Choosing a new POS System? So many options!

A client who owns and runs a restaurant recently asked my opinion on a service he could offer because he’d recently purchased a Clover Point of Sale (POS) system. By adding an app to the system he was able to offer online ordering to customers. I was excited about this option, but worried about how well done it was.

I’ve ordered pizza and sandwiches online. In both cases the interface was somewhat clunky and time consuming for large orders, but I found it to ultimately be an easier option than phoning in orders. Since this restaurant does a lot of catering I felt that at minimum it could save a lot of phone time for both restaurant staff and the customer placing the order. I was eager to try it out.

About taking food orders via the web

I completed a website redesign for this client a few months back that, with a few additions, would allow online ordering. I feared that as much as self-service ordering would help with larger, more complicated transactions, it could present problems with the business’s process since it wouldn’t be integrated into their point of sale system.

Online ordering wasn’t anything the client asked for, but I let him know I thought it would be a good next step if we offered the catering menu online. If we’d gone that route, however, somebody would have had to closely monitor e-mail to ensure incoming orders weren’t overlooked, and then input them into the POS system. Definitely a couple of potential failure points in that process.

A month or so after launch when the client sent me the link to the new Clover-backed ordering site, I clicked through it on my smartphone. It was super easy to use, even on mobile. I set his question aside for a response when I got into the office a little later.

It was a long day, so I wasn’t able to get back to the POS e-mail until after the restaurant had closed. I picked up my phone to verify some of the specifics I planned to mention in my response, and as I clicked around I saw that ordering had been blocked while the restaurant was closed.

Preventing ordering while the business is closed is probably a good enough solution in most cases, but I saw two potential problems with that. The first was that the system wasn’t actually off and a nerdier person like me could easily figure out how to put an order through. The larger downside, IMO, was that if someone wanted to place an order for the office in the morning, they couldn’t use the system after 4:00 pm. That might cut out a nice chunk of business from busy sales reps wanting to treat their clients.

Branding. Or not.

Online Order app for Clover POS

Another downside – at least to this particular app – was that the interface couldn’t be customized to reflect the branding we’d just done with the website. And it was not pretty. But if it makes things easier for customers and doesn’t introduce errors into the restaurant’s workflow – which could negatively impact customers – then it’s at minimum worth a trial run.

When I shared my thoughts about the ordering app, the client told me a trial is exactly what he was doing. He hadn’t mentioned it to much of anybody. It’s been a few weeks and I haven’t heard any more about it, but I’m interested in seeing how it goes.

Open source POS – be aware

No, that’s not “beware” – just understand what open source offers, as well as its potential pitfalls. The Clover system my client installed is built on an open source platform, and the online ordering is made possible by an app built to work with Clover. The arrangement is much the same as the one that allows apps to be developed and sold for Android and iOS devices.

Open source is a good thing most of the time. But as with any third-party solution, an app can be an additional point of failure. A developer can stop developing the app, or change it in ways that make it worse for your business. The reverse is often true. The more a developer can stick to his or her area of expertise, the better the end product can be.

I’m just a curious observer

I often get questions about things that are generally nerdy – especially if they involve any kind of online marketing. I’m definitely no expert on POS systems, but as with anything related to small, mom-and-pop businesses, the trends are something I can’t help but pay attention to. Walking into new retail shops, the local coffee house and similar places, I see how POS technology is helping the little guy win – for a whole lot less than they’d have paid for less able equipment not long ago. I find the potential of this kind of market disruption super exciting.

If you are considering a new POS system, this page seems like a good place to start: Best POS Systems for Small Businesses – Top Ten Reviews