Getting the Point Across


As in virtually any other business, change is the certain constant in the foodservice industry. But the more things change with point-of-sale hardware, the more things stay the same when it comes to key operator requirements.

Naturally, price is always near the top of operator checklists, but greater amounts of weight are increasingly being placed on hardware configurations that can extend terminal life beyond their amortization schedules, provide hassle-free maintenance, and utilize standard or off-the-shelf parts. Such demands all center on total cost of ownership (TCO), but the greatest cost concerns seem to not necessarily be in the initial hardware, but in post sales support, according to restaurant MIS executives.

Luby's for example, a Houston-based cafeteria chain, is in the process of installing NCR's RealPOS 70 terminals ( in all 131 of its units. "Per terminal price was not a chief concern," explains vice president of IS David Barrow. "It wasn't the least expensive, but it wasn't the most expensive either. Post-sale support and other aspects of TCO are critical nowadays." As for Luby's hardware choice, Barrow also cited other factors that loomed large in choosing NCR, including "its long-standing relationship with the chain, along with hardware aesthetics and ergonomics."

The foodservice environment can be extremely harsh and conducive to technology disruptions from any number of causes: operator accident, error, device failure, or even Mother Nature. However, while the business conditions are common for all restaurant operators, the tactics taken to shore-up point-of-sale hardware can vary dramatically.

Standardized solution
Moe's Southwest Grill has seen phenomenal growth in unit counts and revenues ever since parent company, Atlanta-based Raving Brands, was founded in 2001. The fast casual concept that specializes in healthful versions of Tex-Mex favorites like burritos and fajitas, expects to have more than 300 franchised stores by year end and has realized a three-year sales growth of more than 3,500 percent, which was good enough to place it 11th on the recently published INC. 500 list.

About two years ago, the chain's management realized that it needed to standardize its entire store solution set. "In the beginning we started with a bunch of ECRs, but we needed to harvest consistent data on a consistent basis," recalls Moe's director of training, Mike Epperly.

Epperly said his requirements were dependability and durability. Back in late 2003, the company opted to install the 7750 solutions set from Panasonic ( that included hardware, front- and back-of-the-house software, and store reporting, where sales and other key performance indicators of the units are uploaded to FTP servers nightly, and accessed by Raving Brands management via Web browsers. The system is currently active in 160 locations and will be installed in about 90 percent of all Moe's restaurants going forward.

The Panasonic reseller in the Atlanta area provides Moe's with dedicated account management, handles all tiers of in-store and remote troubleshooting and all aspects of parts and maintenance. "They've made a commitment to grow with us," he says.

Adaptable approach
While many out-of-the-box restaurants have opted for a single vendor approach, more established operators that have information technology resources are playing hardball when it comes to hardware costs.

"We strongly believe that there has never been and never will be one end-all/be-all point-of-sale solution," says Mark Hankins, the IS Manager at privately-held U.S. Beef, the nation's largest Arby's franchisee with approximately 240 units.

About two years ago, Hankins and his five-member IS team decided to bring all aspects of point-of-sale support for its restaurants in-house, including maintenance and parts. "We realized that when you start servicing our own equipment, you tend to look more rigidly at TCO and to extend the life cycles for more than three years," he adds.

Last summer, U.S. Beef developed its own set of POS requirements and decided to work with Retail Technology Group (, the exclusive distributor of the Javelin hardware brand.

Hankins recalled several of his must haves. Costs had to be low and he wanted to increase the average time between device failures. The chain also shunned flash drives, which according to Hankins just adds more unwanted moving parts. RTG responded by delivering a Via Eden ( ) processor and EPIA board that combines an integrated CPU into its Viper III and Wedge II terminals. Via has gained viability through its ultra-low power Eden chips that draw very little "juice," so much so that they don't even need a fan on the processor's heat sink. The POS setup included 15-inch capacitive touch-screens, the Eden processor with 256 megabytes of RAM, 40 gigabyte hard drives, MSR, and customer display, along with a three year warranty.

RTG also worked with the operator to come up with an 80 mm fan as a case fan for all terminals, which Hankins notes do not undergo drastic temperature shifts and allows his team to monitor case temperature. "We can control the speed of the fan to adjust to changing heat conditions, which is going to increase the life span of the fan and help with general mean failure time," Hankins boasts.

With this approach, U.S. Beef says it experienced significant reductions in TCO with all at price points that according to Hankins were on par with its last POS hardware upgrade some three years ago. "Even after the warranty expires, I'll be able to buy 99.9 percent of the parts inside the terminals anywhere off the Internet."

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