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Wide world of POS possibilities

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Hospitality Magazine

Modern point-of-sale (POS) are amazing, with almost enough computer power for a moon landing. But most operators use about 10 per cent of the capacity, still treating it as a glorified cash register. Rather like using a large 4WD to pick up a litre of milk. There’s powerful information in the data that may shock, surprise and certainly benefit you when it’s ‘sliced and diced’ in the reports available. Knowledge is power.

If you’ve made the investment, don’t cut corners and miss out on the best features of your powerful management system. You need:

• POS units and, for best results, kitchen and bar printers.

• A modern PC with the capacity to display reports and analyse the information.

• Enough terminals or hand-held units to enable staff to quickly enter sales. The counter may also need reorganising so everything’s accessible.

• A system for correcting errors—tracking mistakes and over-rings. We’re only human.

• Links to your accounting system, or a system to analyse sales information in a spreadsheet.

• Skilled assistance to process the information. Most operators are too busy to do it themselves, but there are plenty of smart students and part-timers with a head for figures. They will be preparing reports, doing bookkeeping entries and updating customer information.

As the saying goes, ‘garbage in, garbage out’ —if the data is not accurate or up to date, what’s the point?

Organise sales by key

By classifying sales according to customer decisions, you will soon have information that shows the effectiveness of your sales team and the popularity of the menu. Keep the number of departments small: Food, Desserts, Non-alcoholic Beverages, Alcohol, Functions and Other Sales (eg souvenirs). If you sell drinks in cans or bottles, make them a separate department so you can see just how little money you make from them.

Many operators over-classify items into hot and cold beverages, entrees, snacks, pasta etc, but the sales reports become so complex that trends are missed. There’s nothing wrong with having this information, but if a customer had a main course for dinner, you also want to know if they also ordered a side dish, how many beverages, and did they have dessert. Department reports highlight these trends immediately.

Combine sales data with the number of customers, and you have very useful ‘per-head sales’ figures, not just for total sales but also by desserts and drinks. When the data is pulled apart like this, it may be a shock to see how few side-salads are sold, how little herb bread is recommended, and just how much tap water was given away at no charge.

If the average per-head for a casual BYO restaurant is $35, it could be made up of $26 on food, $3 on side orders, $3 on a beverage, $2 on corkage and $1 on desserts. In other words they ordered garlic bread, a main dish, a coffee at the end and if the desserts are all $9, this means only one person in nine chose to have a dessert. Immediately you can see there’s a menu problem, with too small a range, or perhaps the Sales Prevention Officers at work—the floor staff who don’t recommend anything.

Daily and weekly sales give fascinating insights, and trends become apparent when they’re compared with the previous day, week, month or the same time last year. You can also check the number of item sales on a separate item report —that’s where you see if the 25 steaks used last night match up with 25 steak sales, not 22 or 23.

An integrated till system ensures you can track what is selling, who is selling it and how much they are selling, says Troy McCooke, operations manager of Albury’s SS& A Club. “While it may sound a bit like Big Brother, it’s just a very efficient way of being able to access an instant snapshot of what is happening with your business on a right here right now basis,” Mccooke says.

“The more quickly you can identify problems the less fall out there is, because tomorrow is too late to try and rectify the challenges you are facing today.”

Extra features for your new system:
Some of the additional features that can be indispensable include:

• Flexible layout of the touch screen. You can arrange it to suit your style of service, and modify it once ordering patterns are established.

• Plenty of options about how orders are entered and displayed. Need two rare steaks with extra mustard but no garlic? No problem. Send salad and dessert orders to different printers? Easy. Table 20 has moved to Table 10? That’s easy to transfer, and when they want to pay separately, it’s easy.

• Multiple price levels. Many bars have different prices according to time of day, and restaurants often surcharge on weekends or holidays. The extra cost of this feature is small, and the bonus to future sales is huge. Without automatic programming this profitable upsell is often forgotten.

• Options for printing extra information on receipts, eg a customer feedback form or discount coupon.

• Security options such as fingerprint sign-on and integration with security cameras.

• Visual view of table status—tables available, bills issued or paid.

• Screen display of orders instead of printed on paper—hang a screen above the barista or kitchen bench and see orders as they arrive.

• Recipe costing and menu management. Sounds great, but it depends on the accuracy of stock data and requires a lot of work by the chef. A stand-alone recipe management system can make all the difference.With the calculations done, it is then only a few steps to integrate it with stock control and re-ordering. It’s the manager’s dream: just as you’re down to the last box of pasta, an order has been flashed to the supplier and a delivery arrives. This is all possible.

• Access to sales information when you’re not around. Closing sales figures can be automatically sent by to you SMS or when you login remotely.

• Hand-held order pads so staff can be on the floor with the customers, eliminating steps and saving time.

• Time and attendance tracking for staff management, integrating with payroll information and rostering. Each year these staff management features become more common.

• Customer database and loyalty systems to track and reward spending—working with membership cards or sending messages by SMS, mail or email.

So what can go wrong?
A wise operator once said “cash registers are designed so staff can prove they’re not stealing”. It’s a fact: most bars, restaurants and cafes have ineffective control systems, with unguarded food, cash and liquor lying around.

Add this to a manager’s techno-phobia, and there will be plenty of opportunity for errors and fraud. Just buying a POS won’t eliminate the problem, and cunning thieves will find ways to manipulate the system, usually based on what they learnt from their previous employer. But if you eliminate a rort, there’s every chance the beneficiary will leave—it’s no fun if they can’t rip off $100 every shift.

Items to watch out for
When you’re deciding on a system make sure you questions your supplier on these areas:

• Suport. You want good local support, every day and through until late at night. Problems usually occur when you’re busy, rarely in office hours. Most can be fixed by a technician on the end of a mobile phone—ask other operators how good the service is.

• Use of standard PC hardware or modules. Suppliers usually prefer to supply the PC— let them do it, so they are also responsible for proper integration of the operating system and the hardware.

• Enthusiastic training. Not just once but throughout the year. This should be backed by a comprehensive manual and useful online info.

• Ensure the Open Key is only used for emergencies. If you want to track the number of items sold, allowing sales to be rung up on this key corrupts the data, and opens the possibility of theft. Disable it.

• Inaccurate item buttons. It’s essential that these are kept up to date.

• Make staff declaration compulsory: they must sign on with their code or button before each transaction. Then you know who did what.

• Make ‘No Sales’ difficult. There will be times when you need to open the till quickly, but staff should sign on to do it. The money drawer should be treated with reverence.

• Keep a close eye on over-rings. If a sale is rung up as $200 instead of $20 the correction must be made, recorded and then authorised immediately.

• Fast screens are important. In a busy bar cheap screens may have a slow ‘refresh rate’, slowing the ringing up of sales. It’s like making a fast typist work on a manual typewriter.

• Insufficient RAM. The computer memory that determines how much information can be stored at any time. If you have lots of tables and a big menu, you will need plenty.

• The “training” mode is only to be used by authorised managers. This is designed for practice sessions, so mistakes won’t be counted in the sales total. But it can become a way of taking money without sales being added to the daily totals.

• Finally, upgrade the technology skills of all staff. It’s surprising how quickly people become helpless. A techno-expert on every shift is a great asset—you have Gen Y staff who can fill this role with ease, and the oldies over 30 will catch on soon enough.

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