EPOS for hospitality: What you need to know

Eleanor Dallaway

Eleanor Dallaway

30 November 2020

A good EPOS system can give your business the edge, so what should you be looking for from your EPOS provider? Our resident tech expert Eleanor Dallaway takes a look at what advances have been made in the market and finds out how you can get the most out of yours.

‘Customers repeatedly tell us that one of the most painful parts of any dining experience is the process of paying for it at the end’, says Katy Moses, MD at KAM Media, a consumer research agency that specialises in hospitality insights, so she should know.

Less bemoaned but no less painful is the grapple with the EPOS system from the venue side. At least it can be if you don’t get it right.

For the non acronym-lovers out there, EPOS stands for ‘electronic point of sale system’. For many venues, the value of an EPOS far exceeds just taking payment.  ‘An EPOS system should be a major tool in understanding your product mix and stock levels. It should help with promotions, discounts and improve the customer journey with a seamless link to any kitchen management systems,’ explains Bronwen White, Head of IT at Fuller, Smith & Turner. But that’s not all. ‘In addition, it should allow data from multiple sites to be aggregated and pushed out centrally to help with issues like VAT and allergens.’

That’s a whole lot of responsibilities for one system. Richard Molloy is the owner of White Rose Taverns. For him, it’s about simplifying sales at the point of order and payment ‘and giving you valuable insight into sales, busy periods and popular products.’

Pandemic effects

And that’s not all…

As we mentioned right at the start of the article, EPOS systems do way more than just taking payments. But in addition to all of the other roles that the EPOS plays, you may discover a few surprise extras…

  • Click and collect add-on: You can open up new revenue streams by using your EPOS to allow customers to click and collect
  • Stopping theft: At White Rose Taverns, owner Richard Molloy was able to use his EPOS to catch a thief in action. ‘We can spot irregular cashier transactions and patterns. I don’t like the Big Brother aspect but when it comes to people stealing from you, it’s a must.’

Like all technology, the difference between a great EPOS system and an average one is its ability to evolve. This was true before Covid-19 and is even more important thanks to the pandemic. ‘What has happened over the past year has emphasised that our audience is no longer the staff members of our customers, but the customers themselves’, explains Tim Chapman, sales director at EPOS firm Zonal.

As a result of Covid-19, customers now have the tech stack in their own hands through order and pay apps. Does this, then, take away the need for a traditional EPOS? No, says Chapman. ‘The EPOS is the recipient of all the orders information, the customers are just involved in that journey like they weren’t before.’

It’s important to understand the distinction between an order and pay app and an EPOS system and not naively think the former can replace the latter. ‘A good EPOS provides the source of truth for everything that’s going on regarding services within a business – merchants can monitor deliveries, in-store payments and grab-and-go orders all in one place,’ explains Thomas Moore, area product lead (food & drink) at iZettle.

The relationship between the EPOS and the now inescapable order and pay app is the making or breaking of a decent customer experience. ‘Non-integrated apps are painful, as is anything that requires a manual transfer onto an EPOS,’ notes Chapman.

‘In recent years, there has been a big focus on connectivity and today’s EPOS systems must link to your CRM and apps to allow Order & Pay or Click and Collect and other QR code applications’, explains Bronwen White of Fuller’s. ‘They should also link to new payment types like ApplePay, GooglePay and PayPal, as well as to third parties like Deliveroo and Just Eat. We are pushing our EPOS supplier to have better data integration with menu management, app and allergen systems.’

Order & Pay apps are effectively putting a till into a customer’s hands. This evolution, according to Chapman, was happening anyway, ‘but Covid-19 pressed the accelerator and resulted in a three to five year acceleration in hospitality technology post-Covid.’

Covid-19 has accelerated the need for EPOS systems to do more and be part of a greater omnichannel offering, meaning the need for connectivity is even more important, especially around connecting to third party apps and in creating a lean and agile CRM and customer data system. ‘Covid-19  has also led to a change in the promotions on offer, with initiatives like Eat Out to Help Out needing to be integrated into the EPOS system’, explains White.

iZettle Food & Drink responded to the pandemic by launching 'newly essential features such as remote payments to ensure we can support the changing needs of merchants and consumers.'

A pretty penny?

It’s fair to say, given the year its had, throwing cash at a shiny new EPOS system is likely not at the top of the hospitality industry’s to-do list. Having said that, speculate to accumulate and all that, so Imbibe explored how much an operator should expect to invest.

‘How long is a piece of string?’ responds Chapman. ‘Expect to pay anything from £1,000 to £100,000 but make sure you make a future-proof decision. Pay enough so you don’t have to repeat the investment a year later, as this would be painful from a financial and operational standpoint.’

Moore advises that operators ‘spend no more than they can afford. My advice would be to choose a system that meets your core needs and nothing more.’ iZettle Food & Drink is £29 a month.

Keeping costs manageable and building direct relationships between customers and venues were high on the list of James Garner’s priorities when he founded his company, Sticky. Although he prefers to distance Sticky from ‘traditional EPOS language or labels’, because he considers Sticky ‘a disruptor in the payments business.’

Sticky makes it possible for anyone with a smartphone to place an order without downloading an extra app. What’s more, they can pay for it by just tapping a sticker. The entire process takes just four taps and 25 seconds. ‘Sticky is a single technology stack for a hospitality venue. The entire consumer experience and beyond can be done for about fifty quid a month,’ says Garner.

‘We had a moment of deciding whether to be a small fish and join up with bigger EPOS systems, or be our own EPOS too,’ Garner recalls. They chose the latter. ‘The EPOS market is a strange place and there are lots of costs sunk on hardware’ In Sticky’s future, ‘venues can run the entire system from one iPad. We give venues a dashboard for their own iPad – they won’t even need a card machine as customers can pay via their phone.’

Inclusive payment environments

Stuart Hill is director at Access Hospitality, a not-for-profit company that removes barriers to hospitality employment for people with learning difficulties. ‘We needed an EPOS company that was willing to work with us to build features that would present the order information in a different way.’

Simply put, Access Hospitality needed to partner with a technology company that would level the playing field in terms of making a hospitality career accessible to those with learning difficulties. 

According to Mencap, only 6% of adults with learning difficulties are in paid work. Sticky joined forces with Access Hospitality to create an EPOS platform of assistive technology. ‘Orders are presented using icons relating to visual cues in the environment,’ explains Hill. ‘This standardised and repetitive process allows staff to fulfil orders in a timely way and the customer pays online. The experience for consumer is identical,’ yet the experience for the employee with learning disabilities is completely transformed.

‘To be able to use an EPOS system this way provides an opportunity for adults with learning difficulties to transform their lives.’ But in addition to the social value created, Access Hospitality, with Sticky, ‘are building technology that meets the needs of the end business as well as our beneficiaries.’

Whether or not Sticky is an EPOS or a payment disruptor, it’s certainly a sign of the times and an indication that there is a lot of innovation in this space, undoubtedly hurried along by the pandemic.

Despite the catalyst for change and evolution, you’d be wrong to assume that Covid-19 has done EPOS providers a favour. ‘We are struggling alongside the industry and are as impacted and worried as the sector itself. We stand by the industry,’ Zonal’s Chapman tells Imbibe.

The final word goes to White Rose Taverns’ Richard Molloy whose personal journey with EPOS reflects that of many: ‘I was pretty sceptical about installing an EPOS system at first, but as with many things, once you try it you don't go back.’

What to ask for from your EPOS supplier

Different venues have different EPOS requirements…different strokes for different folks and all. But Imbibe quizzed various venues on what is important to look for when shopping for the perfect EPOS and compiled this wish list:

  • Simplicity: simple to learn and simple to use
  • Connect and integrate: easily connect to CRM, apps and payment types
  • Speed: confidence that it will aid business, not hinder
  • Visibility: ability to view and manage business all in one central place
  • Scalability: an EPOS provider that has experience in the same size of business as yours
  • Flexibility: your solution needs to be as flexible and creative as the hospitality industry itself
  • Tech support: good technical support on offer for small businesses that don’t have an IT department
  • Cloud hosting 

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