We spend a fair amount of time pimping Apple solutions on this site, and I just want my adoring public to know that, in the interest of full disclosure.. yes, I'm an Android fanboy. Working through this cognitive dissonance has caused me untold stress, and I've considered begging my corporate overlords for hazard pay. But let's be honest here: this is only because Apple is always on the cutting edge of new markets. For all my Google love, the Play Store really is chock full of less expensive, homespun knockoffs when compared to iTunes' endless cascade of innovation. So imagine my joy any time a professional organization devotes actual time to my favored platform! This particular rant is in honor of Toast, officially my first truly Android-based tablet POS review. We're going to dig into this pleasantly powerful restaurant tool and show Samsung lovers their new best friend. If you don't mind my saying, it's about damn time.
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Unlike the vast majority of these paragraphs, this text block contains no shiny white hardware requirements. Rather, Toast uses Samsung quad core tablets in 7 and 10-inch varieties. Bundles are available, and Toast generally seems to favor using 10″ tablets for payment terminals, kitchen displays, and other stationary screens. In contrast, 7″ tablets seem better suited for servers and mobile purposes. Still, as we’ll reveal below, the choice is up to the user.
Toast partners with Epson printers, and any cash drawer that plugs into one (see: most) should work fine. They also offer a selection of stands, etc. You know the drill. The real point of interest to us here is — in a shocking revelation — Android. Toast specifically chose Android for affordability and versatility — two features that figure heavily into every facet of the system.
So now that you have your relatively inexpensive tablet, how does the app stack up? Well for starters, it’s going to run you $50/month for your first tablet. Price is on a per unit basis, although individual terminals grow cheaper as they increase in number. This is pretty standard but for one detail: compared to other restaurant systems, Toast is significantly less expensive. In fact, its cost is more in line with ShopKeep or NCR Silver — fairly straightforward retail/QSR offerings. While competent systems in their own right, neither offers the breadth of options found in most full-service restaurant POS applications. Even Silver Pro Restaurant carries a higher cost for the additional features. The closest restaurant competitor, cost-wise, is Ambur, and that system is something of a unique case (see our Ambur review for full details).
The fact that Toast offers these features at such a low price point is further aggrandized by the quality of the product. While Ambur has fought to remold its app to more closely resemble traditional POS solutions — after initially launching with a somewhat cumbersome interface — Toast contains all the high-end considerations of the bigger names without sacrificing low cost or aesthetics. Its table grid is as dry as Ambur’s, and buttons are limited to simple colors — but I’ve also come to view item photos on inventory buttons more of a retail perk than a boon to restaurants. No one will confuse Toast with Breadcrumb Pro or Lavu in terms of visual panache, but it does the job admirably nonetheless. I’ve mostly played around on a smaller tablet interface, but the app runs identically pleasing on either size — both in “portrait” and “landscape” orientation. (Side note: are those still valid terms, or is that purely a printed paper thing? No one uses paper anymore. This is the future! Should I make up new ones? Further bulletins as events warrant).
Moreover, it’s deceptively simple to operate. Though there are numerous options to consider on any given screen, I typically found it easy to accomplish whatever task I set out for myself with little difficulty. Splitting and merging orders is mercifully simple, and menu items can be divided among countless subcategories with equally endless modifier options. Where the system really starts to set itself apart is beyond the order screen. Units can be set to default to any screen the user desires — such as a permanent ticket display on the kitchen wall — but every tablet has the capability to perform any task necessary. In this regard, Toast is adaptable to oft-ignored crises like dead tablets; in a pinch, servers can grab the prep station tablet to take someone’s order or accept a payment on the delivery terminal. Everything is synced on the web, and it has an offline mode that allows them to operate in absence of Internet.
All reporting and setup settings are available through the web dashboard, enabling owners some measure of oversight from anywhere. However, an underrated advantage to Toast is the ability to access each of these features directly from the tablet without having to navigate a browser window. Unlike Lavu, for example — which is all function, no frills on the tablet, requiring users to log into the dashboard to make system updates — owners using Toast can alter the system on the fly and access all reports instantly from any unit. It also has built-in delivery, display, and labor control options without any further upgrade necessary. All in all, it’s packed to the gills.
That gill-packery comes with some caveats, however. Oh, you thought this would be one big Toast love-in? I still have some praises to sing, but we’re going to downshift into criticisms for a moment. Chiefly among them, I strenuously object to processor restrictions. I know I beat this horse eternally, but he deserves it (he knows what he did). Look, if a company handles all the processing themselves and refuses you any alternatives, that’s usually where they’re making their money. At the moment, Toast is content to process as an aggregator for Vantiv. Their rates are adequate (somewhere around 2.2% + $0.15/transaction), and they vow to negotiate in the hunt to beat out competitor rates. Yet you’re at the mercy of the processor, for better or worse. Vantiv has a somewhat sketchy history, considering the lawsuits their recently-acquired Mercury faced for (some say illegally) doctoring Interchange rates. Even if they’ve eliminated the shady element, a flat rate is hardly the most transparent pricing model. POS Options champions the personal freedom of processor choice.
Also, Toast is fairly new. It began in 2012, started by a team that met at MIT and played a key role in their first venture, which sold to Oracle for a cool $1.1B. It’s an impressive pedigree, and they’ve done a tremendous job of putting together a well-programmed application — but they have south of 1000 merchants thus far, and there are still details to suss out. We’ve spoken to a few managers using the system, and support was once a concern for them. They insist to Toast’s credit that it has gotten better as the company has grown, but it still may give some high-maintenance merchants pause (you know who you are, diva owners). Anyone expecting a friendly hand-holding at off-peak hours may be disappointed. And tying back to the previous point, cost may change as the business model evolves. What if Toast decides to one day allow other processors? When they lose that source of guaranteed revenue from processing, will they increase the service costs? It’s something that bears watching.
Finally, and this is more speculative than anything, is Android security a threat? Much as I love it, Android doesn’t control hardware and software at every level, a la Apple. It’s not uncommon for different models to linger at varying versions of software. Though tablets and smartphones haven’t proven to be digital sieves by any stretch, it is a running debate among tech experts — especially with the advent of ApplePay — which platform will hold up as the most secure over the long term. Certainly it appears Android carries more risk, at least in theory. Users must always be vigilant in guarding wifi networks and devices — but perhaps more so in Android’s case.
OK, back to the love, of which there is still plenty…
I mentioned their various displays above, but what does this mean for owners? For starters, expediting screens can quickly view the status of fired orders, allowing servers to update fulfillment quickly and easily. Kitchen displays can be customized to suit individual restaurant needs. Similarly, there is a delivery option that allows owners to dispatch drivers and update order status; you can set your delivery area with a click-&-drag map during setup. There’s even an option to auto-fire checks at a future time.
Enterprise reporting is available for merchants running chains or franchises that wish to link their data. The shift close checklist is intuitive and helpful to someone as absent-minded as myself. Sometimes it’s the little things that brighten your day. On that note, there are numerous fringe benefits to Toast in the form of drag-&-drop functionality and a willingness to address customer suggestions. One of the same owners that expressed past support concerns stressed that Toast has developed at least one feature fix based on his request. Users we spoke to also love the speed of the system and the easy access to live reporting. In fact, the depth of detail available to users is impressive considering the relative small size of the company. Normally such services are the purview of major players — and they almost always carry additional cost.
Not to say that Toast doesn’t have value-added services. Online ordering is available — using the brick-&-mortar menu by default, but this can be altered — as well as an integrated gift card program. Both features cost $25/month. On the whole, however, owners will find Toast a much smaller drain on their wallet than most other options out there today — especially compared to legacy monsters like Micros and Aloha.
$50/month for each tablet in use
No long term contracts, just remember there’s currently only one option for processing
It’s hard to articulate exactly how much I’ve enjoyed my brief time with this system. As is the case with many Android apps, there are some quirks I attribute to ongoing bug updates; for instance, I had a brief flirtation with an aneurysm trying to close a test shift when I couldn’t clock out a fake employee — but I was able to work my way around the issue, brilliant power user that I am. At any rate, it’s refreshing to see a system clearly geared for Android’s fabled flexibility. As powerful as it is out of the box, I look forward to checking out Toast as they continue to expand. While Apple options take full advantage of their slick hardware, Toast has blazed a trail few coders have braved — specifically targeting merchant versatility as their preferred niche. With low cost and high value, it’s hard to argue against it for any merchant seeking a non-Apple path. Hell, even if you love Apple like your own mother, surely there’s no harm in bathing in the warm light of Android for at least a demo. I won’t tell Apple. Promise.