If you’re reading this, you might be a complete beginner or you might be an EPOS pro looking for the right software third or fourth time round.
In this page, we’re mainly going to look at cloud-based till systems for pubs and bars; that’s because as a business, we only sell cloud- or hybrid-systems which run on iPads, Androids or Macs. We don’t sell the older generation of POS systems, called “fixed till” systems, because with a few exceptions, we don’t think they’re very good. (Find out why here).
First, we’re going to quickly answer what kind of POS you need depending on your size. Then, we’re going to talk in more detail about the features in different software which are important for pubs. Then, we can deep-dive into the software brands we’d recommend – and which ones we wouldn’t.
What kind of bar POS do I need?
One way to divide the different bits of software on the market is by their target market. If you’re not sure what you need, this can be a great way of getting a really quick sense of which POS is for you. We’re going to give a rapid overview based on your profile.
Pop-ups and micro-merchants
Starting at the bottom-end, if you’re a pop-up bar you probably don’t need a proper POS at all. You need a pay-as-you-go card payment processor which throws in a simple sales log so that you can see the quantity of each product sold every day.
iZettle Go is just one suggestion – also check out Sum Up and Square, which have the same business model. They’re called “payment facilitators”. If you’re choosing between these, check out our advice to determine which is the best one.
These are likely to be free software, plus 1.75% payment processing fees.
Small pubs / bar-only pubs
If you’re a pub without tables then you’re probably looking for a POS with a simple and rapid front end. “Table service” is a big deal and adds a lot of functions to a POS, and if you don’t have tables, all those extra functions could slow you down. Goodtill, Nobly, iZettle Pro, and to some extent, Touchbistro, are great examples of POS software which are built for speed.
Different systems have different levels of reporting at this level. Goodtill does great reporting on which products are successful – but some of the more complex analytical stuff such as staff and table performance is reserved for the table-service software like Lightspeed. You can expect separate staff logins with different permissions but less help managing timetables of large numbers of workers. Inventory management is fairly homogeneous across all hospitality POS systems until you buy specialist software.
At this stage, you’re likely to have accounting software such as Xero or Quickbooks, so you should check what accounting integrations are available with your POS – and whether they cost. Integration is important so that your spreadsheets update automatically.
For payment processing, you can continue using a pay-as-you-go provider like iZettle if you like; but it might eventually work out cheaper to enter into a longer term contract with a traditional payments provider such as worldpay or AIB. Call us to check which is more cost-effective based on your processing volumes.
We’d expect your bar EPOS costs to be around £30-40 per month per machine plus around one percent for payment processing.
Gastro-pubs and table-service pubs
If you’re a pub which serves tables the demands of your front-end become a little more complex.
First, you’re likely need POS software which has table service built-in; for example, Lightspeed, Revel, iKentoo, or Touchbistro. These will enable you to set tables, and do things like manage tips, and split tenders when a party wants to pay by cash and card, variously. You start to see staff management which reviews staff performance and can help out with shifts, here.
For payment processing, your average transaction size is likely to spike significantly as people pay £30+ for their meals. Here, the processing price difference between the contract and pay-as-you-go processing options becomes much wider; so in this diagram, we’ve traded out iZettle for AIB, which does traditional payments in a long-term contract form.
If you’re looking to run a tender process for your payments contract, check out our advice on getting the most out of bids.
Pub chains & complexer operations
If you’re a pub chain, this is an example of a mature software ecosystem where a generalist POS system alone isn’t enough.
Have a think about what areas you’d like specialist software, and where the native capabilities of a POS are enough. Generally speaking, we’d expect your staff to continue using the front-end of a POS; and Lightspeed, shown here, has a lot of functions for table-service pubs. However, other POS applications, such as staff or inventory management, are areas where other software can become helpful. This integration ecosystem uses Tenzo for advanced analytics; Deputy for staff management; and Xero for accounting – all of which will integrate with Lightspeed.
One other thing to consider is the “multi-site management” of a POS. That’s your login screen as the multi-site manager; and how easy it is for you to dip from pub to pub to compare performance, set menus centrally, and pull different data together to give you a total overview of your business.
Lightspeed, Revel Systems, and iKentoo are all popular multi-site systems for complex front-ends; if you have lots of simple pubs, Nobly is a good bet.
What are the important POS features for pubs and bars?
The main benefit of a POS is that you can see what’s going on! The really basic software like iZettle is good for a simple sales log; top-range software like Lightspeed can tell you what tables do the best, which staff members sell the most, and which products to double down on. For features in red, you’d probably need an analytics platform integration in addition to a POS. Check for:
- Simple sales logs
- Analytics by product performance
- Analytics by table performance
- Analytics by staff performance
- Aggregation of reporting across chains
- Flexible data selection tools
- “Smart Suggestions”
- Analytics by external factors like weather
The second function of a POS is to support your front-of-house staff as they do front-of-house things. You can divide pubs into two categories. The first are known as “quick service restaurants” which need rapid counter-based buying to sell simple products as fast as possible. The second type includes pubs which need some of the more fiddly functions listed below. If you want quick, simple front-ends, Nobly, Goodtill, and Touchbistro are great options. Otherwise, consider Lightspeed Restaurant, iKentoo or Revel Systems. For features in red, you’d need an integration with what’s called “PMS” software in addition to a POS. Check for:
- Table management
- Portable payment terminals
- Tab management
- Courses (order a starter + main together; receive them separately)
- Overriding course defaults (“can I have a starter as my main”)
- Modifiers (“extra cheese”)
- Substitutions (“can I swap the carrots for broccoli”)
- Drink recipe lists for your cocktailers
- Combo pricing for deals
- Bill-splitting between different parties
- Central control where settings are different across multiple sites
- Booking and organising room stays
One of the big functions of a bar EPOS is to manage inventories. We find that hospitality POS systems typically have a similar depth of inventory management capability; but when you hit 3-4 sites you should start thinking about features in red, which would require third party inventory management integrations which can manage things like logistics and supplier analytics. Check for:
- Easy bulk adding of stock
- Recipe creation
- Translation between “in” formats (e.g. 1KG puff pastry) and “out” formats (e.g. 4.7 steak and ale pies)
- “Theoretical versus actual” stock counts
- Suggested stock ordering
- Notifications for supplier costs and price rises
- Smart supplier analytics
- Logistics management
Managing lots of part-time staff is one of the great challenges of running a pub. For this, expect some limited features across all the different POS systems providers; up to a big suite of tools at the top end. It’s usually possible to set different permissions for different users, but tip management is more likely to be available in the POS systems set-up for restaurants. There’s usually a light timetable management tools – but for features in red, such as heavy duty stuff which includes things like shift-trading and does things like payroll, you’ll need to integrate HR-specific software. Look for:
- Multiple logins with different permissions
- Analytics by staff performance
- Tip management
- Timetable management
- “Time worked” reporting which can connect to payroll
- Shift-trading and centrally managed timetable features
- Predictions of staff requirements
For payment integrations, see a more detailed explanation below. Otherwise, we just want to make that point of payment as slick and simple as possible.
- Payment integrations at processors at sensible prices (see below)
- Price scheduling (e.g. happy hours)
- Combination/deal discounts
- Email receipts and text receipts
- The ability to refund
- Multiple tenders (e.g. cash, and card)
For the kitchen
Some of these will be contingent on hardware choices; but if you have a kitchen, there are a few things to consider when you’re choosing your POS.
- Kitchen display screens
- Kitchen printers
- Clear allergen/modifier printing
- Different printers for different course types for different kitchen counters
A “cloud” system stores all the data centrally for multiple devices to use. If you have a Google or Facebook account, you already use the cloud. It means you can have eight tills synced together and control them all from a laptop in the back office. These do require internet connection – but some systems come with “offline mode” so you can continue use during temporary outages. Check for:
- Automatic data syncing between terminals
- Log in with any device
- Offline mode
A POS will be very central to your business; so if it doesn’t work, you won’t work. Most “cloud” software is rented monthly (sometimes called “software as-a-service”) and these are very likely to have support teams available. You’ll feel the difference between these and software you buy (“proprietary software”) here. Check for:
- 24/7 Phone Support
- A support library
- UK-based support team
We believe integrations are really important, especially as you get bigger.
A POS system is meant to be the “heart” of a store, but a heart is significantly less useful when it won’t connect to other vital organs. When you sell something, you want your payments processor to tell your bar POS that the sale has gone through; your POS to tell your accounting software that a sale has been made; your online store to update; and so on. This is what integrations are.
When you’re small, a POS can usually do most of what you want (you always need a payment integration, however). As you get bigger, a POS system becomes the tool kit rather than the swiss army knife. It holds all your specific software together via its integrations and keeps all the information in check.
Integrations are software products which cost money to make, so while they’re often free, you sometimes do have to pay for them, in addition to the two softwares you want to integrate. Usually it’s built by a POS company; but sometimes, a third party software company has built one.
There’s a really important distinction here – “open-source” software means that integrations can be built by anyone. That’s important because it means if a POS company do charge, it’s likely to be the market rate. In the past, we’ve seen examples of predatory practices here, where old-school POS companies do sell integrations, but for thousands of pounds. It can feel a little bit like being held to ransom: “you can’t connect to your accounting software unless you pay me £1000 per month every month!” “do this or spend a fortune on a new system!”
People pay that – because it’s so important, and they don’t consider integrations while they’re still small. So even if you don’t think that you’ll need an integration, choosing bar EPOS with open software or which is widely integrated is a prudent choice which will pay dividends down the line.
- Integrations with payment processors (e.g. various – ask us for advice!)
- Integrations with advanced analytics software (e.g. Tenzo)
- Integrations with PMS software (for booking rooms)
- Integrations with Accounting software (e.g. Quickbooks, Xero)
- Integrations with stock management software (e.g. Fourth)
- Integrations with staff management software (e.g. Deputy, Planday)
When somebody pays by card, if you would like your system to update, you need something called a payment integration. (You can manually enter everything twice – but we find that the few who do choose this route regret it.)
If you already have a payments processor, take advice based on your current payment processor.
If you don’t, great. We advise choosing POS first; then payments. That said, be wary of POS companies who force you into “preferred payments providers”. These can charge exorbitant fees for payment processing, which sometimes subsidises competitive POS pricing.
Based on the average transaction sizes and likely turnovers of pubs, a contract is likely to be cheaper for you than a pay-as-you-go option. (Visit our payments guide to understand this.) We’d advise executing a bidding process, but you’re aiming for a charge which is around 1% per transaction after all fees, (some of which can be hidden). To determine which payments can be integrated with different bar EPOS systems, book a call for free and we can help advise you at no extra cost.
Choose your hardware last. All cloud software can be used via iPads, whereas pre-cloud providers may require you to install their own tills at a higher cost.
There are more features coming round the corner – for example, some POS systems launched in the US can check IDs, or software recently launched here can scan a sea of faces to know who’s been waiting for the longest at a busy bar.
What are the big pub POS systems on the market?
Generally speaking, there’s a difference between old and new systems. We’ve already said that we don’t think older POS systems are very good; and you can read why in full here.
“FreePOS” Systems – processing costs only
These are worth mentioning; because they’re a bit different from the others and designed for smaller merchants – usually a bit smaller than we’d expect a pub to be. If you’re a pop-up, they could be for you.
iZettle and Square are both payment processors and EPOS systems rather than EPOS systems only. They’re processors – those are their card readers, respectively, which can be bought from StoreKit – but they come with basic POS app which you can download to your smartphone or tablet.
They’re missing some key POS features – most notably, stock control – but will allow you to make a simple sales log and identify which products are doing well or poorly.
They’re primarily payment processors and you’ll have to process payments through them too, which starts at 1.75% and gets cheaper as you get larger. This is more expensive than we’d expect a contract with a traditional provider to be based on average pub turnovers, but it depends on you, and you might value the pay-as-you-go aspect. Also, the EPOS software is free.
Goodtill – £29 per month per iPad + processing
Of all the systems listed here, goodtill is the most appropriate for a smallest merchant after payments companies which do free EPOS like iZettle Go and Square.
Goodtill is cheap and fast. With a simple and rapid front-end, if you’re mainly selling pints, Goodtill will allow you to get through a packed bar extremely quickly. You can buy a “hospitality module” which gives you table service and split bills for an extra £9.
It can integrate with Xero or Quickbooks for accounting and lots of payment providers.
iZettle Pro – £39 per month per iPad + processing
iZettle Pro is iZettle Go’s premium product, which means that they discount iZettle payment processing. For pubs with low average transaction sizes this could save you money. If you sell meals, those sizes are likely to be higher, and you’ll be better off with traditional processing.
iZettle Pro has table-service features, but is probably not appropriate for pub owners who want a large suite of features. iZettle Pro is available via StoreKit and can discount your hardware costs. Like everything available through StoreKit, iZettle Pro has no contract and you can leave whenever you like.
iZettle Pro integrates with Xero for no additional charge.
Nobly – £59 per month per iPad or £39 with annual billing + processing
Nobly does have table-based functionalities, but again, they’re not as complex as the next tier up.
Nobly’s multi-site management is well-reviewed though, so it could be worth considering if you own a chain of simple pubs.
Touchbistro – £49 per month per iPad + processing
I was impressed with the Touchbistro team. This is one system which manages to cater for medium-size and larger pubs, without the anxieties around big chunks of software you’ll never use. It’s a good all rounder; and while it doesn’t fulfil all the finer details that Lightspeed can, if you don’t have specific requirements, it’s a great bet.
iKentoo – £49 per till for basic, but can go up to around £60 per till + processing
iKentoo is on the bigger and more complex end of systems. ‘Nobody uses all of iKentoo’, a rep from iKentoo once told me. Rather, the system is intended that you use the 20-30% which is relevant for you and your business, and ignore the rest.
That means it would be a great choice for a large complex pub. Their rep explained to me that hotel customers are a target market and get lots out of iKentoo.
Lightspeed – it starts at around £79 for a pub with one till
Lightspeed own iKentoo, and Lightspeed is their original and more widely used product. With Lightspeed, we’re starting to get into territory in which the systems are designed to be integrated with multiple different other software companies.
This would suit a complex pub – it’s probably too complex for most smaller pubs.
Revel Systems – bespoke
As we get to the top end of systems, the process for buying is slightly different. You’ll have seen that the pricing is very simple at the bottom end. Here. you’re not buying something off the shelf; rather, Revel will configure their system to the exact needs of your business.
That means that the quoting system has to be just that. Revel Systems is a great choice for a large pub chain looking for the central node in a developed software ecosystem.
CLOUD/FIXED TILL FAQ
We only sell cloud systems, so obviously, we’re biased.
But we’re not that biased. The reason we only sell cloud-based systems is that for our money, they’re the better systems. Non-cloud providers have approached us looking to partner with us before, and we’ve turned them down. This section is to take you through the advantages of cloud-based systems and also to address any issues they create or outstanding operational concerns.
What’s the difference between cloud and “fixed till” systems?
In short, the older POS systems are not likely to be “cloud-based”. A “cloud” is just a huge computer owned by a technology company. If you store your “data” on the “cloud” rather than on a computer (“server”) you own yourself, there are some key benefits.
With cloud-based systems:
- You can log in to your account on any device
On older systems, you may only be able to log-in to your account via a computer connected to the computer (“server”) you keep all your information on. That may mean that you cannot log-in to your account from, say, your personal laptop at home. But with a cloud-based system, you can access your business data remotely.
2. Everything updates automatically across all devices
On older systems, at the end of the day, you may have to link up the different terminals and load all the data out to the main server, meaning that the figures on each device may not be accurate in real-time.
3. You don’t have to worry about data protection
If you keep a server yourself, you’re liable for the maintenance and protection of that server, and if that server is stolen, you may have to email all former customers to inform them of a data breach. (Full law here). In contrast, if you use a cloud-based service, your cloud provider (probably Amazon or Google) is responsible for the upkeep of their server.
4. They’re hardware-agnostic
Finally, the best thing about the newer systems is that you only need to buy your hardware once. (That said, do be careful about exactly which receipt printer you buy – and give us a call if you’re not sure which one you need). Theoretically, you can buy any hardware for any system – which is mostly true! But there are some asterisks, so do give us a quick ring before pressing “order” and we can make sure you have the right thing in your basket.