What is a POS system in a restaurant? Plus, how to choose one

If you’re a relative newbie to the restaurant industry or a die hard traditionalist, you may be wondering what a POS system is for a restaurant. It’s a restaurant technology topic restaurant owners should all understand. POS stands for point of sale, and it refers to the transactional moments when a guest orders and pays for their meal.

Plenty of places continue to make do with the cash-only, pen-and-paper systems that restaurants have relied on for years. They may not be aware of all the ways a modern POS system can make the work of running a restaurant faster, easier, and more successful.

What is a POS system for a restaurant?

You can think of a POS system as the externalised brain of the restaurant. It includes both hardware and software that runs on computers and mobile devices. This central warehouse of information can function as a comprehensive restaurant management system, depending on your needs, budget, and what you choose. With a POS system, everything becomes streamlined and efficient. Think of today’s POS systems as the digital evolution of the cash register.

First and foremost, a POS system simplifies the ordering process. Instead of relying on handwritten tickets, waitstaff can input orders directly into the system. This eliminates the risk of miscommunication and ensures that orders are accurate. Additionally, the system can automatically send orders to the kitchen, saving valuable time and reducing the chances of errors.

But the benefits don’t stop there. A POS system also handles payments seamlessly. Whether it’s cash, credit cards, or even mobile payments, the system can process transactions quickly and securely. This not only improves the customer experience but also reduces the risk of human error when calculating bills.

Most track inventory, sales data, guest information, and payment, but that just scratches the surface of what these sophisticated systems can do for a restaurant, a POS system provides valuable insights into a restaurant’s performance. It can generate detailed reports on sales, inventory, and customer preferences. This data allows restaurant owners to make informed decisions about menu items, pricing, and marketing strategies. By understanding what sells and what doesn’t, they can optimise their offerings and maximise profits.

How does a restaurant POS system work?

POS systems can contain dozens or even hundreds of options and features that businesses can customise to meet their specific needs. Most are cloud-based, which means all of the data is stored on a distant server, not a computer in the restaurant.

Every time an order is placed by a server or a guest, at the restaurant point of sale, the POS is recording every aspect of the transaction and coordinating it with your inventory. You can use a POS system to create many reports. That can be a big help when you want to shift toward making data-informed business decisions.

What types of restaurants need a POS system?

It’s hard to imagine a food business that could benefit from the organization and precision tracking of a POS system but these are the broad categories of restaurants that can especially benefit:

  • Full service restaurants. Sit down restaurants have a lot of moving parts, and a POS can be a clear channel of communication between front and back of house.
  • Quick service restaurants. Quick service because even quicker service with a POS system that includes self-service kiosks.
  • Food trucks. Most POS systems can be lightweight enough to operate out of a truck or cart, allowing these operators to expand their bottom line by accepting credit cards.

What hardware do you need for a POS system?

Systems vary, but you’ll find these core elements across the board.

  • POS terminals. This is the hardware the system operates on. It’s usually an iPad or another kind of table. They can be carried around or set up more permanently at a station with a tablet stand.
  • Kitchen display system. This screen is command central for the back of the house. It shows cooks all the orders that are in. It replaces older kitchen printers.
  • Printer. Some people still prefer a paper receipt to an emailed one, so you still need one of these.
  • Payment terminal. This is the device a guest uses to swipe, tap, or insert their credit card.

What kind of operating system does a restaurant need?

Like most other technologies, POS systems run on Apple (iOS), Android, or Windows. Make sure the POS system you choose runs on the operating system you prefer. The operating system will determine the kind of hardware you’ll use. Apple needs iPads, Android requires a compatible tablet, and Windows will run on a computer.

Image depicts a server wearing a green t-shirt and a brown apron holding a point-of-sales (POS) system out to a customer. The customer is holding their phone up to pay for their meal.

What is mobile POS?

Some restaurants will want a mobile POS option. These systems run on handheld devices that take orders and process payments right at the table. They have been popular in Europe for years as restaurants see how this technology can help improve table turnover and boost operational efficiency.

What are the benefits of a restaurant POS system?

Each POS system will have its own specific benefits, but in general most provide the following benefits for restaurants:

  • Real time sales stats
  • Detailed sales and inventory data
  • Easy online ordering
  • Tax information
  • Menu item performance information
  • Clear communication between servers and the kitchen
  • Customer loyalty program options

What are the disadvantages of a restaurant POS system?

If you haven’t already started using a POS system, it’s probably because of technology aversion. Those fears are valid. It’s very uncommon, but a POS system is essentially a computer and glitches can happen. It can crash. That’s why it’s essential to back up all the data in your POS system regularly so if anything funny happens, you’ll still have everything you need.

How to choose a POS system

When choosing a POS system for your restaurant, there are a few key factors to consider. Here are the most important questions to ask yourself when choosing a POS system.

Is it manageable for everyone?

Firstly, you need to ensure that the system is user-friendly and easy to navigate. This is important because not all of your staff may be tech-savvy, and you want to avoid any unnecessary confusion or frustration.

Does it integrate with my other tech tools?

Another important aspect to consider is the system’s compatibility with your existing hardware and software. You don’t want to invest in a POS system only to find out that it’s not compatible with your current devices or operating system. It’s always a good idea to check with the POS provider to ensure compatibility before making a decision.

Is customer support available 24/7?

It’s crucial to consider the level of customer support provided by the POS system provider. In case of any technical issues or glitches, you want to have reliable support that can assist you promptly. Look for a provider that offers 24/7 customer support and has a good reputation for resolving issues efficiently.

Can the POS system scale as your business does?

It’s worth considering the scalability of the POS system. As your restaurant grows, you may need to add more terminals or expand your operations. Therefore, it’s important to choose a system that can easily accommodate your future needs without requiring a complete overhaul.

What are the costs and do they work with my budget?

Don’t forget to consider the cost of the POS system. While it’s important to invest in a reliable and efficient system, you also need to ensure that it fits within your budget. Look for a system that offers a good balance between affordability and functionality.


By carefully considering these factors, you can choose a POS system that meets the specific needs of your restaurant and helps streamline your operations. Embracing technology can greatly benefit your business, and with the right POS system, you can enhance efficiency, improve customer service, and ultimately increase your profitability and help you guide your business successfully into the future.