Point of Service: January 2007

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Point of Service: January 2007

By Lisa Terry, Contributing Editor - 01/08/2007

When Regal Entertainment Group began replacing concession POS systems in its 562 theaters, it was moving from electronic cash registers to cutting-edge Fujitsu TeamPoS POS terminals run remotely from a central server over a wide-area network and using the Linux operating system. Reliability, flexibility, fast processing and real-time access to POS data were among the company's priorities, says J.E. Henry, senior VP and CIO.

"We're getting better tracking of cash, a better experience for the consumer, and it's enabled gift card and loyalty programs," Henry notes, as well as upselling and improved decision-making. In fact, the theater operator even switched POS hardware mid-roll out to improve speed and ease of use, and is also deploying Fujitsu ticketing terminals that double as cash-back devices.

In that, Regal was epitomizing the choices being made by many food service operators today, making quantum leaps in their use of technology to accommodate a shift in focus at POS to customer service.
"As the industry is growing, customers are giving the most mindshare to ways of growing the top line," reveals Paul Langenbahn, director of hardware sales for Radiant Systems, rather than on business controls.

"Because POS is where they interact with the consumer in so many ways," a lot are employing technology to enhance the consumer experience and boost sales, he adds.

All that is manifesting itself in technology choices, including...Smaller platform footprints. While full operating systems still have their fans, a shift is underway particularly for larger operations to Microsoft Windows CE and embedded operating systems and devices that lack moving parts such as fans or hard drives, but often with some limited local processing. With no fan or hard drive "you've removed the two biggest reliability problems," notes Kyle Kurdle, director of hardware solutions for Micros, and gained flexible, easily swappable, low maintenance devices. A solid state also ensures a steady stream of consistent replacement parts, whereas PC processors evolve constantly, notes Clyde Dishman, director of hospitality industry marketing for NCR.

In a related trend, vendors such as Wincor Nixdorf are more often locking in POS hardware configuration for the duration of the product and guaranteeing availability of spare parts past its end-of-life. Open system proponents caution against proprietary processors or too-restrictive embedded profiles in these smaller systems, limiting modification; one possible new mandate is nutritional disclosure at POS, says Jerry Leeman, worldwide foodservice segment manager at IBM.

While an array of modular terminals persists, the all-in-one form factor remains a favorite, says Tim Becerra, marketing director at Posiflex Business Machines, because it's "bulletproof, rugged, easier to service and aesthetically pleasing."

Increased payment options. Quick service continues to add credit and debit processing, and operators are "recognizing the overall cost of handling cash," including management, security, insurance and productivity, according to IBM's Leeman. But the real story is the meteoric rise in gift and loyalty card programs. Leaders are dabbling in alternate payment approaches such as radio frequency key fobs and payment-by-cell phone, but smart cards have few adopters outside closed environments.

A jump in displays, both in size and number. The laptop market is making 15-inch screens ubiquitous, enabling more functions on one POS screen. But some QSRs are pushing back, preferring less obtrusive 12-inch screens, according to Squirrel. Dual displays are increasingly popular for customers to view or even input their own orders and watch promotions — all increasing accuracy, productivity and service speed. "There aren't many tools that will allow you to increase sales," says Jay Usyk, VP sales for Sharp. "Promotions and special menu boards help get the message out there." Self-serve kiosks are growing in interest, though some operators say they cause kitchen bottlenecks, says Joseph Cortese, VP restaurant development for Squirrel. IBM predicts a swing back to infrared touch displays for easier maintenance. Speakers on POS systems become essential for dual use as training or customer terminals.

Wireless. Adoption is moderate for both wireless stationary and hand-held terminals, with wireless POS adoption growing in high-end bars, patios, resorts and stadiums. Drivers include increased flexibility for resets, ad hoc POS and hand-held or headset-based ordering, but the killer app is real-time communication to manager PDAs for operational and security alerts.

A drive to in-store integration. "You're starting to see POS systems being connected to a variety of other systems in the store," says Peter MacDonald, VP sales and marketing for Logic Controls. This includes POS integration with security systems, kitchen displays, hostess systems, handheld or headset ordering devices, and kiosks, as well as Web-enabled links to central databases for loyalty, reporting, remote POS maintenance, inventory and human resources applications. "A lot of folks want at that information in real-time, want a report as a problem is occurring," notes Lee Leet, president of QSR Automations.

Also on the rise are biometrics for timekeeping and replacing the manager key, Linux at POS, 24-volt powered USB and customer kiosks.

Foodservice executives are loosening the purse strings a bit, but with a new attitude. "ROI and total cost of ownership have become much more critical," says Edgar Rivas, national marketing and business planning manager for Panasonic. It's clear that the POS' ability to enhance the customer experience will be a key metric in those calculations.