Hardware Built to Last

By Nicole Marie Richardson, Contributing Editor | January 01, 2007

The consumer's dollar is more sought after now than ever before. Competition in the foodservice industry is fierce and an operator's choice of hardware can make the difference between more walkouts versus more walk-ins. Customers expect fast turnaround of their orders, and they will frequent restaurants where they get the fastest service. For these reasons, new trends are pointing towards developments that can help satisfy customer demands and add to a restaurant's bottom line. 

Hardware technologies that guarantee high reliability in harsh operating environments, that are easy to service and scalable, that help the operator manage things such as labor, speed of service or loss prevention will provide a return on investment (ROI), all while being attractive and taking up very little space. The majority of the responsibility in meeting these needs falls on point-of-sale (POS) workstations.

High reliability
Greasy, damp and hot environments take their toll on restaurant POS systems. About 53 percent of the cost associated with POS systems is tied to the computer terminal, as compared to 32 percent in peripheral equipment and 15 percent in scanners. That means that restaurateurs generally want a minimum of five years to amortize their equipment. Having to rip and replace equipment every three years in order to accommodate new features isn't acceptable, points out Tim Wetzel, vice president of information systems with Bob Evans, who is in the midst of replacing the chain's 10-year-old IBM ( www.ibm.com ) POS hardware.

"These were great machines because they lasted a long time; they were easy and fast to maintain, and most of all they were reliable," boasts Wetzel. "We really got our money's worth." Wetzel is now rolling out new IBM POS hardware in 50 stores at a time as part of a pilot in 150 locations and is confident that his new POS equipment will have an equally long shelf life.

Manufacturers are attempting to make POS terminals more compatible with restaurant environments by making fanless units. One of the frontrunners of this new technology is Logic Controls (logiccontrols.com), which has introduced the LC8200. These fanless units don't get clogged with dust and oil and keep noise to a minimum. However, such units usually have low power processors so that they don't overheat, which means they can not be used to run multimedia, such as Microsoft Office, HR portals or Microsoft Vista. High power Celeron and Pentiums can run multimedia programs but also need the fans.

Easy to service and scalable
The extra power is also sometimes needed for peripherals and POS hardware trends are calling for machines to be more scalable. Fingerprint login is gaining some traction in the market. The option is used more often in punching in and out for labor usage, as it tends to be slow when authenticating. However, one of the biggest issues facing restaurateurs is radio frequency identification (RFID), and manufactures such as Squirrel (squirrelsystems.com) and Logic Controls are leveraging the emerging technology.

POS devices outfitted with RFID readers let guests wave credit cards past the reader which then debits the card. RFID is becoming more affordable and mainstream.  It is being piloted for payments similar to what is used in the pay-at-the-pump speed pass programs. At the moment, RFID cards are used more often at institutional and campus locations such as university cafeterias or retirement homes. But they make sense in restaurant concepts such as Bob Evans, which allows customers to line up at a check-out counter. "RFID technology is important because you can't have a line at check-out," says Wetzel. "Everything needs to move fast; orders need to come in quickly; credit needs to run fast. All these things affect customer service."

Also gaining momentum are WiFi connectivity options, although they are still a small percentage of the market deployment. In the next few years vendors will begin to install standard, hard wired Category 6 cabling and jacks with more regularity; WiFi still requires some additional overhead and lags in throughput performance.

Speed of service
Without a doubt, speed is driving most trends in the POS hardware area and was the main reason Wetzel went with the new hardware. "I noticed a big difference in the speed right away. The old machine just couldn't do things as fast as this one can because it didn't run the new software," he explains.  The new POS hardware acts as a back up server for the register, has a pop open cashdrawer, allows for quick overtime reporting, and runs the necessary software program fast.

Braam J. Hattingh, owner of The Quarter, a five-story combination restaurant, nightclub and bar located in the historic district of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, also needed a POS system that would run at top speed.  He recently installed 17 POS terminals, combining NCR RealPOS 20 (ncr.com) workstations and MenuSoft's Digital Dining Professional software (digitaldining.com). "As a bustling and complex restaurant, bar and nightclub, we needed a POS solution that could handle a demanding and fast-paced atmosphere, as well as a variety of foodservice challenges and needs," explains Hattingh. "NCR's reliable and high-end industrial hardware allows us to meet our operational needs while providing exceptional service to our customers."

Intuitive touch screens, such as the ones designed by NCR and first introduced by Squirrel, helped Hattingh reduce training time and made operations run smoothly especially at the bar.

Meanwhile, Potbelly Sandwich Works, a Chicago-based restaurant chain, has chosen NCR RealPOS 70 terminals for its recent POS upgrade, along with thermal receipt printers and cash drawers, also pointing to speed of service as a driving factor. "We chose this comprehensive POS solution from NCR for its ability to speed our transaction times which increases our operational efficiencies," notes Tamy Duplantis, vice president of information technology at Potbelly Sandwich Works.

The solution has been deployed in 33 locations this year and will be installed in all new Potbelly Sandwich Works locations. "What began in 1977 as a small antique shop offering sandwiches has grown into the Potbelly Sandwich Works chain people know and love today. Such success keeps us focused on the quality of the customer experience and looking for ways technology can assist," says Duplantis.

Overall, POS hardware technology is allowing for more speed when it comes to running software, adding peripherals and keeping up with innovations such as RFID. Restaurants are depending on their POS system to drive their operations. For now, operators' demands are being met by manufacturers focused on flexibility.

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