Tech Talk #3: The Potential of POS Systems

by Angus Winchester

Whilst doing some research for an article a few years ago I asked the internet what was the most impactful innovation that had occurred in bars in the last decade. I was expecting to read about rotovaps or barrel ageing or even the return of milk punches or ‘switching’ of spirits. And while I got all of these and more esoteric stuff I was struck by the answer of a much respected 25 year veteran of our industry – contactless credit card payment. While this is not the sexy answer I or my readers were really expecting he claimed that by speeding up the payment part of the cocktail experience this rather dull change had significantly helped both guest and server and should not be overlooked.  And he had a point - not all great innovation is sexy and cool yet it has the power to massively impact hospitality.

And now I will try and prove that by writing about Point of Sale systems.

When I was a young bartender starting off we had a cash register. Everyone did of course. To say it was basic was being kind but if used correctly it recorded transaction amounts and kept the cash organised. I remember clearly having to learn Product Look Up numbers when I started at a fancy place so that we could use the number rather than scroll through a screen to find the right product. Tabs were written down and I honestly can’t remember how we used to deal with credit cards.

Yet the POS has the potential to be one of the most important business tools that a bar or restaurant has and the enforced restrictions on bars has given many managers the gift of time to finally go and examine/fix/improve their systems to increase efficiencies and enhance their understanding of their operations… it has the power to become a Point of Service as well as one of Sale.


What today's generation of cash registers can do

 Us old timers, and the operations we grew up in, are simple beasts. Yet technology in every aspect of life has extended and expanded horizons exponentially and nowhere is that seen more clearly than the cash register. From being a glorified calculator and safe for cash even today’s most basic POS has the power to accurately record in detail every transaction in real time in a way that can be analysed and acted on afterwards. From understanding sales mix at every moment of every day to linking to payroll and scheduling and integrating with back of house ordering systems to help manage inventory a well set up modern POS is a gamechanger.  


Data as currency

The current generation of POS has the ability to capture data and provide solutions that previous generations of mangers and owners can only dream of. And as the relentless rise of Google/Facebook/Instagram etc has shown us “Data” – and the use of – is perhaps the most valuable currency that exists today. From creating profiles of your guest in order to personalise their experiences to far better analysis of stock levels and ordering processes to manage cashflow the options a bar or restaurant owner has access to now is mind-blowing. And of course, much of it is now mobile and digital (via hand-held and tablet based systems that Millennials are familiar with - to further enhance the POS’s role.


Transparency and performance review

Bar and restaurant owners want more transparency – from how individual servers are doing, how individual dishes are doing, what the best times of the day are for service, what the best days in general are for service and so much more. They desire that transparency because it gives them insight that hasn’t always been available and has meant that instead of driving the car by looking in the rear view mirror one can now look ahead and plan accordingly.


The accelerator Corona

Of course such technology was available and such changes were coming pre pandemic but the necessity to do more with less, to link with services like food delivery companies, to provide as much contactless service and to manage cashflow better has hastened this change as well as opening up growth opportunities for the future. The greatest opportunity and the number one requested feature for many new POS systems is the ability to link with a Loyalty Program to facilitate greater engagement with guests. Whist other industries have leaned in to effective loyalty programs bars and restaurants lag behind such concepts that not only drive repeat business but also provide useful information to create greater engagement and personalisation.

The Pandemic is without a shadow of a doubt the biggest challenge Hospitality has faced in a generation but is has also created opportunity by providing forward thinking operators time to look at the businesses in a way they have never had before. It has changed consumer behaviour and thrown a light on the need for integration and innovation in an industry long known for somewhat amateur business practices. Nowhere is that seen more clearly than POS that in the future will not just store cash but has the potential to be one of the most vital tools in an operator’s armoury moving forwards.