Photo by mt 23 (Flickr)

Photo by mt 23 (Flickr)

Here’s a new feature we thought up at the Kounta Labs: the helpful and informative advice post, in which we identify things to make sure or be mindful of as you embark upon some quest to attain one thing or another.  It sounded better in the meeting, but the idea is you’ve got some POS related conundrum, and I’m the world’s foremost expert on the matter according to the Prescott Institute of Talented Advisors, an elite group of trendsetters and tastemakers in the tech sector—don’t bother to look it up. It’s all very hush-hush.  So without further ado, here’s the first installment of “Check Yourself (Before You Wreck Yourself)”—a working title—giving you a handy checklist of features you ought to be looking for if you’re in the market point of sale system for your cafe.

Van Gogh had skills, yo.

Van Gogh had skills, yo.

Whenever I think of cafes, my mind instantly conjures up Vincent Van Gogh’s painting The Café Terrace on the Place du Forum, Arles, at Night. It’s a masterclass in the replication of light: the foreground glows yellow, illuminated by a candle powered lantern; the storefronts and windows in the background shining with varying degrees of intensity; the view down the street beyond the cafe fades to black but the starry sky above it glows in three dimensions, evoking the depth of space in front of and behind each star.  There’s no clever lead-in from the painting to the topic of this post. Sometimes it’s just good to appreciate art for a moment.  Thanks for not skipping ahead.

When you, the cafe owner, think of cafes, you probably see it as the sum of its moving parts: the food prep, the customer service, keeping inventory, the accounting, the marketing. All of it.  It’s a lot to manage and when it’s working your customers can relax and dine as if they were in a Van Gogh painting. But if it becomes too much to handle or isn’t managed properly, your customers will still feel as if they were in a Van Gogh, but it’s the self portrait where his ear is bandaged after he tried to cut it off.  If you find yourself in this second group, it’s probably time to rethink the way you run things—it doesn’t have to be this difficult.  One of the first things you’d want to look at is your point of sale. A lot of cafe owners will tell you they don’t need anything fancy and just buy a cash register, but this is silly. Just because it’s a small business doesn’t mean it can’t benefit from big business tools.  Mobile apps make those tools available to the little guy at a fraction of the cost, and with the right point-of-sale you can tie together all the parts of your business into a cohesive whole.  As you search for a new one, or reassess your current one, consult with this list of features you oughtn’t do without.

 

  • Ingredient-Level Inventory Tracking. Since you’re making food and drinks, you’re not selling your inventory the way you buy it.  You may purchase 10 pounds of whole coffee beans, but you’re selling them 1 brewed cup at a time.  Likewise, you might buy whole onions, but you’re certainly not serving them that way. Make sure any cafe POS you look at has the ability to track individual ingredients and deduct the proper amount when someone buys a menu item.  Bonus points if the POS can track waste, and automatically generate purchase orders based on low stock.

    Wirelessly send orders to the kitchen. Or another location, just as a goof.

    Wirelessly send orders to the kitchen. Or another location, just as a goof.

  • Wireless Printing / Remote Displays. Turning a customer’s order into an actual meal you can put in front of her is a process, one which relies on an efficient flow of information throughout. A good cafe point of sale will make it possible for you to toss the pen and paper back to the stone ages from whence they came, and deliver the information where it needs to go.  Ring up an order with a panini and cappuccino, and each item is sent to the printer or display at the appropriate station.  
  • Preset and Custom Item Modifiers. You may have noticed that customers tend to want things just a little bit differently than you’d planned on preparing them. The POS needs to be flexible enough that custom modifications to an item can be defined on-the-fly.  But some mods you can see coming from a mile away, so make sure you can create presets in advance and make a hamburger one tap away from being a cheeseburger. Better still is if you’re able to force certain modifier choices and avoid servers forgetting to ask things like “How would you like that cooked?”
  • Item Variants. Drinks and side dishes often come in multiple sizes, and turning sandwiches into meals is a common upsell strategy for cafes.  Both of these can be easily implemented with Item Variants.  Select Small, Medium, or Large, or hit an Upgrade button to add a side and a drink, and the POS totals it up properly, sends the order to the right stations, and consumes the right amount of ingredients from your inventory.

    Photo by Nan Palmero (Flickr)

    Photo by Nan Palmero (Flickr)

  • Tipping. It might seem like a basic thing to add to the checklist, but there’s more to it than simply adding a tip line to the receipt.  Or there should be, anyway.  Having preset tip rates available in a single tap or a custom tip field on screen will save everyone time during payment. Better than that, though, is the POS is recording those tips and being able to factor them into (or out of, more likely) reporting. Paying out at the end of the night becomes that much easier, too.
  • Table Management. Even a small cafe gets complicated when table service is part of the offering. Having a visual reminder of your dining room layout built in to the POS, with each table corresponding to an order, goes along way towards keeping things running smoothly.
  • Works Online and Offline. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: not all offline protection is created equal. It’s good to ask what the POS can do without a connection; it’s better to ask what it can’t do.  The lunch rush isn’t the time to find that one out.

 

 

This isn’t meant to be a list of everything a POS ought to have, just what you should look out for as far as the unique needs of a cafe.  Of course, you’d want the POS you’re looking for to have robust reporting and a built-in customer database function. And with a host of third party apps catering to cafes and foodservice (loyalty or online ordering), it’s good to check out whether any point of sale you’re considering plays well with others.  So, do your research. Start checking apps off your list.  And when you’ve narrowed your search down to the best cafe option out there, make sure they offer a free trial.