Executive Roundtable: Putting the POS in Perspective

By Dorothy Creamer, Managing Editor | August 06, 2013

The POS has become a central hub for sales, employee training and tracking, loyalty, guest data and much more. With all those components, deciding upon a POS vendor and strategy are major talking points for restaurant insiders. HT asked a panel of execs to identify important trends and best practices, as well as share what they are looking for in next-generation POS systems.  Their responses shed some light on where the industry is — or should be — heading in terms of future-proofing the POS.



Chris Incorvati, Director of Café Technology
Au Bon Pain, (www.aubonpain.com)

What are some of the benefits and pitfalls of mobile and online POS?
Mobile integration can offer a significant increase in throughput.  Customers can get their orders faster with advanced online ordering.  Restaurants can increase check averages by marketing with online tools to entice the guest to spend more.  Mobile POS can help eliminate lines, but it means IT will have another device or devices that they will need to manage, update and maintain. 

What are some best practices for customization? 
Before you request any enhancement make sure you know the “why” and benefits expected from it.  If you decide you need a new feature, make sure the vendor agrees to make it available to other clients.  You don’t want to be stuck with a different platform that requires extra development time or special attention every time you upgrade.  Ask a POS user group if any members are planning on asking for similar enhancements.  A user might suggest an alternative or agree to partner with you in championing the cause (and cost). 

What are you looking for in next-gen systems?  
First you need to start with reliability.  Systems must have robust hardware and a stable software platform. Every second of downtime is costing you money.  Enterprise or SaaS (software as a service) is a must-have.  Deployment integrity is a huge factor.  It’s imperative to make sure that all pricing, items and functionality changes are programed correctly when deployed from corporate.  New technology must include alternative payment methods: mobile, online, payroll deductions, specialty cards for hospitals and universities, EMV, NFC and gift card integration.  The POS system must have open API for third-party integration.  There also needs to be a strong loyalty program that can help drive repeat traffic.



Jeff Kent, Chief Information Officer
Fiesta Restaurant Group, (www.frgi.com)

How do you evaluatePOS solutions?
The software that runs on your POS is your biggest investment.  The hardware you purchase is a wasting asset, but the software appreciates over time as your provider enhances the software and you build interfaces from the POS to other systems.  Protection of investment in the software that best supports your business becomes the primary concern in evaluating solutions.

What are some best practices for customization? 
The most valuable customizations are the ones that align with your business strategy.  Customizing software to support our types of products is an absolute necessity for us with very clear business benefit.  If we can’t draw a direct line from the requested customization to the strategy, we don’t implement it. 

What are you looking for in next-gen systems?  
We are looking at ways to open our POS and kitchen video systems to non-traditional devices.  Given the high volumes many of our restaurants experience, we are looking at mobile order-taking devices for our associates to handle rushes and new store openings.  We are seeing growth in our catering business and evaluating integration of catering systems.



Jeff Gengler, Vice President, Business Technology
Papa Murphy’s, (www.papamurphys.com)

How do you train staff at the POS?
We’ve found success using a single terminal installed with a training image one week prior to go-live. Team members practice entering and tendering scripted transactions that they’ll experience when the store opens. We couple this with a five-day pre-live certification process, dedicated remote support the day of opening or POS conversion, and five days of post go-live phone assistance from NCR (www.ncr.com).

For back-of-house and above-store functionality, including forecasting, inventory, labor, cash management, and configuration tools, we break training into four areas: foundational, key concepts, reinforced learnings, and ongoing. The NCR Brand Solutions Group provides webinars and phone support to new users before a required two-and-a-half-day training session. We provide access to online training via NCR’s Learning Portal and publish a bi-monthly newsletter to communicate functionality changes and reinforce training through tips and tricks. Proactive monitoring of help desk calls and a feedback link on all back-office servers gives us insight into areas that need attention. We require all corporate field support staff to attend hands-on training twice each year and participate in ongoing training to provide coaching to operators, managers, and crew members.

What are some best practices for customization?
With recent developments and many newcomers to the POS space, solutions are flexible enough to meet the needs of 90% of organizations without any custom development. However, there are times where specialized needs of operations, the actual brand or concept, or unique product offerings are not met by those standard configurable offerings.  If one finds the need to add functionality, then the best practice is to work directly with the partner to build them into the standard platforms and protect your ability to easily upgrade in the future. The best customizations are those that improve your operations, guest satisfaction, or your ability to manage your business, and especially those that your partner can then offer to other customers. Those customizations are truly win-win efforts. 

What are you looking for in next-gen systems?  
Everyone should be looking for a cloud-based POS solution with location-level redundancy, wireless and mobile capabilities, options to react to the changing payment landscape, end-to-end encryption, and an open architecture.  Location level hardware should be a centrally managed, retail-hardened or sealed solution with very few, if any, moving parts.  The in-store technology and its support is still important, but operators will see at least 50% of their orders coming from mobile platforms in the next two to three years, making it important to have a solution that easily supports multiple channels. Moving Papa Murphy’s POS systems and transactional data to the cloud, including the associated guest information, will allow us to recognize the guest and enhance personal engagement based on history and/or status, regardless of location or ordering channel.



Jack Clare, Chief Information Officer
Dunkin’ Brands, Inc., (www.dunkinbrands.com)

What issues have you found with mobile/online POS?
The major pitfall is building something the consumer doesn’t want or won’t use.  I think we’re all trying many things to see what guests respond to and trying to enhance features they like/use and will abandon those that don’t resonate. 
 
How do you train staff at the POS?
We use a combination of vendor-supplied training initially, but then try to incorporate training into our overall operating platform going forward. Technology training shouldn’t be different than training for any other restaurant operating process.
 
What are some best practices for customization? 
We try to avoid customizing, as we’d prefer to have our partners include features we desire in their product roadmaps to avoid compatibility issues in the future.  The issue then is one of priority/timing ­— will the partner get the features incorporated on a timeline that works for us.  Sometimes we may be forced to “pay our way to the front of the line” versus waiting for features to make their way into a product.



Steven G. Barrow, Vice President of Information Systems
Luby’s Fuddruckers Restaurants, (www.fuddruckers.com)

How do you evaluate POS solutions?
We generally favor an agile framework over a robust list of features.  I believe this is the best way to insure that the technology not only meets your needs today but the needs of tomorrow.  One should determine if the solution provider utilizes cloud concepts, such as centralized deployment, management and reporting, as these features will ultimately lead to a more sustainable platform as well as lower cost of ownership.  Security and PCI should weigh heavily in the evaluation process and a solution that removes the POS from scope for PCI is a major benefit. 

What are some best practices for integrating the POS with other IT solutions? 
The key to building ROI is to maximize the POS’ role in guest engagement. Marketing and operations are demanding digital menus and signage, online ordering, and integrated kiosks as additional touch points for guests.  All of these systems are potential silos of menu items, prices and customer data and must be integrated to be successful.  These points must be controlled and validated though the POS, which should be the clearing house for all this enterprise data.  Ideally, a cloud architecture should be used to maintain these disparate systems but the reality is that restaurants often have non-connected solutions in place that must be supported.  It is critical that IT work closely with marketing to not only understand initiatives but also provide direction on how data will be integrated and managed. 

What are you looking for in next-gen systems?  
I want to minimize the technology footprint required to operate a restaurant with minimal data stored locally and operational data synced in real-time to the cloud.  The POS should be thin devices, provisioned from the cloud and interchangeable for ease of support.  I want guests to be able to order and pay on their smartphones rather than standing in line. Plus actionable service issues, such as guest complaints or late food orders, should be delivered as real-time alerts.


  
Michael Haley, Vice President, Information Technology
Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, (www.leye.com)

How do you evaluate POS solutions?
We have a diverse selection of restaurant concepts and no two brands operate identically, making our selection process more demanding on flexibility.

Another important factor is support. Is this something we can support internally or easily manage through a vendor?  Reliability and consistent functionality is key to a concept’s ability to operate efficiently to ensure a great guest experience.  We take an active role in the decision making process with our operators and must be able to implement the POS consistently regardless of concept type.

What are some best practices for POS customization?
Determining the proper level of customization is a challenge that must be monitored. Two factors with the most impact on an organization are the software/hardware version control and the effort (investment) versus value analysis.  Every project has a perceived level of value; when the amount of effort involved becomes too great for the desired result, we
reevaluate both.
 
Equally important is software/hardware version control.  All software and hardware have a life cycle that results in upgrades and new releases that eventually force vendors to stop supporting them.  When that happens, solid regression testing must ensure modifications are working as desired with the new release.  All software customizations for our POS are programmed in-house. This allows the flexibility to streamline and control the process from test to production.

What are you looking for in next-gen systems? 
We always lead with stability — our systems must work reliably every day.  We are focused on BOH integration and real-time reporting tools along with FOH functionality to ensure a positive experience.  Integration of online and kiosk ordering, handhelds for servers, wireless communications, plus integration of our existing frequent diner (loyalty) and Lettuce gift card programs is a must.  New payment options and special promotion programs are on our radar as well.

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