How To Pick The Right POS System for Your Bar - drinks and food on a bar with a women behind a POS screen

How to pick the right POS system for your bar

Monday, December 29, 2014

Bars, nightclubs, pubs, lounges, cafes, and bistros can all take advantage of the many features POS (point of sale) systems offer to streamline their processes and improve customer loyalty. Whether you're running a sports bar or the latest hot spot, you need a platform for payment processing.

The best bar POS systems can do a lot more than just payment processing; they can be used in tablet form by your bartender and waitstaff to accept orders, they can open a bar tab for a customer who might want to order more drinks as the night goes on, they can help with inventory tracking in the back, they can integrate promotions such as happy hour deals as well as loyalty programs, and they can be used for bar management, customer management, and employee management. So getting a good POS system gives you an all-in-one, user-friendly solution that will make running your bar that much easier.

Whether you're just looking to make the day-to-day operations of your bar a lot smoother or you are trying to grow your small business, a point of sale system can be invaluable. It can take a lot of the hassle away, leaving you free to focus on plans, strategies, innovations, and employee management.

What should you look for in a bar POS system?

There are many choices when it comes to bar POS systems, and the best choice for your business is one with maximum functionality and a reasonable price point. Of course, the fact is that each bar, lounge, café, or nightclub is different and offers different benefits to its customers. You may specialize in ambiance, in different types of drinks, in creating a cozy interior, or in offering cutting-edge music to your customers. But there is one thing that all bars and nightclubs have in common: they want to provide good service to their customers, and they want them to keep coming back night after night. In order to do this, there are certain features you might need from a good point of sale system.

Mobile POS systems improve the customer experience

For a full-service bar, you need POS software that is compatible with the iPads/tablets you provide to your bartender, waitstaff, or customers. These tablets are user-friendly and offer several functions. They help with menu management because they allow you to change your menu, depending on the ingredients you have available. They enable bartenders and waitstaff to accept orders from customers and prompt bartenders and waitstaff to mention your specials of the day to the customer. And they can also be used for payment processing right there and then, in the way that the customer prefers.

Although some people still like to pay for their drinks in cash, there are many who might prefer to just enter their card information into the iPads/tablets or use their smartphones to make a payment. This method is very similar to online ordering, and it shortens the time it takes customers to pay. They don't have to wait for a bill, then provide a payment method, then wait for the waitstaff to come take it to the cash register and come back with change from the cash drawer or a card reader.

A mobile POS system is also beneficial to the waitstaff of a full-service bar because it prevents them from having to keep going back and forth to the cash register. They can focus all their efforts on making sure that the customer is happy rather than running around to complete a process that ought to be quick and easy.

POS systems offer fraud protection

Unfortunately, every business is vulnerable to fraud, and restaurants and bars are no different, as thieves may try to use stolen debit or credit cards to pay their bar tab. However, your POS software can provide some protection against this by allowing you to preauthorize cards before you open a bar tab. If the customer presents a card, your bartender can run it through the system to find out if it's been reported lost or stolen, and the bar POS software will give you an answer in real-time. In such cases, the point of sale system will deny payment through that card even before a bar tab has been opened, which means that the customer will have to give you a different method of payment.

As a bar or nightclub owner, you want to make sure that your customer is happy, but you also want to make sure that you protect your small business against possible fraudsters. A bar POS software that does this in addition to ringing up sales will give you some peace of mind. 

A POS system makes ordering easy

As we mentioned earlier, the best POS systems are mobile and hooked up to your waitstaff's iPads/tablets. Most systems offer menu management, so you can vary the menu on the tablets so that it reflects your inventory. Your waitstaff will never again have to tell a customer that you don't have a menu item listed on the menu.

In addition, the functionality of a POS system includes the capacity to keep an open bar tab. This is a convenience that many bars and lounges offer their customers. If you open a bar tab for the customer, that means that they just have to tell the waitstaff when they want another round of drinks. They don't have to bring their credit card out every time. The waitstaff will be able to take their card at the beginning of the evening, start the bar tab, and return the card right away. At the end of the night, when the customer leaves, they can process the tab without even asking for the card again.

This method of tableside ordering makes things much more convenient for both the customer and the waitstaff. The customer doesn't have to interrupt their conversation or their enjoyment of the music by going through the buying process all over again. And the waitstaff doesn't have to disturb them to ask them to pay up.

A POS system also allows waitstaff to keep multiple tabs open at the same time, so even if all the customers at a table want to open a tab, your POS system can give you the capacity to do so in real-time.

Your POS system should enable you to track sales

At the end of the day (or the week, or the month) you want to be able to sit down and take stock of how well your small business is doing. This applies to any business, but it's particularly important for bars and nightclubs that have just started because the first six months can make or break a small business.

A POS system can help you to track sales by creating sales reports that tell you exactly how much you've made in terms of sales, either on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. If you prefer, you can get quarterly printouts as well. Additionally, your POS system can also give you a breakdown of how much of the money you made was on drinks and how much came from food. 

POS systems for bars can also create reports that offer drink-by-drink breakdowns as well. This can be really useful to a bar owner because then you can try and promote the popular drinks and food items even more. Or you can introduce new items that are similar to those items and see if they take off. In this way, having a sales report can help you with business decisions and show you where your business needs to focus.

Your POS system should help you with inventory management

Inventory tracking is important for bar owners so that the bar always has supplies on hand for the most popular drinks. A POS can help you do this as well by maintaining a database of everything that you usually keep in the back. It may take some time to set up this database, but once you have it, all you have to do is mark off how much you have available of each item.

Staff members can update inventory too. So anytime they see that inventory items are running low, they can make a note of it, thus preventing you from running out of those items completely. And you can set up your POS to prompt you to buy the items you need if they are running low.

A POS helps you run promotions and loyalty programs

Businesses can attract new customers by running promotions. Most bars have a happy hour where they offer drinks at discounted prices. This might attract customers who don't mind taking a chance on a new place as long as the drinks don't cost too much. And if those customers find that they like the bar, they might return during regular hours as well. Often, people who come in during happy hour end up staying longer too.

The best POS systems will automatically change prices during happy hour or other sales and change them back again after happy hour is over. Once you set them up to do this, you don't have to worry about it on a day-to-day basis.

There are also other types of loyalty programs that businesses run. For example, you might offer free food and drinks to regular customers after they've purchased a certain amount already. Some loyalty programs at nightclubs allow members to skip the line that forms outside and walk in without having to wait. Customers who are members of a loyalty program can also take advantage of coat checks and bottle service.

Gift cards are also a great way to entice new customers. If one of your regular customers gives a friend a gift card, that friend might end up becoming a regular too. And a good POS system will help you to load the money/points on a gift card and apply them when the customer uses it.

Should you run a bar without a POS system?

Obviously, there were bars long before there were POS systems. So it's not completely impossible to run a bar without investing in a POS system, but it does put a lot of pressure on employees who not only have to make sure that customers get their orders but also keep track of the money coming in and money going out. An employee who is overtaxed is likely to make a lot of mistakes, which is clearly bad for your business.

Without a POS system, you also miss out on all the add-ons we’ve discussed, especially the management tools. You'll have to do your inventory management manually, which means that there is greater scope for human error. You'll also have to keep track of all the open tabs. If you or your waitstaff forget about even one open tab, that's going to mean a loss for your bar.

Plus, it becomes more difficult to figure out exactly what direction your business is going to take in the near future when you don't have access to sales reports from your POS system. Sure, you can sit down and calculate all your sales before making business decisions, but this is a lengthy procedure and wastes a lot of time, which could be better spent doing something else.

So it might be possible to run a bar without a POS system, but it's certainly a lot more difficult. Instead, it makes sense to invest in a good POS system like Heartland, which gives you all the above benefits and more. It's easy to train your employees to use the system, and you get to pick and choose the features that you want to use. Heartland’s POS systems offer very reasonable monthly fees and substantial value to bar owners.

Ready to get a POS system in place at your bar? 

Heartland is the point of sale, payments, and payroll solution of choice for small businesses that need human-centered technology to sell more, keep customers coming back, and spend less time in the back office. More than 750,000 businesses trust Heartland to guide them through market changes and technology challenges, so they can stay competitive and focus on building remarkable businesses instead of managing the daily grind. Learn more at