A while back, I wrote a post here about the kinds of things found on menus that will annoy your customers. One menu choice that I cautioned against was not having prices for each item. The whole construct of a restaurant is that people are going to pay for their meal, and they’d like to know what you’re going to charge them in advance. But in Banbury, England, cafe owner Naomi Perkins had no other choice for her menu, given the idea behind the place. Her eponymous Naomi’s Cafe Bar operates by donation only, meaning that you can order what you like, and then pay what you like. Maybe that sounds crazy to you, but that’s more the result of you being brought up in a market society where goods and services are exchanged for predetermined amounts of money. Just because that’s the way you’ve always known it to be done, doesn’t mean that’s the only way it can be done. And it seems to be working for Naomi’s Cafe—in an interview in January, 2015, not long after she’d opened, Perkins stated that it was too soon to tell whether the business model was sustainable (but noted that they had turned a profit so far). Now, it’s over a year later, and Naomi’s is still going strong, and it’s uber-welcoming vibe has turned into a something that looks more like a community-supported hangout than a cafe.
Now, the little socialist that lives in my heart is overjoyed to hear about things like this: a business built on faith in humanity and the cooperative spirit is a thing of beauty. But the little capitalist that lives in my wallet is telling me to shut up with all that hippie nonsense. He’s reminding me that the bulk of my income comes from a Point of Sale company, and Naomi’s just an agitator undermining Kounta’s, and therefore my, value in the marketplace. Of course, capitalists are super tunnel-visioned about things not having to with money in their cash-holes, so he doesn’t really understand that there’s more to the software that, no matter the business model, makes something like Kounta a must for any cafe. Point of Sale isn’t just about ringing up the sales, which is something I think I’ve typed several dozen times in the last year. But it’s an important point worth repeating. And for an enterprise like Naomi’s Cafe, it may be even more important.
Most businesses, and cafes are no exception, live and die by their sales forecasts. Having a specific number tied to your projected revenue, even if it’s an estimate, gives the business some kind of mooring. If you can reasonably expect to bring in X number dollars over a month, then you also know that it would be unreasonable to spend Y, if Y is greater than X. It can’t work this way for Naomi’s Cafe, though. Even if she could predict with accuracy how much of each item she tends to sell, without a firm price attached to that item there’s no way of knowing what the income is going to be. This makes staying on top of expenses all the more important, especially around the cost of ingredients and labor. If you can’t predict what’s coming in, you had better know exactly what’s going out. Plus, the more granular you get about that kind of information, the better chance you’ll have of identifying cost saving measures you might not have been aware of. A few off the top of my head:
- The ability to track wastage facilitates smarter purchasing decisions in the future. No sense spending money on ingredients that will end up in the trash.
- Automated purchase ordering ensures you only spend money on inventory when you need to.
- While you can’t track revenue per hour to match up against labor costs, you can use reporting to see when you’re busy times are strictly by sales volume. If you notice certain time frames where things are slow, you can cut back on staff during those times.
And just because you’re not pricing things, relying on the kindness of your customers, that doesn’t mean your cafe POS can’t help you boost revenue, either.
- Add online ordering through mobile apps and your customer base expands beyond your walls. They can order a free meal and then enter their donation as a tip, or just drop cash in the donation box when they pick up the food.
- Store customer profiles and order history for personalised offers. Those offers won’t be coupons or anything to do with discounts, for obvious reasons, but there are creative ways around that. Invite customers on their birthdays for a donation free-piece of cake or dessert. They’ll probably show up with someone else who’ll drop a little extra on a meal. Or create events that you’ll want to invite your loyal diners to, and encouraging them to show up when they might not otherwise have.
If you can be creative enough to make an unconventional business like Naomi Perkins’ work, you can certainly figure out ways to make a POS work for you in driving business. And with so many other aspects that tie into the system, from your accounting to staff management, a point of sale is still a necessity even when there aren’t any sales happening.