POS Hardware: The Other Half of the Story
Of all the technological advances made within the foodservice industry, none seems quite so immediate and important as those within the area known as “point-of-sale” or POS.
Now, when you see the term POS, don’t think of the traditional technology, most commonly called ECRs, or electronic cash registers.
Granted, electronic cash registers have developed some increased capabilities that make their distinction with POS systems a little fuzzy, but there’s a big difference.
While an electronic cash register may have the ability to record such information as the number of transactions, it remains basically a calculator with a drawer attached.
On the other hand, a POS system is really a computer that thinks it’s a cash register. That is, it has the ability to do a number of sophisticated functions and, most important, the capacity to “talk to” other systems within your business to integrate information.
Here’s a basic POS hardware checklist:
POS hardware can be divided into three main areas:
* the front-of-the-house * production area * back office
The first question when it comes to POS hardware for the front-of-the house is, Will your equipment have its own processor, or will it tie into a network with a central or exterior processor, such as a special unit or personal computer (PC) located in the back office? The size of your operation dictates your choice of POS hardware to some extent, as there may be differences in memory available in the system to accommodate your program.
Also consider being able to keep the system going if a malfunction occurs in one of the units. My only advice is that if your system has an exterior processor, make sure it has other personal computer functions or uses other than simply operating your system. That way you’ll get more for your dollar.
Your second POS hardware option for the front-of-the-house operation lies in the kind of input device you can use. Keyboards, both stem and the flat-membrane type, are the most common. However, inroads are being made by touchscreen devices and, to a lesser extent, hand-held POS hardware terminals.
POS hardware displays for the front-of-the-house include single-line displays and full-screen displays. Single-line displays can give you up to 20 or 25 characters of information, while full-screen displays can show an entire order and allow for additional information to be displayed regarding the order and its input.
Now for cash drawers. Do you need a POS hardware system that can handle a single cash drawer or multiple cash drawers?
Remember, in the retail industry we often have many people working on a single register or people taking breaks. Therefore, if you really want to be financially responsible, you will need multiple cash drawers or at least the ability to separate cash accountability through the POS software.
POS Hardware: Printers and other output devices
What kind of printer or “output” device should your system have? Some POS hardware systems, such as those used in the quick-service industry, don’t require any. Others can print detailed guest checks complete with the restaurant logo on them, thereby eliminating the need for preprinted paper forms.
As for printers, dot matrix or impact printers are the most common but also the loudest. Thermal printers are quieter but require special paper. Laser printers, the most recent arrival, are quiet and require no special paper.
Laser printers and thermal printers can produce different highlights; some, even multiple colors. Many dot matrix printers can also produce multiple color printing through the use of special ribbons or ink jets.
Next comes the interfacing equipment. Will you want your POS terminals to have the ability to exchange information with each other? Will you want them to hook up with outside payment processors for credit card charges and check clearing?
If your restaurant is in a hotel, will you need to post charges at the front desk? Will you want the POS terminal to feed into the managers’s system and corporate headquarters? All these are to be considered when you choose various systems.
And finally, should your front-of-the-house POS terminals be modular, with a lot of add-ons available, or should they be an all-in-one integrated system and possibly occupy less space?
In the production area your POS hardware needs are not quite so diverse.
For the most part you’ll need output devices, such as POS display terminals and printers. With them, remember that the key consideration is environment; they may be subjected to grease, water and heat lamps and not be allowed much space either. Also, remember that you’ll need a display or printer in each key station of the kitchen so that, for instance, the fry cook won’t have to stumble over the salad counter to read instructions.
As far as input devices for the kitchen go, you’ll need some way to manipulate items while they’re on the display and then off when you’re done. A simple “bump bar” can move items backward and forward along the screen. Touch screens (wherein you simply touch an icon of the item) are also becoming more popular.
Last but not least, there’s the back-office POS hardware.
This may simply be a specialized box connected to the front-of-the-house, or it may be more like a regular PC. Mainly, you will use it to collect information from, and deliver it to, the units out front, and you will use it to print managers’ reports.
Of course, as I mentioned, it makes sense to have a PC with he ability to do other, non-POS-related operations, such as spreadsheets, word processing and telecommunications. Some POS hardware systems also offer a separate time-clock device which can be useful.