Photo by Alpha (Flickr)

Photo by Alpha (Flickr)

Good morning, readers. In a fantasy world of my own construction, I work at my dream job as an advice columnist who tells other people how to live their lives. In the real world, I write blog posts and white papers and e-Books for Kounta, telling people how to run their businesses.  It’s close to a dream, but nobody ever writes me asking specific questions.  So I’ve decided that for some of these posts, I’m going to pretend that the people I work with are my fans, and they’re coming to me for personal advice. Just grant me this conception, and I promise you’ll find this useful. Thanks in advance.  

Our first letter comes from Dan in New South Wales, and he writes:

Dear Dave,

I work for a software startup here in New South Wales, and one of my responsibilities is to develop helpful and engaging content for our customers—and potential customers—who use our software. My issue is with Dave, the guy who writes the bulk of our content. He’s talented, for sure, but his ability to meet deadlines is often a problem. For example, a few weeks ago I asked him to write a blog post about the use of Item Modifiers and Variants in our software. Nevermind what that means—it’s not important to the issue at hand, which is that I’ve been waiting quite some time for him to turn in the post and I can’t seem to motivate him properly. Do you have any suggestions for helping him understand the urgency of the situation?



*     *     *     *     *

Hello Dan!

Thanks for being the maiden letter for this, the premiere of my advice column. This one is a real doozy, I’ll be honest. See, writers aren’t like you or me. They keep weird hours, most of which are spent alone. Sometimes this makes them crave human contact, which manifests in all sorts of undesirable behaviour (i.e. missing deadlines) as a passive-aggressive request for attention.

Artist's rendering of the author, unemployed.Photo by Roshan Vyas (Flickr)

Artist’s rendering of the author, unemployed.
Photo by Roshan Vyas (Flickr)

Don’t get upset with him for this. It’s just his nature. Deep down he knows if it weren’t for the contract he has with you, he’d probably be living drunk under a bridge somewhere.

The best thing you can do in this situation is to coddle him a little bit. I want to go back to the part of your letter where you told me the subject of the post he’s supposed to write, and you dismissed the meaning of the topic. “Nevermind what that means,” you said in your letter which you didn’t actually write.  I’m have to wonder if you regarded the subject matter with the same sense of irrelevance as you did when I put words in your mouth and wrote the question. For a writer, starting the project is the biggest problem. Once the words start flowing, it’s often a very quick journey to the end of the piece. So, just as I gave your letter a little push into existence by inventing it, maybe it would help if you gave him the same kind of gentle nudge. To help you with this, I’ve done some research into these “modifiers” and “variants” of which you speak, and you can just direct him here so he can work his semantic magic on this.


There are two different ways to go with a modifier—those that can apply to any item in a category, and those that apply to an item specifically—and these each behave differently. It’s all about context, I’m led to understand. It helps to understand the difference between the two, and I’d recommend that Dave clearly draw the dividing lines so your customer understand:


  • In-Category Modifiers, as the name implies, lists these little extras and mods customers can make to any item in a category.
    In category modifiers.

    In category modifiers.

    So, if you’ve got a category “Coffee,” you’d add your different varieties of the drink within it—along with any add-ons, which would appear as separate choices. Someone wants to add a shot of espresso to their coffee, you just tap “Coffee,” then “Extra Shot,” and it all appears nice and neat on the bill (as well as to the production printer at your barista station, if you’ve got it it set up like that). In category modifiers are noted with a little “M” in their icon, and you can press as many of them as you like to add them to the last item added. Modifiers can have a price attached to them or not, and you define which ones are an extra cost.

  • Pop-up Modifiers work differently. They’re nested within a specific item, and don’t show up in the POS’s category screen.
    Pop-up modifiers.

    Pop-up modifiers.

    If an item has a pop-up modifier, selection of that item forces the person taking the order to ask if the customer wants it. This is useful for menu items like Steak, to remind your servers to ask if they want the thing rare, medium rare, medium, or destroyed. It’s also a great tool to upsell certain items, like the coffee in our example above. Instead of waiting for some of your more caffeine-addled customers to ask for an extra shot of espresso, the POS can require servers to offer it before proceeding. Like In-category modifiers, these can be priced in any way that works for you.


You might also want to make sure your writer stresses the positive effect this has on work flow. Even though you didn’t assign this to him, he might do well to take a detour into Option Sets.

Option sets.

Option sets.

They’re kind of like modifiers on steroids, and the way they facilitate entrees that come with various sides or drinks (I think these are called “Combos” in restaurant parlance) is a great example of software-assisted selling. If, for example, a customer orders a Burger combo meal, the POS will guide the server through each option that comes with the deal. Users have a great deal of flexibility in how they set up the Option Set, and how the choices are presented to the diner (say, the order in which they select sides, drinks, desserts, etc.) If Dave doesn’t understand this from a conceptual level, you could have him check out these videos on modifiers and option sets to see them in action.


Variants are a pretty straightforward concept to understand: so easy a writer can understand it. Put simply, it’s the middle ground between “One Size Fits All” and “Have it Your Way.” The easiest way to grasp the utility of variants is to cite the example of item size. This works both for retail and hospitality. T-shirts and french fries are not only staples of a happy life, but they’re also alike in that they come in Small, Medium, Large, and Extra Large.



And creating item variants in your POS doesn’t just make it easier for diners to get what they want, it makes it easier for you to maintain an accurate inventory. Especially in hospitality, when you’re selling things in different quantities than you’re buying them. You might buy a fifty pound bag of potatoes, but an order of those french fries will account for less than a pound of them. By setting up the menu items as a fraction of your inventory, the POS deducts the proper amount automatically.

Anyway, Dan, this is more information than you asked for, but I’m here to help. Have your writer take a look at this. It ought to give him just the push he needs to get started.  As for the rest of you, Kounta employees and customers alike, feel free to write to me with questions, comments, or cash. In fact, just write the questions or comments on cash, and everyone will be happy.

  • Tasha

    Thanks Dave for answering ‘Dan’s’ questions. I really enjoyed it and you answered a few of my questions.
    if you can elaborate any more on how to enter modifies and variants that would be fantastic.
    I’m just getting started and have entered our menu items which has been relatively easy, now on to modifiers etc.