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iPad POS use rising among restaurants

Operators big and small are using the tablets for taking orders

A growing number of operators, from independents to franchisees of major chains, are using Apple's iPad as part of their point-of-sale systems.

Restaurant operators recently shared how they've incorporated iPads into their ordering process, from arming servers with the handheld devices to installing them on the counter.

Configurations vary

iPad users are running the terminals in a variety of POS system configurations, including those centered around remotely hosted software running at so-called “cloud” data centers, to which store-level devices communicate via wireless Internet connections. Such users include Trio Restaurant & Bar in Mount Airy, N.C., which runs Lecere Corp.’s FIRMS POS software, and Fish and Chips Restaurant in Sausalito, Calif., where Revel Systems is the software-as-a-service POS supplier of choice.

Also in use are iPads that are wirelessly tethered to conventional back-office POS software servers and used in conjunction with fixed-place POS terminals. Among the users of such configurations are customers of Hospitality Solutions International running Profit Series version 7.14, including two restaurants operated by 30-unit Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar franchisee JK&T Wings of Washington, Mich., and four locations of the 302-unit McAlister’s Deli fast-casual chain of Ridgeland, Miss.

Kerry Newell, senior manager of POS for McAlister’s, said his company was testing iPads on the dining room side of the service counter to bust lines.

At least one restaurant user of Digital Dining POS system software is running that application and the brand’s above-store reporting dashboard software on iPads with the help of Mocha Remote Desktop middleware, Digital Dining said.

What users like

“It is working famously for us. We love the iPads,” said Chris Wishart, chef-owner of 66-seat Trio, where servers for the contemporary bistro take orders tableside using the touch-screen Apple devices.

Boosters of the devices say they are not as iffy a proposition for the restaurant environment as some might assume, given their sleek and glossy appearance. For instance, they note, the tablets don’t have fans, eliminating the most likely entry point for grease or dirt, their data storage components are solid state, with no moving parts, and their battery life between charges can run five to 10 hours.

Still, Trio’s Wishart said, he bought covers for his iPads and had large pockets sewn into the aprons worn by servers, who are instructed to never set the devices anywhere but in those pouches.

Wishart said the most appealing aspect of the iPad is how it speeds up the ordering process in the restaurant. “The orders are in the kitchen or bar while the server is still at the table,” he said.

Wishart said the iPad’s large display area and desktop, on which more than POS buttons can be shown, also make them attractive as a sales and information tool. He said food and beverage notes can quickly be called up from the tablets’ built-in applications or third-party software by the wait staff to answer guest inquiries.

“You don’t have to worry about servers coming back into the kitchen 10 or 15 times a night asking questions, and the recipes for all the bar drinks are there, too,” Wishart said.

Easy access to such information cuts down on confusion and “has boosted the confidence of the staff,” he added.

Some cost insights

Trio, which generates average tickets of about $12 at lunch and $32 at dinner, has used Lecere’s POS software with iPads since opening in July. Wishart said he spent about $3,000 on the hardware — including around $500-plus for each of four iPads and another $900 or so for four wireless printers, two of which are in the kitchen, while the third and fourth are in the bar and dining room. That compares with the $12,000 to $20,000 upfront costs of some conventional POS systems, he said.

Michael Lappert’s Fish and Chips Restaurant uses an iPad on a stand as a fixed-place POS terminal on the counter, where there is also a cash drawer and an Epson TM-T70 receipt printer. Lappert, in a published case study of his use of Revel Systems software and services, touts the slim form factor of the iPad and the touch-screen device’s ease of use, among other benefits.

Lappert is among the iPad POS users or vendors that have adapted magnetic stripe readers for credit and debit cards for use with the iPads. Others, such as Wishart, are processing card payments with one or more free-standing readers, such as the one behind the bar at Trio.

Lecere, as does Revel Systems and other new online POS software companies, in effect rents its application use and data storage to restaurant users. Lecere customers can secure their own hardware and sign up for the company’s service and self-configure the software online, or seek assistance from the vendor.

Trio’s Wishart said he pays a percentage of his sales to use Lecere’s technology, and called the arrangement “extremely fair, especially compared with some of the upfront costs of regular POS systems.” He added that the cloud-based model’s elimination of store-level software maintenance further sweetened the deal for him.

Lecere representatives said the company requires no contracts and charges customers a percentage of sales on a sliding scale, from 1 percent for the lowest volume operation to a tenth of a percent for higher volume businesses. Other software-as-a-service vendors may charge a monthly subscription coupled with per-transaction charges.

Though some restaurateurs in the past have worried that remotely hosting mission critical POS software could be risky, Wishart said Trio has yet to suffer any significant snafus with the cloud service. He expressed confidence in the reliability of, and redundancy of systems in, the data centers operated by e-commerce giant, from which Lecere contracts for support.

Contact Alan J. Liddle at [email protected].

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