Selling point

DSC_0057Today’s technology has altered the landscape of many restaurants, and Point-of-Sale solutions are constantly evolving. The times, they are a-changin’. By Miles Clarke

Back in another life, in another country, I spent some years running a successful family steakhouse.

We took our customers’ money at the cash register, where the only function was to keep a running tally on sales. If we wanted to know what we’d sold at the end of the shift, we’d hunt through the used dockets and do some guesswork on the dockets customers had taken with them. We didn’t get even as far as carbon copies.

How we made money continues to amaze me, though operating in a significantly less competitive market than today surely helped.

We caught wait staff feeding filet to their friends and billing them for burgers. The body parts where kitchen staff secreted food for the trip home should not be mentioned in polite company.

How different would life have been with today’s Point-of-Sale (POS) products to keep track of business. Touch-screen terminals have been around for some time, and there’s a sense that the hand-held electronic pad for wait staff is at last making some traction. Versions of these systems have been around for almost two decades, but the switch across to this kind of interaction between customer and waiter isn’t smooth.

In an era where customers are getting used to their wine being opened by the twist of a stelvin cap instead of the reassuring old corkscrew action, having the server tapping away with a stylus rather than pen and paper changes the relationship yet again.

There’s little doubt the franchised, protocol-driven food service operation is well positioned to benefit from the hand-held POS systems, which younger customers identify with and embrace. The fast growing Wagamama chain of restaurants, which use the PalmTEQ WaiterPad, is an example of this.

For the more upmarket restaurant, the interaction between waiter and customer when placing an order sets the atmosphere for the meal. Gemelle Ristorante in Liverpool in Western Sydney found when they implemented a hand-held order pad that something important was lost from the interactions.

“We brought back the pen and notebook after we found the waiters were unable to engage with the customers as well as they might while navigating the pad,” says manager Nikola Lovrencic. Gemelle serves around 150 covers on a weekend night.

“We then installed the four Redcat terminals which the staff use to input their orders. These are then transmitted to the bar and two points in the kitchen (entrée and mains), leaving staff free to ensure the settings are correct and to look after other guests.”

Lovrencic says the system provides useful stock control modules, but admits the full suite of business management products are not fully implemented.

“It gives us information on all transactions, and also has a useful security function through its reporting systems.”

Charmaine Leman, general manager of Quay Restaurant at Circular Quay, the highly fashionable Otto Ristorante and Nove Cucina at Woolloomooloo Wharf has had the Redcat POS terminals in all three restaurants for some years. Over a typical weekend from Friday lunch, the three outlets will serve upwards of 2,000 covers.

“We have the identical system operating, and it provides us with detailed analysis in many parts of the business. We’re able to download the information to a central point daily and closely analyse our performance. We look at how certain dishes and wines are selling, and from this information develop our sales strategies.”

The Redcat software for a single POS solution is $1,450 plus GST.  Each 15-inch terminal costs $2,200 plus GST.  The cost of software for any additional terminal licenses at the same site is approximately $770 plus GST.

MYOB RetailHospitality supplies its POS software package to the café market for $2,599. System upgrades are included for customers who take the technical support option at $599 a year.

“We’re good for the high-volume processing of meals and give the owner a choice of some 69 different reports by which they can monitor and manage their business,” says Paul Thornhill, spokesman for MYOB RetailHospitality.

“This system integrates completely with the regular MYOB bookkeeping programs. We’re often hearing from our customers that the implementation of the RetailHospitality terminals is saving them on labour costs due to service time being cut by up to 20 per cent. They also get a more effective turnover of tables by providing quicker service.”

Toscani’s Café Bar and Restaurant is an expanding Queensland operation that has 14 outlets, with three in New South Wales. It’s a mix of company owned and franchise operations.

A company spokeswoman says the company is comfortable with the POS terminals and had trialed the PalmTEQ WaiterPad in several of their stores, but has switched to the WaiterPOS terminal.

“We found the hand-held system wasn’t feeding the information back to the kitchen and bar areas fast enough. The terminals work really well and we use much of the information provided to plan our promotions.”

PalmTEQ has a wide range of business management systems on offer. This includes modules for stock control, sales reporting, time and attendance, customer loyalty programs and reservation management. The company says staff can learn in minutes to manage the WaiterPad; they can increase profit with order prompting and suggestive selling; can avoid mistakes in order taking by prompting the staff to read back the order; and apply custom notes to every item to assist the staff member when taking an order.

The company says its proprietary technology enables WaiterPad to use radio frequency, which provides less drop out due to interference from other wireless devices. Restaurant communications are bedeviled by a moving feast of obstacles, such as high-power microwaves, stainless steel areas, mobile phones and wireless laptops that customers bring with them. The radio frequency technology is said to provide longer battery life, travel greater distances and transmit through solid objects.

The nature of their work makes restaurateurs perhaps more visually oriented than most, and, if so, the website of H&L Australia must be a real treat.

Instead of reams of information about KPIs, a series of animations simply and clearly demonstrate what the hand-held Sinch does and how it does it in a working restaurant.

Co-founder of H&L Australia, Burt Admiraal, says the latest generation of Sinch ensures newcomers to the technology can learn to operate it competently within an hour.

“We believe that WI-FI technology has evolved dramatically over the last 12 months to make a more resilient communication-based platform so that our products drop in over the top of it. Hardware and WI-FI communication has caught up with our software and our early vision, giving restaurants flexibility to put POS terminals just about anywhere in their dining rooms.”

The H&L package comprises everything required to get started, including computer touch-screen technology, POS peripherals (till, kitchen and account printers), software (Exceed and Sysnet), installation, training and phone support for $9,950, inclusive of GST.

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