Point of Sale: From Inception to the Future

Point of Sale is the most critical part of any restaurant. Even at its least complex, your POS machine is the hub for making all of your transactions. It’s the epicenter of your operations. It’s so critical, in fact, that we can use its evolution over time to better understand what business owners value, need and desire out of their Point of Sale and predict which trends we’re likely to see emerge in the future.

1970s

Point of Sale used to basically just be a cash register, a transaction machine that did little else…until they became computer-based in the ’70s. IBM invented an electronic POS which could not only handle money, but also helped regulate orders to the kitchen and printed accurate receipts for the customer’s benefit. These receipts included the before- and after-tax totals to further break down the overall price for the customer, adding clarity which led to happier customers.

Computer-based POS were a turning point for the whole entire industry. Suddenly, owners could better manage their finances, particularly when determining how much to keep in the register and how much to deposit in the bank. It was the beginning of a long road toward automation.

1980s & 1990s

The ’80s really revolutionized POS when the internet grew more widespread. Once POS could process credit cards over the internet, transactions sped up significantly, improving customer satisfaction as well as table turn time; long waits for the card reader really added up over the course of a day, and here was a faster solution.

Point of Sale systems also became equipped with the tools necessary to give more comprehensive reports to management. You could see total credit card transactions versus total cash transactions, or view overall sales for the day. It’s taken for granted now, but in the beginning it was revolutionary to be able to trade in a slow, clunky credit card reader for an all-in-one hub that ran via the internet.

Computer-based POS grew more popular over the next decade as it entered the mainstream and became a necessity, rather than a neat but rare treasure. In 1992, Microsoft Windows created the first POS software which made that type of high-tech automation widely available for restaurants and completely changed the game for all POS transactions.

2000s

The advent of internet-based POS was the start of a boom in the restaurant technology industry. Suddenly POS came equipped with all sorts of incredible features previously hard to conceive of, let alone to expect from any mainstream provider. POS could split the check, which seems like a given now but was revolutionary at its outset, as well as add modifiers and customized menu options. These were game-changers for restaurateurs who saw increases to the average check size because of surcharges for things like extra avocados or a double shot of espresso.

More software vendors entered the market too, driving innovation and making restaurant owners expect automated features like financial reports, inventory management, CRM, service management, payroll and much more.

One of the most beneficial inventions to come out of this period was loyalty programs. Customers used to have to carry around punch cards that often got lost or damaged, causing irritation and confusion as well as taking up a lot of time, but now it’s all built into the POS system itself. Integrating rewards programs made it easier for customers to use and redeem their points, while restaurateurs could more easily track customer engagement and loyalty. The POS automatically generates reports on this information for easy access and analysis.

2010s and the Modern Point of Sale

All of this brings us to the modern age. Now all of the above inventions are so commonplace that they’re taken for granted. Modern POS deliver better quality service overall, especially because employees can focus on emphasizing customer service and improving customers’ overall experience. POS systems help restaurants cut down on their labor costs while simultaneously streamlining operations.

POS simply run more efficiently now, with free automatic upgrades, data security, and automated reporting that make it easy to track and manage sales data. It’s a far cry from the simple cash registers that these machines used to be, even coming subscription-based for a more affordable price point with much higher quality. All of this leads to more security, better service, and much smoother business operations, which cut costs and improve restaurants’ overall profit.

Perhaps most importantly, the modern era created mobile and cloud-based POS so that restaurants can meet the modern consumer with the service they expect. These capable devices take more accurate orders and speed the entire process up, to maximize your restaurant’s efficiency. Keeping up with your customers has never been simpler with handheld devices that let servers send orders instantly to the kitchen, and cloud storage that enables remote access to the network so managers and owners can keep tabs on their operations without even being onsite.

It’s completely altered how restaurants interact with guests, too. With the development of customer profiles, they can keep track of who their regulars are, how much they’re spending and what they’re buying. This helps to create marketing campaigns tailor-made for what customers want to see, or promotions that customers are more likely to take advantage of. They can also safely and securely keep cards on file, allowing for faster checkout when they log in with their profile. Modern POS can also internalize gift cards to more easily track, view and redeem loyalty and rewards points.

In the past forty years, POS systems have undergone quite a journey to become the all-in-one, integrated, touchscreen technology that’s a must-have for anyone who wants to thrive in the restaurant industry. By looking at past trends, we can predict what types of features we’ll see arriving in the upcoming years: An even greater push toward automation, efficiency, lower costs and an improved customer experience is sure to come. Though it’s difficult to predict what form these changes will take, the continually-evolving internet age is sure to bring restaurant efficiency and profitability to unimaginable heights.

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