Which Tablet POS is right for your Cafés or quick service Restaurant? Choosing a POS is tough with so many options available. Have a look at the pros and cons of Ambur, Breadcrumb, Lavu, Revel, ShopKeep, NCR Silver, and Square.

Our video reviews cover the pros and cons of individual systems, but we haven’t truly compared them head-to-head in most cases. So, I’ve compiled some essential tips on choosing the right POS for various business models.

On the docket for today? Quick serve restaurants and cafes.
From my own perspective, it seems a new donut shop or sandwich stand opens about once every five minutes.

While your average hole-in-the-wall vendor can get away with the bare essentials — a standalone terminal or basic mobile reader — this approach is likely to cause issues as the business expands. Think, for example, about the morning rush at your favorite coffee house.

Merchants coping with endless streams of java-craving commuters have little time to consider manually tracking inventory in real time while doling out change and swiping cards on basic terminals. This is where a point-of-sale platform really earns its keep. The ability to glean live data while eliminating guesswork saves time and money for small business owners.

For this particular industry, I’m going to compare the following popular POS solutions:

  • Ambur
  • Breadcrumb Pro
  • Lavu
  • NCR Silver
  • Revel Systems
  • ShopKeep
  • Square

 

Functionality

There is a fair amount of specialization in the POS industry, so it behooves merchants to consider functionality before diving in with both feet. Most systems today integrate with printers, cash drawers, and scanners, so the real focus here is on specific software features. For a quick serve restaurant, I would recommend the following useful functions:

  • – Inventory tracking
  • – Customer database
  • – Tip capability
  • – Open tickets (depending on business)

Inventory has clear benefits, but customer tracking should not be overlooked. Engaging patrons today is easier than ever with many systems offering detailed features for loyalty and sales tracking. Gratuity is useful, if often unused in a quick serve setting — similar to open tickets. Since patrons typically purchase at the counter in one seamless transaction, open tickets aren’t totally necessary; however, they can be used to save a pending transaction if, say, the customer has to run outside to grab a forgotten wallet or purse. In such a case, owners want the line to keep moving without having to void and reprocess an entire sale all over again.

Inventory

Obviously, some systems are more attractive than others in some respects. Let’s start the inventory discussion with a clear leader in the tablet POS industry: ShopKeep . There are numerous advantages to this choice right off the bat. Firstly, ShopKeep has all the above functions listed, as well as a smooth, user-friendly interface. Secondly, its inventory system allows raw goods tracking to more accurately report usages per sale.

For example, an ice cream sundae can be constructed of smaller items in the inventory database — ice cream, paper bowl, spoon, toppings, etc. Then, every time a sundae is sold, the system not only tracks the ice cream itself, but every item in the assembly. This eliminates any need to ballpark inventory items, reducing loss. In terms of ease, ShopKeep is among the slickest options on the market today.

 


ShopKeep

ShopKeep ingredient based inventory

 
Another fine option is NCR Silver . Similar to ShopKeep in many ways, Silver has all the necessary functions to operate a quick serve restaurant. Pricing is competitive, especially regarding multiple terminals (see below). Inventory tracking is simple, visual, and elegant. Its true strength lies in customer engagement, however, so we won’t spend too much time dwelling on its fairly straightforward inventory. Until a few paragraphs later, Silver

Let’s take a moment to introduce POS Lavu , Breadcrumb Pro , and Revel. All offer power-packed systems with fancy bells and whistles. Each one is suitable for restaurants of all sizes, from small cafes to full-service luxury — and each one carries a hefty price tag, as you will learn at the close of this article. For QSRs looking to expand beyond counter service, they can be perfectly viable options.

Their main advantages over ShopKeep and Silver are custom table layouts, deep modifier systems, and various restaurant-friendly features. They each offer an impressive set of options for food service businesses of all sizes. Lavu in particular has an impressively deep inventory system that tracks ingredients, and in a vacuum, probably outperforms ShopKeep on inventory. The catch is that it also does a whole lot more.
 


Lavu Layout

Lavu Layout

 
Now you may wonder why any cafe or quick service shop would need such advanced features as kitchen displays and reservations tracking — and for the most part, you may be right. I’ll give you that one, smartypants. Even so, rapidly expanding coffee shops may decide to offer more extensive breakfast options. In these cases, scaling table grids and expanded modifiers suddenly become valid concerns — and their costs along with them. Depending on what level of service is required, the above three systems may carry significant upfront licensing fees in addition to the usual monthly service fees. Smaller merchants will immediately balk at shelling out a few thousand extra dollars before opening their doors to the public. Ultimately, the decision will come down to individual need.

Fortunately, there is at least one possible alternative to selling off organs to pay for a full restaurant POS. Ambur offers all the full-service features at a fraction of the cost of those big boys. While not as aesthetically pleasing as the other full-service apps on the market, Ambur packs almost as much punch as they do; it used to have a somewhat unique interface, but they’ve moved toward a more traditional POS appearance with their last major update. Inventory, however, is limited to a mere counter subtracting “1 hot dog” or “6 milkshakes” as orders are processed. Still, in many ways Ambur is the ideal option for those owners straddling the line between quick serve and table service.
 


Ambur Order

Ambur Order

Alternatively, you may be a dedicated quick serve until shuffling off this mortal coil. You’ve never dreamt of employing waiters, and you just adore serving frozen yogurt from your modest counter. That’s admirable. You probably have a low average ticket then, no? Say your transactions are all $10 or less, and you’ve no illusions of growing beyond your niche. I can dig it. You may be one of those serious merchants that actually benefits from Square . The main issue with Square is that it seems best suited for part-time users and micro-merchants — kids mowing lawns, freelance makeup artists, and what-have-you; generally these folks don’t require detailed inventory tracking, full phone support, and the like — and therefore they don’t enjoy paying monthly fees for functions they won’t appreciate.

As a result, Square’s flat pricing (details below) is an amazing deal for low ticket items. If every credit card transaction is in the $5-10 range, users stand to save some serious cash on processing. However, its inventory feature is a simple counter, like Ambur’s . Rumor has it Square may look at moving more deeply into the POS market by adding more complete features. It may be a while (if ever) until Square grows into a fully functional POS, but in the meantime their simplicity works to the advantage of especially small businesses.
 


Square

Square payment screen $5<$10 ticket

 

Customer Tracking

Welcome back, Silver ! That inventory section ran long, didn’t it? Well here’s where you really earn your keep. Merchants on Silver looking to truly connect with patrons can take advantage of custom coupons, robust tracking, and automated email marketing. These tools can help push a growing business to the next level by maximizing return sales. Compared to just about any POS — in any industry — NCR’s integrated marketing is a major powerhouse. It almost feels a shame to bring other systems into the discussion; that’s how embarrassingly good it is. It’s like swatting a fly with a Buick. Even so, I can’t simply hand them the crown based on this feature alone, so I suppose I’ll list some alternatives.

As we’ve already seen, ShopKeep can handle quick serve inventory like a champ. While customer tracking isn’t nearly as puissant as you-know-who, it does feature a database to track your loyal patrons, including recent purchases. Moreover, there is a basic loyalty feature that will enable shop owners to track spending and award coupon vouchers at user-specified thresholds. Also, as is common in the tablet industry, ShopKeep has shown a willingness to pilot various loyalty integrations with other app developers. If nothing else, their dedication to customer service ensures these capabilities are likely to improve with time.

Unfortunately for Ambur and its full-service brethren, customer tracking is somewhat lax in the restaurant space. Aside from the ability to store basic details, the database in Ambur is rather clunky. Really, it serves more as a delivery customer list than a loyalty tracker — though I suppose the ability to list a guest’s birthday might come in handy for certain song-happy establishments. Breadcrumb Pro and Revel also keep things rather basic on the customer side. Of the full-service offerings, only Lavu has a dedicated loyalty program (through a partner, LoyalTree). Though this again raises the question: why spend for a full-featured system to ring up coffee all day? Let’s move on.

Tips & Open Tickets

This section is somewhat pointless, I admit. All of these POS selections feature built-in gratuity options — and most have open tabs. Only Square lacks the ability to save a ticket, and its tip function mostly relies on preset options (though you can enable custom tips). Otherwise, the differences between these software choices are largely academic. Since no system has a clear advantage over the others in this arena, we can move right along to everyone’s favorite section…

Cost

Ambur has a one-time licensing fee of $999 — no monthly fees or surcharges — which covers software, support, and unlimited devices in any configuration. With its simple pricing, it essentially pays for itself after about a year of use.

Breadcrumb Pro offers various hardware bundles and several service tiers. The most basic, single terminal system runs $99/month. If you plan to grow much larger, they will support up to 10 iPads for $399/month. None of this includes hardware cost, of course.

Lavu is currently offering a single terminal option for $88/month with no licensing fees for smaller restaurants and QSR’s, but only for a limited time. Their usual basic tier costs $39/month — plus a whopping $895 license fee. If you blanched at that, you don’t even want to know how much the Pro tier costs. Now you see why I recommend them for full-service, no?

Revel is something of a special case — and may benefit from a separate article someday. Pricing hovers around $49/month plus $500-1000 for each iPad. … Sorry, I.. I think I just fell into a price coma there for a second. It should be noted, though, that Revel is known mainly for their custom systems. While additional features may cost more in fees, they are known to negotiate price on a case by case basis. It wouldn’t hurt to give them a call for specifics, if you’re interested in a high-powered custom build.

ShopKeep is reasonably priced at just $49/month per terminal. Negotiated price breaks are available after three terminals.

Silver is only $59/month for the first terminal, and $0.10/transaction for additional units (up to a maximum of $29/month). This flexible pricing model especially favors owners that use extra devices on an as-needed basis.

Square has free signup and no fees, though users must process through Square at 2.75% per swipe (3.5% + $0.15 for manually keyed entries). As mentioned above, flat pricing amounts to petty larceny for low-ticket merchants in the $5-10 range. Anything higher, and the roles reverse — until Square is the one committing highway robbery.

Conclusions

In a nutshell, the needs of a quick serve restaurant depend largely on its business plan. Is your business expanding into new territory, or are you committed to a micro model? Do you need to streamline your operations, or is your focus on driving repeat business? Again, it all comes down to your preference — so don’t be afraid to demo a few products before settling on a long-term solution. Regardless of your specific needs, the key components to consider as a quick serve are inventory, reporting, and customer tracking. Reporting, at least among the options above, is something of a wash; they all provide detailed feedback in its myriad forms, and you’re likely to find what you need from any of them. Thus, what particular combination of inventory and customer engagement you require is a question of personal taste. Even so, you came here for a recommendation, and by golly, I mean to give one!

For my money, ShopKeep and Silver are balanced products with a lot to offer the QSR industry at a competitive price point. Side by side, ShopKeep appears to be the simplest choice from a pure operations standpoint, with its clean workflow, detailed inventory, and solid reporting. Merchants more interested in marketing would do well to check out Silver , though, as its customer engagement platform is second-to-none — possibly even worth sacrificing other features. Still, these two heavyweights are hardly the only game in town. There are always other options, else I’d be out of a job. From here on out, the choices become a matter of weighing benefits.

But hey… I’m not here to tell you how to run your business. Just be sure to drop us a line and let us know what you decide. We love a feel-good story.

QSR Ambur Breadcrumb Pro Lavu NCR Silver Revel ShopKeep Square
Inventory * ** **** ** ** *** *
Customer * * *** **** ** ** *
Tip **** **** **** **** **** **** ***
Open Tab **** **** **** *** *** **** *
Cost **** ** * *** * *** ****
QSR Overall *** * ** **** * **** ***


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