Restaurant owners may already be familiar with Lavu — a fully functional iPad POS specifically designed for food service. It has been featured on Kitchen Nightmares, as well as in a number of major news publications. There is a 14-day free trial available, during which time Lavu takes user credit card information to automatically begin billing at the end of the two weeks. Owners will need every moment of that time to make a final decision on Lavu — because it is deep. But is the significant cost of the system justified, or are they just paying off their marketing budget?
Though Lavu is limited to iPads for POS & web for back office, it integrates with a wide variety of hardware options. Everything is available through Zephyr, if desired, which links directly from Lavu’s site. Advanced IT packages can be purchased that allow professionals to set up & maintain the network. Larger establishments — or perhaps profitable small businesses — may appreciate the assistance. Most impressively, Zephyr offers a range of deeper services including menu programming, design services, floor layouts in animated CAD, electrical/plumbing/ventilation drawings, and equipment acquisition. The POS also integrates with a number of gateways & processors, allowing for flexible processing rates.
Lavu strongly suggests an exclusively Apple system to ensure network stability; beyond that recommendation, they utilize a number of different card readers & Bluetooth devices. Star printers (thermal or impact) & APG cash drawers connect through the router. Where Lavu sets itself apart from many tablet POS systems, however, is the industry-specific attention given to hardware. In addition to the standard peripherals listed above, Lavu supports kitchen displays, portion control scales, and even local servers designed to keep the system running non-credit transactions if the internet drops cloud connections (no card data is stored locally). Granted, these hardware costs add up — and Lavu isn’t free on its own. Yet any medium- to large-sized restaurant will find use for many of these options.
The attention given to specifically food & beverage services may offset this cost for many merchants. Whether operating a small quick serve, a decent-sized bar, or large steakhouse tourist trap — Lavu’s system is equipped to handle every aspect of operations. Where to even start then? Well upon signup, Lavu provides a helpful tutorial at the first login. These videos & articles can be found any time through their capable support system — and 24/7 software support is a mere phone call away. Plus, as mentioned above, Lavu does feature premium assistance for merchants looking to let someone else handle setting up infrastructure.
As for the system itself, Lavu operates on iPad, iPod Touch, & iPhone — though the number of devices is limited by subscription tier. Smaller devices don’t have the complete functionality of the tablet, but they can do enough to serve as a handheld terminal for servers; management would likely prefer access to the full range of features on the main tablet. However, there is also a separate iPhone app called Lavu Pilot that allows live reporting access from anywhere — eliminating the need for owners to find a full computer or rely on mobile browsers to see updates.
The first thing users will notice upon logging into the POS is the adaptable layout. Depending on need, the system can run in a traditional bar tab list format, fully customizable table grid, or basic quick serve ticket. This format can be changed at any time through the main menu options, though managers may decide to limit server access to such functions — so that bartenders don’t mistakenly switch off the tab screen for a dining room, etc. Managers & servers can also view their respective data — from shift summaries & tips to management reconciliations & payroll — through this same menu; assuming they have access, they can also adjust register & printer settings. Orders both open & closed can be viewed through their respective lists, and servers can clock in & out using assigned PINs.
When adding items to a ticket, the receipt appears on the left with menu categories & subgroups at the bottom; once a group is selected, product buttons will appear on the right. Quantities, modifiers, discounts, notes — everything can be adjusted from that point. Modifiers in particular can be grouped into two major categories: forced modifiers, which must be chosen (size, type of meat, etc.), and optional (no cheese, extra sauce, & so forth). Although open items can be created with variable names & prices for last-minute additions & special orders, actual menu setup is limited to back office.
Thankfully Lavu provides those early tutorials because the web portal is expansive to say the least. In addition to detailed reporting, the advanced options allow merchants to fully customize almost every facet of their restaurants. With custom tax profiles, checkout process options, inventory tracking, & much more, Lavu really has about everything an owner could ask for in a restaurant POS. The table chart can be adjusted to reflect actual position & scale — as opposed to snapping to a predetermined grid — and multiple rooms can be separated into pages. Similar to ShopKeep’s raw goods function, Lavu can also have orders automatically track which ingredients are used — thus automatically monitoring back of house inventory. If someone orders a screwdriver from the bar, the system can report a serving of vodka & orange juice respectively — increasing stock efficiency for merchants working with slim profit margins. Customized logos, product images & receipts details are just the icing on this deluxe cake.
If there’s a reason Lavu has gotten so much attention at this relatively early stage of the tablet POS revolution, it’s got to be the level of detail available to merchants. We’ve already touched on the flexibility of the common restaurant features, but Lavu takes everything a step further. The menu options, for example, are so detailed that we were thrilled to have a fully built sample menu downloaded with the trial account. All that needed to be done for testing was to assign modifiers — even entire preloaded modifier groups designed for use across multiple categories.
In addition to the usual options present on individual products (custom taxes, buttons, etc.), there is a built-in Happy Hour function that allows bars to set automatic discounts on chosen days & times — even specifying whether or not modifier prices are affected. Similarly, the system settings menu provides a number of interesting features. From the essential aesthetic display tweaks to the numerous access permissions to decisions on when to track gift card revenue (when sold or redeemed) — Lavu allows users to customize seemingly the smallest aspects of the POS. The higher tiers take this even further; beyond the mere punch clock function, owners are able to schedule staff, set overtime & double-time rules, and automatically apply bonus pay for various bank holidays.
Just about the only thing lacking from Lavu proper is a customer database & marketing function (though there are reports to extract recent addresses from emailed receipts). However, Lavu combats this small deficiency by integrating directly with LoyalTree, a mobile loyalty program. Also on higher tiers, API data is provided to allow online ordering. Finally, an obsessive messaging log tracks not only system update messages from Lavu, but every step of every order; a simple glance at the transaction details will show which employees are using the terminal efficiently, and which ones are constantly ringing incorrectly, voiding, & adjusting orders — thus eliminating superfluous managerial detective work when something goes wrong on a ticket. With everything but the kitchen sink built right in, Lavu’s few missteps are that much more noticeable. Clearly, price will be an issue for smaller merchants; with hefty license fees and monthly subscriptions, some merchants may not even be able to afford the hardware they want up front. And while Lavu & Zephyr’s value-added support experts do provide an appealing option for less tech-savvy owners, the added costs associated are just one more worry piled on top.
And while on the topic of support — though quite helpful — we found more need for it than anticipated. Thankfully, we’re only testing the software & not running a business because some functions were less than clear. For instance, closed tickets are easily reopened — but seemingly impossible to close again, even after paying in full. Will they close when the system cuts over after midnight? We’ll see. On that note, it doesn’t appear as though Lavu can manually batch at the owner’s discretion; depending on the gateway utilized, the day can possibly be forced closed if desired, but that’s obviously not ideal — especially for merchants that want to micromanage their finances.
Menu programming may be a service worth paying for, in fact. The system can seem awfully dense to the casual user; setting & testing products, modifiers, taxes and the like ate up more time than most other tablet POS systems we’ve reviewed — and not just because of the number of items. Testing our settings on the POS itself encountered similar obstacles, the sort where users begin to wonder if they’re maybe just not smart enough to pick up any ol’ POS. While all systems have their software quirks, Lavu was somewhat less simple to solve at first glance — and we’re no slouches in the amateur IT department. We got the job done without actually calling anyone for help, but we looked in the phone’s direction more than once while voiding & retrying new tickets.
Lavu 88: $0/license, $88/month, 1 register, 1 iPod, 2 printers, 1 drawer, unlimited users Silver:$895/license, $39/month, 1 register, 1 iPod, 2 printers, 1 drawer, unlimited users
– Lavu 88 and Silver have the same feature set, the only difference is in price
Gold: $1495/license, $79/month, 2 registers, 10 iPod, 5 printers, 2 drawers, unlimited users
Pro: $2495/license, $149/month, 3 registers, 15 iPods, unlimited printers/drawers/users
– Add up to 20 additional registers for $20/month on Pro accounts
Lavu is another classic case of getting what you pay for in the long run. If owners want to spend the extra money, they will definitely find the extra value in this comprehensive system. That being said, it can be a little finicky — and perhaps not the most intuitive at times. Still, many restaurants will find the power intoxicating, and Lavu certainly has the muscle to back up their product. They’ve got a lot of brand momentum right now — as well as the simpler, more cost-effective Lavu Lite to consider as an alternative, if it ever gets a proper launch (last we checked, it’s on hiatus while they improve the system). All in all, it’s hard to go wrong with this quality tablet POS, provided owners are willing to put in the work to truly get the most out of Lavu.