Point of Return

By Lisa Terry, Contributing Editor | January 01, 2005

Selecting a hospitality point-of-sale (POS) system is all about balance. Operators want enough features to enable needed reporting and services, but not so much that it's overly complex and difficult to support. They want vendors with enough infrastructure to support them geographically, but without a premium price tag. They need to ensure ease of use while not limiting flexibility.

Papa John's International faced those challenges while developing in-house POS applications and rolling out its next generation of hardware and software. The initial rollout priority was for international restaurants due to graphical requirements and "fiscalization" needs. Many countries require interfaces to external hardware that audit each transaction and a majority of the time these must be custom coded. The 2,809-location pizza chain also required a hardware vendor with a matching footprint to enable local installation and support.

Papa John's fresh OS
Keeping costs down for both corporate and franchise restaurants is always a priority, one that Papa John's approaches through an in-house IT staff that develops and supports software and hardware. That led director of global systems Terry Foster and his colleagues to select a terminal running the Linux operating system, enabling the staff to tap its Unix foundation to write new features and mesh old technology with new while keeping upfront costs down. Other needs, echoed by many hospitality POS buyers, include sealed, fan-less hardware options to maximize lifespan and a somewhat thinner architecture to minimize front-end processing while still enabling devices to run if the server goes down. Papa John's chose Wincor Nixdorf's Beetle/NetPOS system (wincor-nixdorf.com). Touch interfaces are optional for domestic restaurants, another cost-saving measure.
"Our job is to protect these folks and handle the technology decisions so they can focus on their businesses," says Foster. "[Linux] was less costly for us because we already had the skill-set required to architect the systems." Embedded and open operating systems are growing increasingly popular to keep a lid on costs.

Foster admits that developing your own POS/backend is probably not for everyone. "It is certainly a challenge, especially from an international standpoint, but it is just such a huge competitive advantage for us. We can be dynamic and responsive to changing business needs rather than be a victim of a vendor who doesn't want to do it when or how we want it. You hear a lot of hype about outsourcing these days, but why would you put the critical needs of your business outside of your control? If we need a feature or a change in the field, we code it up and put it out there."

Focused on features
Internal support is also a cost-reducing tactic for Crown Theaters, a 188-screen chain. Since their current POS models have been de-supported by the vendor, Crown's manager of information technology Daniel Miller and his colleagues have been testing several hardware platforms to deploy, including ParTech (partech.com), when Crown implements software from Clarity Commerce (claritycommerce.com).

While the final hardware choice is unclear, some priorities aren't. Crown will shy away from widely popular all-in-one terminals, for example. Early testing of one model found it was too top-heavy and prone to cracking, but a bigger issue is serviceability. "If something breaks you've lost the unit," says Miller. But Crown will jump on another trend: customer displays, once software can support them. Other choices include XP Pro as an operating system, and the ability to communicate remotely with terminals via enterprise software and communications.
But like most other hospitality organizations buying POS, "everything else is secondary to price," says Miller.

Value is a theme for many POS purchasers, who can now get more than ever for their dollars. John Osso, owner of nine-unit Bensi's in northern New Jersey, has stuck with Sharp terminals for more than nine years, so he's going back to Sharp (sharpusa.com) as he adds four new restaurants. The most recent generation of PC-based terminals will enable better networking throughout his restaurants, which as scratch operations, use seven to eight terminals per restaurant, including a 50 percent carryout business. Now, each terminal "will stand on its own, so if we have a problem with one it won't knock out the whole restaurant," Osso says.

Osso also sought Web connectivity, an increasingly common need among operators, which allows him to access his restaurants' data remotely.
"The other thing is support," says Osso, which led him to stick with his reseller, Quality Systems Solutions. Informal, readily accessible support has been a key to the success of his operation, he says.

Everything old is new again
With an emphasis on value, some hospitality operators have decided the best new POS equipment for their operations is used.
"We don't need the most powerful registers out there for one application," says Chris Weis, manager, POS systems for CEC Entertainment, which operates 420 Chuck E. Cheese restaurant/entertainment centers and franchises 48 more. "You can spend $3,000 for a new machine or get the same performance for $1,500 to $2,000." Refurbished equipment is typically disassembled, cleaned, painted and rebuilt, with some parts replaced.
CEC, too, leverages internal IT talent to save on POS costs, writing software and maintaining its IBM 4695 hardware (ibm.com), refurbished by Retail Tech, (retailtechinc.com), themselves and even building their own servers. Consistency in hardware makes it easier for help desk, IT development, and reporting activities, Weis says. When hardware is incapable of running a new feature, "we phase it out and upgrade those sites with newer used equipment. It's still cheaper than new."

In fact, some "used" equipment is in fact new in the box, caught in the lag between production and a manufacturer discontinuing the model. "The used market has been a great way to save money, the terminals look great, they're extremely rugged, and they work exceptionally well," Weis says. His advice for buying used POS applies to new as well: find a reliable company to do business with, and your POS problems will be minimal. n

 


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