Choosing a new EPOS system – hospitality

An EPOS system in an old pub.

A good Electronic Point of Sale (EPOS) system can make your business run much more smoothly. However, there are lots of systems out there which do very different things and lots of pushy salespeople. So it’s very easy to be seduced by something that looks fancy but turns out to be difficult to customise for your business.

In this post I set out a few things to consider if you want a new EPOS system.

What is your sequence of service / customer journey and how do you want technology to help you with this?

Your sequence of service is everything that happens from the moment a guest walks in to when they leave and the various interactions the staff have with them.

It’s a useful concept in planning your EPOS system implementation. Every hospitality business has a basic sequence of service, even if someone is just ordering coffee at a till. How will the interactions work and how will the system record data from those interactions (eg orders, table numbers)?

Thinking about the wider customer journey: how does the customer know you exist? Do they need to reserve? How do you take reservations? How do you encourage repeat bookings?

Before starting out on any EPOS system purchase you should have all this clear in your mind (or mapped out in a diagram if it’s complicated). You should also be thinking about your current issues. For example, are orders for the kitchen getting lost or mixed up? Does your gross profit seem to be low? Is food wastage a problem and if so why? It may be that you’re not sure and an EPOS will help you find out. What information do you want to know that you don’t know now?

What do you actually need?

When we talk about EPOS we usually mean some kind of smart till which records a specific product order. It may or may not connect to a card reader or other payment system.

The very simplest EPOS systems will have a way for you to set up products (usually in a back end part of the programme) and sell them via pressing a button on the till.

More complicated systems might then send an order to a kitchen printer or a more complex kitchen management system, and/or perform a stock adjustment, if you are using your system to record stock. (You don’t have to – see later in this post). Orders might be taken on a tablet by a waiter, or even entered by your customers via an app. This seemed an unusual idea six months ago but it is now an enormous growth area as we adapt to life with Covid-19.

Your system might also need to integrate with other parts of the business. For example, it might need to link to a hotel booking system or an accounting system.

Don’t forget about the payment processing side and PCI-DSS compliance

If you’re not going down the route of a customer app, don’t forget about the card machine. When it comes to card payments, you have a choice between integrated and non integrated card readers. Integrated means that it is linked to your till system, so that the EPOS sends the amount due to the card machine.

This saves you keying time and minimises mistakes, but it can slow down the card read process, depending on the system. Having said that, contactless payments are now much faster so this is less of an issue than it used to be.

Another problem with integrated systems is that if the till goes down for some reason (power or network failure) then so does your card machine, although as it probably needs power and a network to function anyway this may not matter. Do bear in mind that PCI-DSS compliance is more complex with an integrated than a non-integrated system, and potentially more complex again with an app. However, any decent supplier will offer PCI-DSS compliant solutions and will be able to help you comply with your obligations.

A note about stock management systems

Many hospitality businesses do not control stock via their EPOS. Even if they do, it’s much more common for hospitality businesses to record “wet” stock on the system – alcohol, prepackaged drinks and snacks – than to record food stock. Basically, the more you create your food and drink from raw ingredients, the more fiddly it becomes to record it on a stock management system.

Although I’m generally a fan of using technology I think most businesses can get a good enough grasp of their Gross Profit by reviewing the value of their weekly purchases vs their weekly sales and estimating a stock value at the end of the week. If this is satisfactory (this will depend on your business model!) then I personally would not implement a full stock management system for food. It’s a lot of effort to set up and maintain, and you can spend more time inputting stock than taking steps to actually control it.

How to select a system

Once you’ve worked out roughly what you’re looking for, draw up a specification and make long list of potential systems.  How do you get this list? Ask for recommendations from people in similar businesses, or from your staff. Internet searching on key phrases might help, but this often says more about the suppliers’ Search Engine Optimisation than the quality of their product.

Approach your list of suppliers using your specification and ask for a ball park quote and arrange for a demo. Don’t forget to ask for full costs of installation, hardware, software and ongoing support and licencing. Hardware might include things such as kitchen printers and card machines as well as tills. Ask about PCI-DSS and GDPR compliance at this stage, not after you’ve decided what system to go with.

Evaluation of solutions

It may sound obvious, but focus on what you need the system to do in your business, not all the fancy add-ons that the suppliers will demonstrate. As well as the demo, talk to at least one existing customer of theirs who operates a similar type of business to you. Ideally someone you’ve found rather than someone that they recommend. There are a couple of key things I always want to know:

  • How does it perform under pressure and can it operate off line?
  • How easy is it to update the back end? For example, can you add new products, change prices in a matter of seconds?
  • What is the support like? Most suppliers still make their money from the initial installation rather than provision of ongoing support.
  • If cloud-based – where is the data held and how is it secured and backed up?
  • If not cloud-based – how is the data backed up?

Before making your final decision – do you have the right infrastructure for your preferred solution?

If your system is cloud based, and increasingly this is likely, you will need a reliable internet connection. Can you get cables to where your tills are going to be? Is your wifi good enough to support the fancy tablet based waiter’s pads you want to bring in? Where will you actually fit a kitchen screen in that cramped space of yours?

Want some help with this?

I have considerable experience in selecting and implementing EPOS and other systems in SMEs, as well as solving PCI-DSS and GDPR compliance issues. Because I’m independent, I am not wedded to any one supplier. I offer a range of services from one-off consultancy to full systems implementation leadership and support. See this page for more details or contact me.

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