Forget totting up columns of figures and stuffing wads of notes in a drawer. Nowadays a sophisticated EPOS machine can do everything from automatic reordering to predicting staff requirements. Richard Woodard reports on the rise of tech
The world has changed. ‘Twenty years ago, we had a pen, paper and a cashier who would put the bills together, then we’d do a stock-take at the end of the month,’ recalls Willoughby Andrews, operations manager at Vinoteca. ‘After a few days of crunching numbers, you would get your reconciliation.’
JJ Goodman, co-founder of London Cocktail Club, which launched in 2008, seconds this vision of speedy technological advancement. ‘When we started, we just had a Casio till, and you opened a drawer and put cash in it,’ he says. ‘Now you can spend tens of thousands of pounds on new till systems.’
A Point of Sale (POS) system used to be exactly that: a simple way to track and record transactions, a pool of information, whether written, printed or stored on a computer, which you would then grapple with to work out what the hell was going on with your business.
Since POS became EPOS (E for electronic), and more recently with the advent of cloud-based systems, that’s all changed. The humble POS is rapidly becoming a comprehensive tool that allows you to manage, analyse and improve your business.
‘Most of all, an EPOS system worth investing in should offer both software-focused, on-premise solutions, such as point of sale and hand-held ordering, alongside cloud-based enterprise tools such as business reporting and stock management,’ says Samantha Weller, marketing manager at EPOS supplier Tevalis.
‘What we see it more as is a business management system,’ adds Leigh Saunders of NCR Silver. ‘What we want our EPOS to do is create a system with real-time data and actionable outputs, so you can see the best-selling drinks, the busy periods and the quiet periods, and run your staffing model around that.’ You can even access a weather forecast to decide whether or not to open the terrace and stock up on rosé.
The list of bells and whistles is formidable. The Tevalis stock-management tool, for instance, allows the setting of ‘par’ (minimum stock) levels so that front-of-house teams can only sell what’s available from the POS, combining it with auto-reordering functions.
NCR Silver’s Pro Restaurant Edition can show an on-screen layout mirroring the layout of your bar or restaurant, allowing bills to be moved from bar to terrace. You can create a bill per chair for that awkward group of 15 work colleagues who want to split the bill, or allow three people to share the cost of a bottle of wine.
You’ve got the power
CASE STUDY: The East Village and
Oli Pluck wanted something relatively simple and low-cost for his two bars, so he decided to opt for Intelligent POS, which later merged with iZettle. He pays £40 per month per terminal, using iPads on extended warranty.
‘The features are super-simple, being made for Apple support, and you can input recipes and quantities to manage stock,’ Pluck says. ‘But it’s mainly the ability to track sales year-on-year, break sales down into hours, weeks, months, terminals, users, etc – this is the best feature for me and I use it a lot.
‘We also have access to the internet to look up recipes of random drinks guests may ask for, and also use it on quiet shifts to do research for drinks and concept stories.’
There are drawbacks. iZettle card readers don’t allow manual input of card details, and adding happy hour discounts can be cumbersome – but not having any PDQ slips is, says Pluck, ‘cash-out heaven’.
‘Having an EPOS system on the front of the bar is a massive change,’ he says. ‘Turning your back to the customer is a big no-no for me, so being able to do transactions face-to-face is very important and better for speed of service.’
One benefit of modern app- and cloud-based systems is that they are typically flexible enough to work on multiple devices. ‘That way you’re not tied into buying a POS unit for the system that they tell you you have to use,’ says Michael Farquhar, operations director at D&D London.
Learn to use these systems fully, he adds, and they can provide you with valuable insights into your business. Drill down into the revenue-per-seat performance of window tables, second row tables, different zones on your floorplan, and you might discover that a table in the ‘red zone’ window section earns much more than one at the back. ‘So, when you get a big spender, where do you seat them to get the most money out of them?’ says Farquhar.
The principle extends to your drinks offer, Farquhar adds. ‘Feed cocktail recipes into the system to get an insight into how much vodka you’re using and control your stock,’ he says.
‘It will also show me where the trends are, what’s selling off of the cocktail menu or the beer or wine list. Is it American craft beers rather than London craft beers? IPAs rather than lagers? I can see where guests want to spend their money.’
The list of value-added features and bolt-ons is almost endless, but they’re not useful for everyone – it’s hard to imagine that floorplan analysis will be of much benefit to the owner of a single neighbourhood bar, even if he or she could afford the system in the first place. And as Farquhar says: ‘You can do a lot, but it takes time to analyse all that information.’
For many businesses, their main needs – and the benefits they gain – are much more straightforward.
‘It should be simple to use, one that allows tablets and mobiles to be incorporated and that harnesses modern payment systems,’ says Chris Galvin, co-founder of Galvin Restaurants.
‘It should talk to your reservations system to build customer profiles and it must have a good support and training package,’ he adds. And the benefits? ‘A good system can speed up service, giving more customer satisfaction, and the opportunity to sell quicker and more efficiently. It helps the chefs cook quicker and more accurately and it gives useful data. If properly linked with a beverage and food ordering system, it can help stockholding and ordering.’
‘Reports should be easy to read, versatile and accessible,’ says Rob Paley, head of audit & compliance at Be At One. ‘Hospitality workers in general are not computer wizards, nor are they inclined to sift through reams of complex and intimidating numbers when the next long, high-energy shift is around the corner.’
CASE STUDY: Vinoteca
‘Every business has EPOS and, if you don’t, you’re stupid because it saves a massive amount of time,’ says Willoughby Andrews, operations manager at Vinoteca. The six-venue chain of wine bars has used Tevalis since opening its second site in 2010.
‘We need an EPOS system that is really robust, and simple as well,’ Andrews explains. ‘When we opened a third site, we were sold an update to the system that meant we could manage and edit everything centrally, rather than having all the restaurants standing alone. One person can do
Having a cloud-based EPOS means that the information on the system is always accessible, allowing your team to make edits – but this needs to be carefully managed, warns Andrews. ‘You don’t want loads of people doing that, but one person looking after it and keeping it streamlined,’ he says.
It’s also vital to keep up an open dialogue with your supplier so that improvements can be made if necessary. ‘It’s massively important to give them feedback, so you can build the system as you go,’ he concludes.
Goodman agrees. ‘We don’t really use it to its maximum capacity, but what I personally find you do get is better gross profit (GP) margins, because you use it as a tool to find out flaws in the business,’ he says.
Knowing your stuff
This makes understanding your system’s full capabilities and limitations all the more important. NCR will spend a day uploading everything into the system to get people up and running (these systems are only as good as the information they are fed), as well as offering a 24/7 ‘concierge’ service for queries and issues.
‘Our teams always make sure training days are scheduled in with our clients,’ says Weller of Tevalis. ‘With full training, management can add new features, change the visual layout, add new items and buttons, and much more.’
Farquhar recommends scheduling a meeting with your supplier every six months or year to catch up on the latest system updates, and also to gain insight from the supplier’s other customers. ‘What are other people doing? What are the trends in the market? These people can identify the latest trends based on their experiences with other customers,’ he says.
There’s no doubt that these systems have made huge advances in the past few years and, with the right handling and expertise, they have the potential to make more money for your business. But it’s also worth remembering that bars and restaurants remain, above all, places of human interaction.
Neither Vinoteca nor D&D London would countenance using devices to take customer orders. ‘That would take away a little bit of that emotion, theatre and natural process that we all love in restaurants,’ says Andrews. ‘Digitised, hand-held devices are much more efficient, but they can make everything a little sterile.’
Farquhar is of a similar mindset. ‘In our restaurants, nobody is allowed to be on an electronic device when taking an order at the table,’ he says. ‘Then the interaction becomes someone looking at their phone and then talking to that phone and not making eye contact. With a pen and paper, you’re writing and then you have to look up. The interaction is so much better.’
‘These systems keep your relationship with your supplier good because everything is really well-organised,’ explains Andrews. ‘But I do miss picking up the phone and talking to someone. That’s something of the past – that good bit of banter with your supplier, talking about wines, vintages and what they’ve tasted recently.’
The world has changed but, as so often, progress comes at a cost.
Coming soon: what’s the future of EPOS?
‘Apple Pay and paying through phones is on the right track, but PDQ watches for staff that could take payments would be ace. So, as a bartender puts the drinks down, the PDQ machine is on their watch and they just tap the bartender’s watch and that is linked into the mainframe and takes the payment.’
‘Having extra things like booking management, marketing, promotion and your website – everything incorporated into one system. That would be the holy grail for the industry.’
‘I can see some kind of “Alexa” AI interaction being incorporated in the future. This could allow staff to speak to the EPOS system and, as time goes by, responses could be more intuitive. Diagnostics from this development would speed up advancements from developers exponentially as they collate common requests and learn from mistakes.’
‘We can expect to see that the future of EPOS will hold increased flexibility, more simplicity and enhanced automation processes. Advanced forecasting functionalities are also something to look out for in the future, especially with cloud-based management modules.’