3 Reasons Why Independent Operators Are Investing in iPad-Based POS Systems

By Brandon Hull, Foodable Industry Expert

Puka Dog. Chicken in a Barrel. Da Crack. Paco's Tacos. 

Three of these four are Mexican restaurants with life-changing menu options, and all are highly popular destinations found on the island of Kauai in Hawaii. 

But what else do they have in common?

All four have deployed iPad-based POS platforms. 

In fact, over the span of seven days on the island in September, it seemed that nearly every restaurant I chose had turned their back on the traditional POS heavyweights (literally "heavyweights," and I'll get to that in a minute) in favor of an upstart. 

Those four are just the restaurants that I can easily remember by name who put their transactions in the hands of a newer entrant to the POS space. There were several others as well. 

Seems like only yesterday we talked about the need to “embrace the future” with regard to mPOS.

Credit: Geekwire.com

Credit: Geekwire.com

Square. Revel. Lavu. ShopKeep. 

These are the names of the dominant restaurant POS providers on Kauai. You didn't encounter them three years ago. There are others providing tablet-based POS, but these are the four I ran across. 

It was strangely coincidental, given that I just spoke with the Virginia Restaurant Association's Matt Simmons a few weeks before the trip about restaurant technology. Matt was on the cusp then of saying goodbye to his legacy POS provider at his own Capital Ale House brand in favor of one of the four mentioned, before a few other unrelated priorities got in the way. 

As a customer, there's just something very modern, clean and convenient in having your cashier flip the screen around vertically or horizontally to let you sign for your ticket with your fingertip, and then have your receipt emailed to you after you type your email address personally. 

If I had made that trip on business, I'd have loved to have had the overwhelming majority of my receipts sitting in my inbox when I returned. No crinkled-up hard copy with smeared ink. No lost tickets to scramble to replace for reimbursement. 

But let's get back to Matt (though, no offense to Matt, I'd love to get back to Kauai). 

As I spoke with Matt about accepting mobile payments, the new era we live in involving access to deep and significant guest data, and his point-of-sale, the criteria became clear as far as why restaurant owners are rapidly ditching the industry stalwarts for the newbies. Though we addressed several of those reasons in my previous article, here’s what Matt had to say:

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1. Current POS systems are antiquated. 

“These POS systems that just sit there on the table offering no additional value are like dinosaurs,” Matt says. 

Once you've experienced multiple stops at restaurants where a tablet is swung around 180 degrees for you to digitally sign, or handed over to you, it becomes even more apparent at how old-school other restaurants' point-of-sale terminals are. 

Behemoth POS terminals seem to scream the words “immovable,” "bulky" and "inflexible," as though they've become bloated over the years with all of the data they've hoarded and never shared with the restaurant owner. Or maybe they’re bloated as a result of their sedentary nature. 

And what if you want to renovate, moving a few things around in your restaurant to unlock a different service model or atmosphere? Or want to offer pay-at-the-table? Allow a server to swipe a card right there at the guest’s table? Can’t exactly carry your old-school POS terminal over to accomplish that. On the other, iPads? Everyone is already accustomed to working with them. 

"This new generation, they live on their smartphones and iPads," he says. "They're very comfortable with technology. Adopting new restaurant tech with this team has been easy." 

2. Current POS Systems aren’t in-step with EMV. 

Do a quick Google search about iPads being hacked in a sort of widespread manner over the last year or so. It just hasn't happened. 

Could it at some point? Of course. But when you consider that an estimated 25 percent or more of existing POS systems operate on Windows XP technology as their foundation, that’s a problem. Windows as a platform is constantly under attack by hackers, and in constant need of patches and updates. 

Beyond iPads getting hacked though, there’s the issue of EMV. Many of the legacy POS providers can’t currently support EMV payments with their existing terminals. You’ll have to upgrade. This is both a security and cost issue for you. EMV is a good thing for consumers for fraud prevention and detection. 

While it’s not a guarantee that your preferred iPad-based POS provider is automatically ready for EMV, most are. 

3. Data. 

Yeah, about that data. If there's one thing that stood out to me when talking to Matt (and there wasn't just one thing, there were multiple), it's the level of excitement he had about finally lining up innovative vendors. 

Matt is no different from other restaurant owners, who would love to feel like their personally selected vendors are true partners. So to feel like you've sunk thousands into upfront costs, ongoing paper costs, training, maintenance, and so forth, only to get no real customer-level data or segmentation insights? Whew. 

“Another reason I’m looking to make a change is the integration with some of these other providers I want to work with.” Makes it much easier to know that Company A that you want to work with and Company B that you want to work with have already developed a plan to integrate, doesn’t it? 

The new wave of entrepreneurs launching companies like those mentioned in this article assume data sharing is the minimum level of “innovative” features. And they’re setting the expectations of savvy restaurant operators like Matt Simmons and, clearly, the bulk of restaurant owners on Kauai.