The 2013 Multi-Unit Restaurant Technology Conference offered the opportunity for restaurant and technology executives to come together and discuss pressing industry issues of the day. One of the luncheon topic tables tackled the issue of POS Operating Systems – Navigating Choices and Considerations. The discussion was moderated by Lee Holman, Lead Retail Analyst, IHL Consulting and he was joined by representatives from Amco Foods, Firehouse Subs, Buffalo Wild Wings, The Malnati Organization, Arby's franchisee -- The Bailey Company, Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, and Huddle House. Here, Holman recaps the insights that the table discussion yielded.
We started out our session by reflecting upon the statement made in a session from earlier in the day by McDonald’s CIO Frank Liberio. Liberio revealed that McDonald’s had one POS system (hardware and software) for all 32,000 global locations. Conventional wisdom says that retail segments with a heavy franchise mentality, such as QSR and convenience stores, trend away from homogeneous POS, mainly due to the maverick nature of some of the franchisees. But of the seven restaurant chains represented by the participants in our conversation, six of them claimed that they too had a single POS system for their entire chain. When pressed, there were a couple of respondents that admitted that there were some installations that weren’t quite in step with the rest of the chain from a POS hardware standpoint, but the POS software tended to be completely homogenous.
Breaking down the operating system
When asked which OS they were currently using, participants revealed that one was using Linux openSUSE, one was not using an OS (they were using an older PROM-based system), and the remaining five participants were using a combination of Windows XP and XPe, with some pilots being conducted with Windows 7. Based upon previous IHL Group research, this is actually a fairly reasonable approximation of the OS landscape in the restaurant segments in North America.
The Windows proponents were in general agreement that the user interface was of great value when it came to reducing training hours, and the development environment was an advantage when new or secondary apps were required. The Linux aficionado admitted that supporting Linux tends to be a bit more “non-restaurant” in terms of focus than simply paying license fees to Microsoft, but the familiarity with Linux in their particular case made that consideration a wash.
The next phase of POS
Going forward, for their next POS upgrade, these restaurateurs were not swayed by any greener grass. The lone Linux user was looking solely at Linux going forward, and the Windows users were planning on Windows 7 (not Windows 8, which was just released six months prior). Interestingly, there was no discernible evidence that the decision to use either Linux or Windows 7 was driven by their planned adoption of mobile devices, nor did their selection of mobile device hinge upon their existing or planned OS choice. Among those considering mobile devices, they tended to stray very little from their existing POS provider when it came to the POS software for their mobile devices. This too is very consistent with previous research conducted by IHL.
POS must-have components & considerations
As the conversation began to wind down, there was a strong sense that OS choice wasn’t really the primary consideration for the participants. The focus on “OS agnostic” hardware and software in recent years may be the main driver here. (We have made the point before that there is a preference to refer to “OS Apathetic” hardware and software rather than “OS Agnostic” simply because one would prefer to have the sense that the hardware or software doesn’t care rather than doesn’t know what OS it is running on.)
When asked point blank what considerations for their next POS system were more important than the operating system, the restaurateurs responded as follows.
Software Development Kit
Payment Capability in Case of System Failure
Ease of Use
In conclusion, we seem to have entered a period where the specific POS operating system is further down the scale in terms of overall importance than it has been in days past. The overarching view is that the functionality and supportability of the POS system as a whole is what matters most, and whether it is Linux- or Windows- or IOS- or Android-based matters little. This means that the burden is upon the technology providers, more than ever before, to develop and deliver solutions that meet the needs of the restaurateurs, not expect restaurateurs to adapt their operations to suit the technology.