POS Polish

Adam Haas / November 2007

Point of sales systems are getting service sensitive updates. Adam Haas plugs you into new technology that can lift both customer experience and the bottom line.

Whether in the oxygenated din of clanking coins, ringing bells, and hoots and hollers of a Las Vegas casino or the reassuring calm of a favorite restaurant in Smalltown USA, count on one constant—customers expect to be treated as high rollers. With recent technological advances in POS hardware and software, heightening customer service has not only become more doable but cost-efficient. Following is an overview of products and services now on the market that might benefit any restaurant operation.

Before any food hits the table, the dining experience begins when customers make a reservation or walk in the door. Predicting accurate table wait times and ensuring appropriate and timely service once they're seated are central to top-notch service. (A recent poll, conducted by Opinion Research USA and published in American Express' to-the-trade Briefing's, determined what makes restaurant customers lose their tempers most.

Underestimated wait time and slow service both outranked poor food.) Here's a promising development: earlier this year Squirrel Systems announced a partnership that will integrate OpenTable's online reservation and table management with Squirrel's POS system. Current and historical guest spending stats are uploaded to OpenTable, arming staff with a tool to identify former guests and positively impact a diner's experience. It also provides real-time table state information, giving staff what director of marketing Linda Gillis calls "a critical component in monitoring and elevating the guest experience."

Geared toward larger casual eateries and chains, Micros Systems is developing an integrated table management module that will include a freestanding display screen, not only to show waiting patrons their place in line but the rate at which those before them are being seated. "It could also act as an advertising tool, perhaps showing specials for the day, driving up revenue", says Louise Casamento, vice president of marketing and customer relations.

To ensure no party is neglected, Menusoft Systems' Digital Dining POS software makes use of alarms in their table management module. Stan­dard or customized alarms sound should a server, for example, not attend to a table beyond a given length of time. Follow-up reports highlight the most frequent alarms, clueing in managers about bottlenecks or inconsistencies to resolve.

It can be argued that waitstaff performance rivals food quality as the most overt determinant of customer satisfaction. Quan­ti­fy­ing this abstract factor, however, isn't easy. Enter Avero Slingshot, a Web-based business intelligence software solution, which, among many other features, gives managers a new set of tools to evaluate several aspects of individual server performance, from their average check amount to the number of alcoholic drinks and desserts they are able to push. Each server is then given a "report card", wherein managers assess whether or not the server deserves kudos or needs further training. In one instance, Slingshot identified a server who, relative to his coworkers, was selling practically no bottles of wine. It turned out that he was uncomfortable uncorking a bottle at table, a problem that was easily remedied by patient coaching. Consequently, the same server was able to triple his wine sales in one week, thus leading to higher average checks and a smoother dining experience for the patron. Because the prog­ram, which in­ter­po­lates data from the establishment's existing POS system, is available as a monthly fee–based sub­scrip­tion service, no hardware purchases or hefty initial investment are required.

Web-based solutions offer several advantages in that they can interpret data collected by existing POS systems, present them in reports that make tactical cost-effective decisions more obvious, and provide the information remotely, allowing managers and owners the freedom to spend more time off-site, a scenario until recently rare in the restaurant industry. Radiant System's online venture, MenuLink.net, provides a comprehensive tool that addresses areas such as food and labor cost control, which can identify loss and waste, and inventory management (which can also maintain recipes). Other functions include forecasting future sales and guest counts, then recommending appropriate purchases and labor needs based on those predictions.

While Web-based technology is permitting owners a bit of time away from restaurants, it's also being used to steer patrons in. GuestMetrics is an online customer insight tool that helps manage gift and loyalty programs and e-mail marketing campaigns. The free service (they secure permission from participating restaurateurs to repackage and sell buying patterns data to companies interested in analyzing customer spending trends) targets guests based on their known preferences, e-mails them about upcoming promos, then tracks a specific campaign's effectiveness and tabulates its financial impact.

This being the age of wireless living, a manager could conceivably access this information via Blackberry or anywhere that is Wi-Fi accessible. With this accessibility, the idea of a server surreptitiously stealing away with a patron's credit card for payment seems a bit quaint, if not downright antiquated. Confounded by the fact that identity fraud cost consumers an estimated $56 billion last year, and credit information company TransUnion approximates 70 percent of card-skimming occurs in restaurants, it's understandable that patrons would prefer their cards not to leave their hands, let alone their sight. Long prevalent in European eateries, the United States is finally starting to embrace pay-at-table services. Verifone manufactures a hand-held terminal that can process both credit card and PIN-based debit card transactions, has check-splitting capabilities, plus signature capture. It can also calculate gratuities of different percentages either for the total bill or broken down by individual. The device effectively integrates with most major POS systems, like Micros, and companies like Cyndigo Corporation can provide that synergy if your POS system doesn't sync. Other than providing customers additional and more secure payment options, the bottom line gets a boost--debit card transactions increase, thereby mitigating the costly credit card fees that restaurants pay. For restaurateurs, that could add up to a high roller jackpot.