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How Hospitality Must Rise Above the POS

Restaurants invest substantially in their point-of-sale. On average, the POS accounts for a third of IT budgets — that’s twice the investment in any other single technology area, including store-level back-office, networking, or enterprise systems. Despite these high investment levels, or more likely because of it, restaurant POS technology is a hot-bed of diversity, sometimes to the point of fracture.

On one hand are the franchised brands that operate multiple systems, and struggle to manage the data of each. For restaurants that are in the enviable position of having a standard POS, there’s constant noise at their door. New software providers are cropping up with some capability that could genuinely bring great customer service or back-end insight to a restaurant, especially if that new-fangled tech integrates with the point-of-sale. The trouble is, sometimes it does; and just as often, it doesn’t.

Don’t misunderstand — these new software vendors are in many ways the future of restaurant innovation. Social loyalty programs, next-generation CRM, or location-aware technology? Very cool stuff. Mobile payment? Yes, we’ve got to get this figured out. But unless there’s integration to the point-of-sale (or it’s an add-on from the original POS supplier), functionality and insight is limited. And this doesn’t even include vital back-office systems like inventory and financial/accounting software. We know that data will be a true competitive asset for merchants going forward, restaurants among them. Adding capabilities without taking into consideration the data, at this stage, is future-foolish.
I look to the hotel industry for some insight, because hotels have long-operated multiple systems that struggled to integrate. That industry formed an association more than 10 years ago to push for vendor interoperability and open standards between differing solutions. Progress has been slow, but steady. Restaurant environments are decidedly less complex, but they’re also equally inhibited relative to their complexity.

Beyond standards, I postulate that we may be expecting too much of the POS by treating it like a management system. Perhaps what restaurants truly need is an open-API, above-property management system that could wrangle not only POS data, but also the data made possible by up-and-coming technology. Then, we can let the point-of-sale get back to doing its job: processing transactions.

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