, catering and delivery
  • Self-service kiosk ordering, online ordering and customizable mobile app
  • No hardware commitment

Best POS System for Quick-Service Restaurants: Linga POS

  • Choice of month-to-month or annual subscription
  • Compatibility with third-party POS hardware and payment processors
  • Self-service kiosks, Nest integrations, guest Wi-Fi

Best POS System for Bars: Upserve POS

  • Reports and analytics
  • Preauthorized tabs and liquor inventory tracking
  • Timed events and campaigns feature to analyze event success

Though our best picks – TouchBistro, Revel Systems, Linga POS and Upserve POS – are good options for most restaurant types, you may need certain features or qualities that not all of them offer. Here are some additional recommendations for specific feature preferences. For even more options, see the services list of restaurant POS systems below.

  • If reservation management is an important part of your restaurant's operations, consider TouchBistro and Revel Systems.
  • If you want to text waiting patrons to notify them that their table is ready, look at Revel Systems and Toast.
  • If you want to allow your customers to order with self-service kiosks, look at Lightspeed, Linga POS, Revel Systems, Talech, Toast and TouchBistro.
  • If you need a system that helps you manage your vendors and create purchase orders, Upserve POS, Epos Now, Revel Systems and Talech are good options.
  • If you need a system that works with Android tablets, consider Epos Now, Square and Toast.
  • If you prefer using touchscreen displays rather than tablets, look at Epos Now, NCR Silver and Restaurant Manager.
  • If you want to work with a local dealer, Lavu and Restaurant Manager are worth consideration.

Common Restaurant POS System Questions & Answers

Have a restaurant POS system question of your own?
Ask an Expert

Do I need a POS system?

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A POS is so simple to acquire these days and it offers support, reports and so much more than you can do manually. Even with a few small transactions a day, it will be good for taxes at the end of the year, organization and a better understanding of business trends, times of transactions etc. Square offers a great way to do that very inexpensively. There are a lot of really inexpensive options that will help you save time so you can grow your business rather than filtering transactions manually.

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Hi Heather, Other than menu engineering, the second concern I have seen most restaurant owners have is stock control. Have you done a menu analysis to see which items are acutely making you the most money based on the sales mix? Also, are you able to report on the number of stock items purchased vs the amount wasted? These sort of reports are sometimes available in a really robust POS, but often involve a specialised inventory control system to dive into extreme detail. It is...

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I have three 30-seat cafe restaurants, and I use Revel POS. It is all iPad based, and runs off installed apps. The back end is a cloud based CRM (for want of a better word), that quickly enables updates, menu item changes, pricing to be changed on site or back home in my office, or for that matter, anywhere I have internet access. The support is really good, takes about 30 minutes to install on site, and errors are quickly rectified. Its been easily scaleable so far. The staff like...

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