The time has come to replace the dinosaur in the restaurant.
When you think about your favorite restaurant your mind sees images of great food and happy servers who know your name and favorite drink. You probably don't think about the restaurant's POS, or "Point of Sale" system.
POS systems are the lifeblood of restaurants, connecting the wait staff on the floor to the customers, and connecting your order to the kitchen printers for the prep and line cooks. When you finish your meal the POS system closes your ticket and charges your credit card as well.
When #Bistro49 Culinary Laboratory purchased Bistro Bella Cucina in February 2019 we inherited (purchased) most of the former restaurant's inventory and equipment, including it's old POS system. If you dined at Bistro Bella Cucina between 2010 and 2018 you probably recall that on certain busy days, at certain busy times, you may have waited 30 minutes or more for your simple salad order to arrive at your table. Sometimes it took much longer.
A fair amount of blame can be attributed to the old hardware and software running behind the scenes, requiring servers to handwrite customer orders on a paper ticket tableside, walk to the cashier station, create a new order in the POS system, print the order then hand-carry two copies to the kitchen, one for the prep cook making salads and desserts, the other for the chef in the kitchen cooking the entrees and sides. Assuming your server could navigate their way from your table directly to the cashier station after leaving your table, without being stopped by other customers for the occasional "Excuse me, may I have some ketchup, please?" request, your order hit the hands of the kitchen crew about five minutes after your server left you. Tick, tock. Tick, tock. Time's a wastin'.
We knew going in that #Bistro49 needed to be faster and more efficient. In our first week of operation we purchased new Android-based tablets for our servers, and installed new computers and receipt printers in the kitchen and prep area. Orders taken at a table could now be sent to the kitchen by the server in real-time, saving critical minutes for our hungry guests and helping servers avoid the delays caused by random ketchup requests. In the three weeks since we installed the new tablets and printers our customer feedback often included comments noting "the food comes out so much faster now". We thought things were working great until the finicky old POS system randomly stopped working.
The old system uses four Dell PC's running an obsolete version of Microsoft Windows and four receipt printers driven by unsupported print drivers. Lucky us, it also includes an external five-pound credit card processing device that requires a permanent hardwired network cable to our Internet router, without which our lifeblood of credit and debit card charges will not process - and we don't get paid for that great lunch or dinner you just enjoyed. So when the occasional Windows server hang happened on the POS system, or some background antivirus program decided to pop-up a bogus "critical message" box behind the current on-screen window, our orders stopped processing and our kitchen printers went silent until a server tabbed through the windows to acknowledge and close the pop-up message.
The time has come to give the old POS system its final order.
We spent the better part of the last ten days researching new point-of-sale systems and talking to vendors, each claiming their product was superior to those of their competitors. Most were right, their system did excel at one thing or another over those of other vendors, but none of them were clearly superior in every way. Each had some features that were lacking, under-developed, or obscure. One very attractive system was way overpriced, and we felt it would be unfair of us to charge our customers twenty dollars for a side salad so we could afford to pay for it. I guess I forgot to mention to the vendor that although we have "bistro" in our name, we're not the French Laundry. Another vendor had a beautiful interface and robust reporting, but had no API or SDK interfaces (computer speak for pathways external programs use to access data on a server), a clear negative on my due diligence checklist. In the end we chose to fully migrate to the new Square for Restaurants platform.
The Square platform is driven by today's technology on reliable and easy-to-use Apple iPads, both in the main POS kiosks and in the hands of our servers. New kitchen and receipt printers connect to the network without the need for Windows-based servers and their nightmare of associated hardware and software problems. The system also comes with the newest payment technology that allows us to accept chip cards, contactless payments (Apple Pay) and older magstripe cards, both at our registers and soon tableside as well. Square offers both an API and an SDK which allows my creative technical mind to write custom software for Bistro49 while our chefs in the kitchen use Square's built-in tools to get tickets out fast and exactly as ordered.
Look for our Square system to appear in #Bistro49 during the week of March 4. We're configuring the new system this weekend, including uploading the new menus and table configurations, and hope to remove the old POS system before we open for lunch on Monday morning. As a courtesy head's up, as most software and hardware upgrades go there's bound to be a snag or two. We're prepared for the most obvious issues and do plan to thoroughly test our system beforehand, but just in case Mr. Murphy and his gaggle of laws decide to show up for lunch Monday, you may just see me in the bistro quickly dodging about as I fine-tune the new system. Our servers may need just a little extra time at your table as well, since they'll be using the new iPad-based menu system for the first time. We hope this all goes smoothly, as Square assured us it will. Usually.
Thank you for being a loyal member of the Bistro49 Culinary Laboratory family. We look forward to serving you soon.
Have a restaurant and need a new POS system? Check out Square for Restaurants or hit me up with any technical questions you may have at firstname.lastname@example.org.