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Not since the introduction of the touchscreen has there been such a radical new option in the way we deliver restaurant technology. The introduction of the tablet — and its evolution into a worthy contender for your next point-of-sale system — gives restaurant owners an affordable and powerful new option. But should your restaurant jump to tablets?

Hardware vs. software

It seems every week a new restaurant point-of-sale company pops up promoting their iPad based system. It's reminiscient of the early days of online ordering, when new companies flooded the market and were quickly weeded out. We were left with a few strong players and the many traditional restaurant technology companies who incorporated online ordering into their total solutions thrived. It's a similar situation with tablet-based point-of-sale. Creating point-of-sale software that really works for restaurants — and backing that system with appropriate service and support — is an arduous process. New software solutions ofen can't compete with established, feature-rich systems, and running on a tablet doesn't make up for a lack of critical features. But as the market settles out, we'll see a few who succeed and we'll see our feature-rich solutions evolve to run on tablet hardware — and real viable solutions will emerge.

The compelling case for tablets

The advantages of tablets in the restaurant hardly need to be spelled out. Instead of large, expensive, clunky computer systems, a sleek tablet on the counter is appealing and affordable. The mobility of tablets opens great possibilities for use at the table, or as line busters, even for self-service ordering. Of course, before you jump on the tablet bandwagon, consider a few practical matters. Tablets must be secured, both physically from theft or damage and virtually, from gamers and viruses. Tablets typically require a wireless network, which adds more challenges to the typical restaurant owner trying to maintain a PCI-compliant environment. Be especially cognizant that not all tablet credit card processing solutions have been PA-DSS certified for PCI compliance, with card swipes that are easily hacked.

The tablet and the cloud

As tablets emerge as a viable hardware option, many of the software solutions that run on tablets rely on the "cloud" for their operation — in that your data is not stored locally on any computer. While eventual reliance on the cloud for much of our computing is probably inevitable, you must consider whether the time is right for your restaurant. The appeal is the always-on nature of the cloud, freeing you from worry about back-ups, theft, or hardware failure. The cons are the fragility of your internet service, reliability of the many pieces in the cloud puzzle (significant outages in the last year have impacted many large players), long term viability of your software provider, and your willingness to pay monthly service fees forever to access your critical data; all factors to consider. Alternatively, a local server to store your data which is accessed by tablets in the restaurant is an option that keeps you in control — a baby step, perhaps, toward the next generation of technology.

As always with technology, changes are coming at us rapidly. Tablets could be a great fit for your restaurant now, or soon in the future. My restaurant clients are eagerly adopting them for a variety of purposes, including running their point-of-sale system in store, implementing self-serve ordering stations, and promoting loyalty program sign ups. Just remember — the tablet itself is only the hardware piece of the puzzle. Be sure to evaluate the software thoroughly, and consider the cloud vs. local decision as part of your total decision making process.

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User Comments – Give us your opinion!
  • Luke Panza
    I'm a bit surprised with the skepticism of this article concerning what is called 'cloud', but what is really Software as a Service (Saas). SaaS has been changing business for over 10 years, and it is most likely not going away. has a $24 Billion market capitalization - is further proof needed? On another note, the tablet / cloud argument has some overlap because of SaaS and internet connectivity, however they are separate things so I think the argument presented causes a little confusion. SaaS is exactly that - a service. It's NOT software in the traditional sense, so there's little to no upkeep to it. Updating 'software' is as easy as pressing the update button in Apple's AppStore, and still other services automatically update their services to the end-user. A great example is tax-filing software. Instead of getting the Turbo Tax or H&R Block software CD in the mail this year, you can use the same 'software' on their website in real time. That seems fairly simple. What's even more confusing is the questioning of paying monthly fees for the software. For example, if traditional software cost $3,000 up front, what's wrong with paying $100 a month for the same software, even if after 30 months (2.5 years) the software would be paid off? Although $3,000 is much less than, say, a $20,000 automobile, it's the same payment method we use for larger purchases. Why can't this idea be applied for a restaurant operator for some of these smaller but still substantial payments? It's simply a different model than the traditional software model, and it can help that cash strapped operator get the business off the ground and be profitable by not spending all that cash up-front. Further, why does data need to be stored locally? What is wrong w/ a SaaS data storage model? All of my emails are stored 'in the cloud' via gmail. My bank statements are all online (website or email) - I don't receive paper statements anymore and I don't keep a locally-stored digital version on my home computer. Same goes for credit card statements. Many people store their photos online without evening thinking about it (e.g. Facebook, Instagram), and music services like Pandora, Rdio, & Spotify allow us to access Music as a Service instead of storing music files (i.e. data) locally. So WHY does a restaurant operator need to store data locally? As for Tablets, they can be great tools because of their inexpensive cost, as mentioned. But they are also great because they have operating platforms that allow for multiple software applications to be utilized on them (e..g 1,000s of Apps for iPads - very fast and easy to download and start using) and they are very quick and easy to replace (versus a typical POS terminal). Tablets ought to be mounted, but POS terminals must be mounted too so there is no difference there. Tablets also are not the only tools for SaaS solutions - an SaaS service could be used over a regular PC. A great example of this is OpenTable, a product with 15 years of usage in over 10,000 restaurants nationwide. OpenTable traditionally had locally installed software but is now moving to the SaaS model with web-based software. It's fair to argue that operators ought to be cognizant of the fragility of internet service if real-time internet connectivity for running an SaaS system, however this is an incredibly simple fix for an equally incredible return on investment (ROI). The average restaurant tends to have an older wireless router, but typically has decent internet service via cable internet connection. Simply updating to a better router (a one-time $60 cost) can keep the restaurant SaaS systems running at highly reliable speeds and, allowing the restaurant to utilize a variety of internet services, achieve high ROI on a $60 investment. A final point of confusion that is worth noting is PCI Compliance. This is ONLY important if processing payments (i.e. POS Systems). Wait List systems, employee scheduling services, loyalty programs, etc... do NOT process payments and therefore the operator doesn't even have to think about PCI compliance.
  • Pam Bamberger
    TYPO! New software solutions ofen can't compete with established
  • Jon Hoover
    I think the idea of one proprietary POS system will become outdated. Each restaurant will mix and match solutions from tablets, clouds and other POS solutions to suit their needs. The affordability and ease of use for tablets makes them a very appealing option.
  • William Withers
    Internet Reliability is definitely important. Not everyone lives in a country or area where the internet is reliable.
  • Adam Morgan
    Nowadays it seems restaurant owners are looking for a complete POS system, and tablets are a convenient option in this space. When it comes to security, cloud-based systems are the most secure platform, if you have the right features. With Windows XP's lifespan coming to an end next year, older pos systems will fall-out of PCI Compliance. The fall-out could push restaurant and business owners to switch to tablet-based systems creating a huge market for cloud-based point of sale solutions, such as Revel Systems. We'll have to wait and see what the future holds.
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Latest posts by Duessa Holscher
Duessa Holscher
I’ve been passionate about pizza technology since my start in 1994. Since then I’ve worked in marketing and development for several pizza tech firms, founded FireFly Technologies, and now work as Marketing Director at Granbury Restaurant Solutions.
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