Which Tablet POS is right for your Full Service Restaurant?
Find which tablet POS system fits the needs of your full service restaurant. Today we compare Ambur, Breadcrumb, Lavu, Revel, ShopKeep, and NCR Silver(PRE).
Service is everything in the hospitality industry, and part of ensuring a great experience is streamlining operations. Setting up reservations, seating patrons, and running transactions should all run as smoothly as a well-greased pig through so many county fair fingers.
Consider this article your personal grease gun, I guess. I’m losing control of this analogy.
Oiled pork aside, I at least have a grip on POS systems.
Full-service restaurant applications differ significantly from the standard point-of-sale options on the market today. While many systems offer a similar array of features common to all industries, restaurants utilize several unique functions that are found almost exclusively within FSR-specific systems. Fortunately for you, I’ve broken down some options that provide the most complete platforms for the market.
For this piece, I’m going to consider the following POS solutions:
- Breadcrumb Pro
- NCR Silver (Pro Restaurant Edition)
- Revel Systems
There are a number of functions unique to full-service restaurant software that merchants need to consider before moving forward with a point-of-sale:
- – Table grid
- – Open tickets
- – Split funding
- – Reservations
- – Detailed modifiers
- – Custom print routing
- – Delivery/Takeout
As we’ve covered in the past, many POS systems operate adequately in any industry. In this regard, there is some overlap between retail and smaller quick service restaurants. Obviously, the standard inventory and reporting functions are crucial to any business. However, as a full-service restaurant, integrating the above features into one system saves time and money versus deploying various tracking software for each. Moreover, many quality POS applications today leverage these functions to provide complete service tools that are as efficient as they are attractive.
Open tickets and split funding seem like no-brainers to most restaurateurs; after all, customers don’t tend to pay in full up front while ordering at the table. The real meat of the stew is in the seating, reservations, and modifier features — all of which seamlessly operate in tandem with customer tickets to track sales from start to finish. Plus, custom printing — or similarly, kitchen displays — streamline the ordering process to enable instant communication between servers and kitchen staff. And if delivery is your market, you may want a little help organizing your staff. Any system boasting these capabilities will effortlessly handle any size venue.
Though not all systems feature seating, a table grid can be a major selling point, in my experience. After all, what owner wouldn’t prefer a shared chart with live updates over a notebook at the hostess stand? The ability to manage guest seating on a portable terminal can be invaluable to a bustling restaurant. Fortunately, it’s a rather common offering these days.
We’ll lead off with as popular a name as you’re likely to hear in this space: Lavu. Thanks to publicity campaigns like its inclusion in reality TV’s “Kitchen Nightmares,” Lavu is one of the more recognizable names in the tablet market. Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a solution for those nightmarish kitchens without ample power — and Lavu certainly has plenty of that. In point of fact, it can be a bit overwhelming for the casual user. Extensive data reporting, deeply detailed inventory system, numerous hardware configurations — it’s no wonder they offer such comprehensive support. Such a mighty undertaking does not come cheap.
Still, think of it as an investment in your future. When you consider all that Lavu is offering, it’s actually fairly reasonable — especially compared to traditional POS terminals. The integrated table grid allows for varying shapes and sizes for tables, easily scaling to fit different layouts. As an added bonus, it also features seat numbers and course numbers to allow servers more accuracy; while course numbers clearly aid in time management, seat numbers are helpful once we get to split-funding (see below).
In a similar vein, Breadcrumb Pro from Groupon offers a highly competitive product with all the recommended features and more. Among its more unique features is the sticky note messaging on the home screen, including an automated “86’d” list displaying all inventory items currently out of stock. Additionally, items can display stock levels in the actual menu — so a server at a table of ten will already know how many PBR cans are left before those silly, bearded hipsters even order. But again, we’re not focusing too much on inventory in this piece. Right now, our attention is focused on seating arrangements.
Immediately noticeable is Breadcrumb’s user-friendly table grid; not only does it scale like Lavu’s, but it permits users to place obstacles to further flesh out the floor plan. Similarly, it also enables multiple rooms — whether for bar seating, patios, separate floors, or whatever you desire. Breadcrumb also shares the ability to mark courses, which appear at a glance on occupied tables as a circle that fills in pie slices as the courses add up. First slice is drinks, then appetizers, and so forth. It’s a nice way for staff to get a quick estimate on a table’s progress through their meal.
Of course, we can’t forget about Revel. I won’t spend too much time here for two reasons: one, Revel’s primary strength is in customization for any industry; and two, pricing is harder to pin down. You see, Revel carries some hefty fees for all that custom programming — which isn’t to say it’s not worth it exactly. There are clear advantages to Revel that Breadcrumb and Lavu cannot touch. For instance, they recently unveiled a drive-thru system leveraging the iPad’s video chat to communicate with customers. They have pre-designed templates for varying restaurant styles, such as pizza parlors and yogurt counters. If needed, you can request custom kitchen displays, catering management, delivery tracking, social media integration, Bitcoin acceptance — you name it. Plus, the system is built to scale with growth, providing enterprise reporting for your budding empire. So naturally, they have a table grid available, for a price. Cost is somewhat negotiable (see below). Revel is of the belief that one size does not fit all. You only need dream it to build it (and pay for it, totes obvi).
This brings to mind our budget selection, Ambur. Though somewhat less powerful than the above options, Ambur does pack an impressive array of options into an inexpensive package. Its table grid does not scale, however, and is limited to a few basic shapes that snap to a predetermined grid. Still, it’s better than nothing at all, and orders are easily located by table. Due to its quirky hub-&-spoke tablet network, orders and system changes are reflected across all devices immediately — a point which leads us to our next contender…NCR Silver Pro Restaurant Edition.
In the base system, Silver lacks a definitive restaurant advantage — most glaringly, the ability to share open tickets across users and devices. This has been addressed in NCR’s newest offering; new to Silver PRE are floor plans, seating assignments, simplified takeout/delivery, and print routing (more on this below). PRE carries a higher cost than the standard system, but still has the backing of an industry leader in NCR. I haven’t had a chance to really pick apart the new features since the launch, but I’ll be sure to keep you posted as I investigate. For now, suffice it to say that NCR is a reliable provider looking to earn some friends in the restaurant tablet space.
Lastly — and least, in this case — ShopKeep. Unlike its quick-serve-friendly pal Silver, ShopKeep has not yet added seating for restaurants. This is probably their last remaining weakness in the full-service market, but it seems almost inevitable at this point. They’ve already added new ticket management functions to better serve bars and smaller venues; a floor plan or seating chart would be the next logical step. Until then, however, we move on.
Open Tickets & Split Funding
I’m combining these categories for simplicity. Firstly, all the systems featured in this piece have open ticket functions. Secondly, splitting checks is a natural outcropping of the whole open tab restaurant milieu. Thirdly, did you see how I worked that fancy French word into my full-service restaurant comparison piece? Pretty classy, eh?
Back to business: since we left off on ShopKeep, let’s pick up there. As noted above, ShopKeep has only recently included open ticket functions, but they work as smoothly as though they had always been there. Tabs can be saved under any name, recalled, modified, transferred to other users, split, or combined according to your whims. However, though staff may split tender or ticket, there is presently no option to split individual items by seat — lacking a table grid as it does. Additionally, receipts can be printed with “tip later” enabled, allowing servers to close out tabs after adding in the final tip at signing. This has assuredly boosted ShopKeep’s appeal among bar staff while they await the aforementioned seating chart.
Silver PRE also allows saved tickets, with the added bonus of being able to access them from any active device. This is a major upgrade over the base system, which currently forbids anyone but the ticket owner to view an open tab. Similar to ShopKeep, PRE allows staff to split a tab by amount or by number of guests — but not split individual items. Servers must manually split dishes into two payment types.
Conversely, Ambur does allow users to split items into fractions for shared dishes — but not divide according to seat number. It seems a bit odd, and even splitting dishes isn’t the most intuitive — but the functionality is there for those that need it. In fact, it’s not until you reach the big leagues that per item splits become the norm.
Revel, Lavu, & Breadcrumb all have the capability to split by seat number, amount, or item. Breadcrumb sort of straddles this line a bit, in that it can assign a single item to multiple seat numbers for the sake of easy service — but splitting payment must be done manually. This is still somewhat of an improvement over the lighter solutions, as receipts and tabs clearly display which items belong to which patrons. Lavu & Revel, however, fully support splitting items among guests — allowing your more svelte customers to double up on that tofu and kale salad without any confusion at check time.
As an interesting counterpoint to expensive systems having all the coolest features, only one of our suggested FSR options possesses the built-in capability to record reservations: Ambur.
That’s right. Little ol’ Ambur is your only option to record reservations within the actual restaurant system. That being said, there are some possibilities for big-spending merchants to integrate a reservations system into Lavu or Revel. You see, most FSR applications don’t include reservations largely because the function isn’t part of the organic workflow of a POS system — which is generally more concerned with sending data securely and tracking numbers. Additionally, there is a decent amount of overlap with established reservations platforms, such as OpenTable; these solutions often earn much of their revenue from hardware sales, and there simply isn’t room for both companies to claim your precious dollars without some kind of sharing partnership. Plus, OpenTable already has an established loyalty program integrated into their product — which creates another potential conflict of interest for POS systems offering similar programs.
At the moment, Revel has no plans to enter into such an arrangement with an existing company — but reservations are a frequently requested feature. Since customization is their bread-&-butter, they are always willing to entertain a discussion with merchants seeking more bells and whistles. Lavu, on the other hand, has taken a different approach — offering an open API that can be used to plug in any number of third-party applications.
Sadly, ShopKeep, Breadcrumb, and Silver PRE have no current plans for integrating this feature.
Luckily, this is a much easier section to write. All of the systems featured here can accommodate numerous modifier combinations. These can be realized through forced choices (e.g. cheese or no cheese) or optional changes (e.g. a list of condiments). Additionally, certain items can have price modifications — such as charging an extra $0.50 for putting jalapenos on your hamburger. You can also add custom notes for preparation. The differences in the various systems are a matter of personal taste. Ambur, for instance, can arrange as many custom modifiers as your heart desires — but it will not support inventory tracking for ingredients. Its inventory tracking is a basic counter subtracting “1 lobster thermidor” or “4 whiskey sours.”
If users desire more detail, both Lavu and ShopKeep feature complex inventory systems with assembly functions. Those whiskey sours can be tracked as lemon juice, simple syrup, and bourbon — all of which will subtract from inventory for each order. Furthermore, orders can be prescribed varying forced and nested modifiers in an attempt to streamline ordering or restrict choices for servers that are unfamiliar with each menu item. Selecting a burger, for example, can bring up a forced choice for meat patty (beef, turkey, bison), optional toggle (cheese?), and a list of modifications (extra mayo, no mustard, bean sprouts, etc) — all with varying effects on price, if needed.
Breadcrumb can also track inventory, as noted above, though it appears they’ve not yet added raw goods tracking. At the moment, counting single items and announcing low stock to servers is the extent of its function. However, they do offer an increased attention to detail regarding additions, allergies, and kitchen notes. Any item can have modifiers to add bacon, for instance, or to mark it for soy allergy. It also enables users to mark side dishes without a separate menu entry; select chicken parmesan, then mark steamed veggies, fries, or upgrade to cup of soup (+$1.00). Plus, there are optional kitchen modifiers for preparation: extra spicy, pescetarian, and so on.
Revel and Silver PRE feature similar function to Breadcrumb. The systems can still easily adapt variants and modifiers to fit any industry. The real differences lie mostly in layout — with main categories, followed by subcategories, and finally items — all of which on Revel can be labeled with photos to distinguish products (PRE identifies categories with color coding). Though Breadcrumb’s layout (colored category tabs on the right, simple list of items) is a little drier, it also navigates quickly. Revel has a flashier interface, but it may take a bit more tapping to find the item you need. This isn’t such a problem with retailers using barcode scanners, but busy wait staff may find it awkward at times, depending on menu size. Even so, this is mostly an aesthetic decision.
Ooh, another easy one! I like easy. This comparison is getting longer by the minute. Basically, most systems utilize your standard kitchen printer setup. As items are sent from POS for prep, receipts will come spooling out of (typically impact) printers in the kitchen or bar. Routing can be customized to automatically print to specific units, and printing can even be bypassed in the case of simple quick serve ordering — merely spitting out a final customer receipt. The real variable here is control over the process.
ShopKeep, for starters, has a rather simple kitchen printing setup. This speaks to the rather recent addition of this function as opposed to a failure of some kind. Even so, it doesn’t quite allow the breadth of options on other, more FSR-centric systems. As noted earlier, Ambur can link as many printers as you want to its hub — allowing for a wide variety of printing protocols for different items. Breadcrumb also permits users to enable multiple kitchen printers, albeit at possibly increased cost (depending on network and hardware requirements).
Power users may decide that printing just isn’t enough. If you’re so arrogant as to believe you are better than paper, who am I to disagree? Rather, I present to you Lavu and Revel — both of which have kitchen display options available at additional cost. Revel utilizes iPads linked via network to your POS and mounted in your kitchen to display orders in real time as they’re sent. Lavu takes this a step further; besides having a similar iPad kitchen display to Revel, they also integrate with traditional kitchen display hardware. Users interested in a fully-functional display must be dedicated to Lavu for the long haul — as integrating it with the POS requires a local Lavu server to handle all the data — but this is not necessarily an issue for larger restaurants. In fact, the local server enables offline functionality, allowing restaurants to operate fully independent of internet access. Thus it may be something to consider if Lavu is indeed the POS of your dreams.
Delivery is a tricky beast, best kept in line with a watchful eye. Of the solutions presented here, ShopKeep and Ambur are probably the least effective with this market. Though they both allow open tabs and customer address tracking, there isn’t much in the way of delivery-specific reporting. In point of fact, Ambur’s only other contribution to the discussion is the ability to label an order as “delivery” and maybe print it differently, if desired.
Silver PRE and Breadcrumb take the order designation to the next level, offering simplified processes for takeout and delivery. When opening a new order, users can note not only the time of the order but also the promised time for pickup or delivery. The orders are forcibly linked to a customer name and address, if necessary, eliminating the possibility of errors made by overeager servers rushing off the phone without all the information. Reporting will identify these orders as delivery, making reconciliation that much simpler.
Now if you’ve got a really serious delivery jones on, well… you may need to bring out the big guns. Both Revel and Lavu have powerful delivery and catering systems available to merchants running a revolving door kitchen. These systems are capable of driver assignments, time management, and advanced order tracking. When a driver returns, they can check back in, see pending deliveries, grab the food, and head right back out on assignment — all reporting live from the POS. Though these functions may add another line item to your POS bill, they surely add value to any full-time delivery business looking to increase efficiency without having to pay someone to yell at drivers all day.
Now let’s say price is an object for you. You want functionality, but you feel your stomach drop at the sight of complex pricing tables. Hey, I don’t blame you. I wear my underwear until it disintegrates and blows quietly away on the breeze. We can’t all be high rollers. Well, the good news is that these systems are all money well spent. If you can’t run with the big dogs, take a look at the lighter alternatives. Despite their lower costs, they’re still more attractive to you than picturing my raggedy undies.
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, but the cost is fairly standard as far as FSR systems go. The only difference is a lack of up-front license fees. And if you don’t fancy any particular hardware bundle, they will let you build your own. I wouldn’t take them up on Groupon Payments’ processing, though; at 1.99% & $0.15 per swipe (2.49% & $0.15 keyed), it’s a bit high for FSR — and it doesn’t take Amex rates into account. Shop around for a better deal.
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. Cost only gets worse from there, folks. Yet you may take solace in the sheer volume of FSR options. Beyond hardware and value-added features, Lavu also offers local servers, advanced IT support, and an impressive range of services through their hardware partner, Zephyr. Owners can have Zephyr program menus, acquire equipment, and provide animated CAD layouts for floor plans, ventilation, etc. Basically, spend enough, and they’ll practically build your business for you.
NCR Silver PRE “starts at” $129/month. Since this is a relatively new option, you’ll have to reach out to NCR sales staff to get more specific details on how pricing scales with growth. At the very least, you receive all the functionality of basic Silver (including the marketing muscle), plus the newly integrated FSR features such as floor plan, print routing, and shared access to tickets across all devices.
Revel’s pricing hovers around $49/month plus $500-1000 for each iPad. (Did you just feel that tremor? I think my wallet is sobbing). However, Revel is known mainly for their custom solutions and unique add-ons. While additional features may cost more, they are known to negotiate price on a case-by-case basis. If your special need is a deal-breaker, they’re always willing to discuss new ideas.
ShopKeep is reasonably priced at just $49/month per terminal. Negotiated price breaks are available for users requiring more than three terminals. Since they do not price based on service tiers, all functions are available on every device.
So there you have it, really. Hospitality is a fickle mistress, but you can tame her wild heart with the right combination of elbow grease and technological superiority. As always, I encourage you to get out there and try these solutions for yourself; most have demo modes or free trials. But if you want my advice — and let’s face it, who doesn’t? — Lavu and Breadcrumb Pro will get you where you need to go. You need more specifics? OK, fine. I guess my article wasn’t long enough for you already. What separates the two is style, in my opinion. Lavu is built to do some serious heavy lifting for restaurateurs familiar with the legacy POS of yesteryear. Options abound, for those that can stomach the cost, and I’d be hard-pressed to identify a full-service restaurant that Lavu couldn’t handle. And if you need help, Lavu’s expanded support services can get you humming in no time.
On the other side of the coin, you’ve got Breadcrumb’s breezy ease. Drink orders automatically firing for prep, handy messaging, clean interface, and simple setup… if Lavu was built for old pros, Breadcrumb was made with servers in mind. This is perfectly illustrated in the difference between back office functions: Lavu requires users to log into a web portal to tool with their configurations; Breadcrumb can access all manager functions directly through the native app while walking the floor. Smooth and efficient, it can adapt to your needs without any complex adjustments.
Basically, the expansive options in Lavu and the casual usability of Breadcrumb make for a pair of incredibly attractive options to owners undaunted by price tags. And for those of you daunted fellows, well.. Ambur has your back. Daunt them no longer, tags! Just be sure to come back this way when you make your decision; I positively live for feedback.
|FSR||Ambur||Breadcrumb Pro||Lavu||NCR Silver PRE||Revel||ShopKeep|