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Technology

Why You Need a Restaurant POS System, Not a Retail POS

by

Katherine Pendrill

When it comes to purchasing a new POS for your restaurant, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is buying a POS intended for retailers, instead of a restaurant POS system. Unfortunately, it’s an easy mistake to make because there are many similarities between the two products – from some of the core features to the hardware itself.

But just because you might be able to use a retail POS system in your restaurant, it doesn’t mean you should.

Restaurants and other foodservice establishments face distinct operational challenges from that of retail businesses, and they need POS systems that can help them overcome those challenges. A POS built for restaurants is specially designed to help run a food service business efficiently and to make the job of staff significantly easier. And, when your staff can do their jobs quickly and efficiently, they can provide a better customer experience, ultimately helping to bring in more sales.

Of course, using the right POS system isn’t just about managing day-to-day operations, but also about long-term growth. Restaurant POS systems are designed to scale with your restaurant with relevant add-on solutions, such as reservations and online ordering, that can help your business grow and adapt to changing circumstances.

This is especially important in the COVID-19 era, when many restaurants have been forced to alter their business model in order to stay afloat. Without a restaurant POS system and these industry-specific solutions, this kind of pivot is much more difficult.

While it’s clear that there are many benefits to using a restaurant-specific POS system in your venue, finding one that fits your needs isn’t always so straightforward. To help you navigate the many types of POS systems out there, this article will cover:

  • What a POS system is
  • The differences between a restaurant POS system and a retail POS
  • The benefits of using a POS for restaurants
Waitress holding an iPad in a restaurant

What Is a POS System?

If you’re new to the world of POS systems, it’s important to clarify what a POS system actually is before discussing the different options available.

POS is an acronym that stands for point of sale and refers to any place where a transaction is completed for a product or service. However, POS is typically used interchangeably with the term POS system, which refers to the actual hardware and software used to run and manage your business.

Your POS system is one of the most important pieces of technology for any business because it acts as the hub of your operation. In a nutshell, your POS system handles end-to-end workflow and sales transactions to make running your business easier and more efficient.

Get the Ultimate Guide to the Best Restaurant POS Systems

Compare the top restaurant POS systems on features, pricing, payments, and more.

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The Difference Between a Restaurant POS System and a Retail POS

Though both restaurants and retail businesses rely on POS systems for everyday operations, these systems function very differently. The easiest way to understand these differences is to compare the software and hardware components of restaurant POS systems and retail POS systems. 

Software Differences

The best way to understand the software differences between a POS designed for restaurants and a retail POS system, is to think about the order and checkout process in each type of business.

In a retail business, a transaction is completed by a customer bringing items to the POS terminal and the employee scanning the items with a barcode scanner. Once the items are scanned, they are added to the specific transaction. After all of the items are added to the transaction, the customer selects their preferred payment type and completes the sale. The employee then prints or email the customer a receipt and the transaction is closed immediately.

In the case of retail POS software, all the products are tied to the inventory with numbers (barcodes), which is what the cashier inputs into the system. After the order is input, retail POS software is designed to complete and close the transaction immediately. In other words, the software is primarily designed to complete sales.

However, restaurants operate a little differently. In the case of a restaurant, a staff member uses a POS to input a customer’s order, and that information is immediately relayed to the kitchen. Depending on the type of restaurant, the order may then be closed immediately or remain open until the end of the meal or service.

Because of this unique ordering and checkout process, a restaurant POS system is set up very differently than a retail POS. In a restaurant POS system, menu items are tied to inventory with descriptors or graphics of each dish, instead of barcodes, which means the interface looks very different on a restaurant POS system. After the order is input, the POS then relays this information straight to the kitchen so the inventory can be updated and the kitchen or bar can begin prep.

Beyond the interface, restaurant POS software also needs to be equipped for more than just sales. Restaurant POS software is designed with more fluidity in mind so that the transaction may remain open up until the point when the customer is ready to settle their bill. This allows the staff member to continue adding to or modifying the order without the need to complete a new transaction each time.

Hardware Differences

The different ordering and checkout process in retail businesses verses restaurants also help to explain why each POS system is equipped with some unique hardware.

As mentioned above, retail transactions are closed out immediately at the POS terminal. For this reason, most retail POS terminals are stationary and cannot be moved throughout the store (although some modern systems do offer mobile terminals). These stationary terminals are also usually equipped with other retail-oriented hardware such as barcode scanners, cash drawers, scales for weighted items, and label printers for items without barcodes.

However, in restaurants, transactions often remain open, with servers frequently adding to the customer’s meal throughout their dining experience. As a result, most restaurant POS systems feature portable tablets, such as iPads, which can be carried around the venue to facilitate tableside ordering.

A POS designed for restaurants can also include additional hardware such as receipt (thermal) printers for customer receipts, kitchen (impact) printers for printing kitchen tickets, customer facing displays, a kitchen display system (KDS), and mobile payment terminals.

Waiter using a tablet to take a woman's order in a restaurant

The Benefits of a Restaurant POS System for Food Service

With a better understanding of the technical differences between a POS for restaurants and a retail POS, it’s time to dive into the actual benefits of using a restaurant POS system in your venue.

1. Built for You  

A restaurant POS system is created with the specific hospitality user experience top of mind. In most cases, restaurant POS systems are created by people who have worked extensively in hospitality themselves, or alongside hospitality professionals in order to develop the perfect POS system. For instance, TouchBistro was created and developed by restaurant experts who are passionate about improving the experience of restaurant owners, staff, and customers. 

When a company is solely dedicated to improving the restaurant experiences, it means that all of its energy goes into developing products and solutions for today’s restaurateur. As a result, restaurant-specific issues like bill splitting, table management, custom floor plans, and menu changes, are addressed as out-of-the-box features – not special requests that require custom coding, bandaid workarounds, or chaotic integrations with third-party extension software.

Having restaurant-specific solutions built right into the POS is not only important for everyday functionality, but also for staff training. Restaurant POS systems are designed to be intuitive to restaurant staff and to eliminate the kind of confusing elements that may be found in other retail-based POS systems, such as SKU-based inventory systems and product matrix options. And the more intuitive your POS system is to your staff, the faster you can get your employees up to speed.

2. Industry Specific Features

Beyond dedicated research and development, one of the biggest benefits of using a restaurant POS system over a retail POS is all the industry-specific features. With a restaurant POS system, you get to enjoy specialized features, such as:

  • Menu Management: Build, manage, and customize multiple menus and menu categories.
  • Staff Management: Manage employees with multiple wage rates and job titles, including break tracking, clock-in/clock-out functions, and custom user permissions.
  • Inventory Management: Monitor inventory counts and costs with real-time ingredient tracking, low-stock alerts, recipe and menu costing, waste tracking, vendor management, and more.
  • Floor Plan Management: Customize your restaurant floor plan, add and remove tables, move parties around, split checks, and more.
  • Tableside Ordering: Mobile terminals or POS tablets can be taken tableside for faster and more accurate order taking.

A retail POS lacks many of these important features because these kinds of demands simply don’t apply to retail businesses.

Even when a retail POS does include some of these features, such as inventory management for example, tracking all the ingredients used to make one dish is significantly more complicated than tracking how many shirts are left in stock. Restaurants need a POS equipped with industry-specific features built to handle the complex demands of day-to-day restaurant operations. 

These features are also designed to be highly flexible because they need to adapt to a restaurant’s changing needs. While selling retail products is fairly straightforward, the needs of a restaurant’s customers are constantly changing – whether it’s modifying their order, moving to a different table, or splitting the check – and the POS needs to be able to accommodate these kinds of changes in real-time.

Get the Ultimate Guide to the Best Restaurant POS Systems

Compare the top restaurant POS systems on features, pricing, payments, and more.

Download Now

3. Specialized Reporting

The need for restaurant-specific analytics is essential. Most of the top restaurant POS systems have put together analytic suites that deliver specific numbers to restaurant owners on everything from the dishes that are selling well, to how staff are performing on a given night.

While retail POS systems may be equipped with generic sales data, these kinds of reports won’t give you a full picture of how well your restaurant is doing. In order to make informed business decisions about key components like your menu, you need detailed data on variables such as which modifiers customers are adding to their meals or which ingredients are getting too expensive. By tracking this kind of restaurant-specific data and making changes accordingly, you can ensure you’re constantly improving service and maximizing profits.

Male barista holding and looking at digital tablet in a cafe

4. Relevant Add-On Solutions and Integrations

Every POS comes with a set of core features that cover everyday operations. However, most restaurant POS systems also feature add-on solutions and third-party integrations that can help restaurateurs adapt to changing circumstances and grow their businesses over time. These kinds of add-ons often include solutions such as reservations, online ordering, loyalty programs, gift cards, and more.

Though retail POS systems come with their own add-on solutions, services such as e-commerce and online marketing are not usually relevant for restaurants. In order to grow and adapt to a changing industry, restaurants need solutions that are specifically tailored to their needs. For instance, restaurant-specific add-ons like online ordering can be a powerful way for foodservice venues to add a new source of revenue – something that’s proven to be especially valuable in the wake of COVID-19 dining restrictions.

5. Better Customer Support

Not only does a POS designed for restaurants come with all the features you need to run a successful operation, but it also comes with the support to help you get there. If you go with a company that specializes in restaurant POS systems, it means that the support team has specialized knowledge of problems that restaurateurs encounter – problems a retail POS support team might not be familiar with.

And in the restaurant industry, getting problems solved quickly and efficiently is essential. If your POS goes down in the middle of service, it can make taking and sending orders to the kitchen impossible. And that’s a lot of money down the drain. However, if customer support can quickly diagnose and solve these issues, your service can get back on track without missing a beat.

When it comes to your POS system, it’s pretty obvious that one size does not fit all. While a retail POS may seem like an adequate solution upon first glance, it lacks many of the specific features, hardware components, and software capabilities of a dedicated restaurant POS system. And without those capabilities, you could be preventing your restaurant from achieving its full business potential.

Get the Ultimate Guide to the Best Restaurant POS Systems

Compare the top restaurant POS systems on features, pricing, payments, and more.

Download Now


Katherine is a Content Marketing Specialist at TouchBistro, where she writes about trending topics in food and restaurants. The opposite of a picky eater, she’ll try (almost) anything at least once. Whether it’s chowing down on camel burgers in Morocco or snacking on octopus dumplings in Japan, she’s always up for new food experiences.

The right POS should help you increase sales.

Ultimate Guide to Picking a POS

The right POS should help you increase sales.

iPad Screenshot with TouchBistro software
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