A Tablet-Based POS App for Restaurants: Ambur

In 2009, a team of former restaurant owners and workers set out to create a point of sale system for the hospitality industry that would be easier and more cost effective than any other available. Two years later, the Ambur point of sale iPad app was introduced to the market.  It can be used with any Apple touch device, which increases flexibility and availability in a busy restaurant setting. It’s customizable—from creating a menu to meet your unique needs, to customizing receipts and payment options. The following features could make a nice solution for your mobile hospitality needs:

– Set up the customizable point of sale system according to your needs.

– Receive free updates and free support.

– Customize your reports with important details.

– Save and store your sales data on your mobile device, with free backup on Dropbox.

– View, print, email, or export reports.

– Organize your menu to meet your specific requirements.

– Set permissions for individual users.

– Store customer contact information.

– Keep reservation data in one place with the easy reservation system.

– Accept cards on any device with compatible card readers.

The team continues to adapt and update the POS app to meet the growing challenges of an increasingly mobile hospitality industry. Here is their story:

“Before the iPad was released in April 2010, few people realized all the different applications it would serve in just a few short years. iPads are currently being used in hospitals, restaurants, air travel, retail, and various other industries. In 2010, the point of sale (POS) market was still dominated by a handful of large companies, some worth billions of dollars. These companies had a stronghold on the market and yet were unable to solve many pain points for restaurateurs. The systems provided by these companies did not adapt to the needs of specific restaraunts, remained hard to use, and were expensive.

The iPad was the perfect tool to disrupt the market. Going into the iPad POS market, we knew what we were up against. The incumbents had a twenty-five year head start, strong reseller networks, and recognizable brands. We knew competition would be tough, but we also understood that restaurant owners needed an easy-to-use mobile POS system at an affordable price. That’s exactly what we set out to create!

Having years of experience in the restaurant industry, we realized that a large number of features do not necessarily make a better product. A POS system may be packed with dozens of features, butthey don’t provide much benefit to the user if they are difficult to access. Every feature built into our app serves a specific purpose and is easily accessible. As we grow and add more features, we make great efforts to make sure that we keep Ambur easy to use, so we don’t end up like the systems we want to replace. Another great advantage of an iPad point of sale system is the mobility. Wait staff can carry around iPads, iPad minis, iPods, or iPhones and access the POS system no matter where they are in the restaurant.

From the start, we knew we had a great product and getting it into the hands of restaurateurs would allow us to prove it. We decided to base our sales on a completely transparent model. Restaurateurs can download a limited version for free from the App Store and evaluate it at their own pace. In the evaluation stage, our sales agents can answer any questions the customer may have. We work closely with the customer to make sure that this is a good fit for their business. This model has served us well; since our customers are already familiar with Ambur before they purchase, they know it is the right solution for them. Newer POS companies have similar models, and we think it is a great trend. With the point of sale being the heart of a restaurant, the staff need to be fully comfortable with it.

Apple’s App Store has allowed us to reach customers in thirty countries! Such a big reach does have it’s own challenges. One challenge that we encounter every day is to make sure that we are able to support not only the software but all the corresponding hardware remotely. Extensive documentation, understanding customer’s needs, and great customer service allow us to be one of the most highly rated POS systems in the App Store.

From talking with thousands of restaurateurs, we came to understand that the most important aspect when choosing a POS system is the owner understanding the needs of their business. There are a lot of POS solutions on the market, and not all of them are a good fit for every business. Once a restaurant owner has outlined their needs, they should ask specific questions and make sure that the POS system can perform as needed. Restaurateurs should be wary of companies that don’t offer free trials or a 100 percent money back guarantee on their solution.”

Starbucks Customers Bring POS Hardware to Retail

In a twist on BYOD , (Bring Your Own Device) for Point of Sale, customers have been bringing their own device to Starbucks for years now.   Since I use the app at least 15 times a month, and sometimes 30x a month, it seemed natural to discuss the other side of the retail counter for POS hardware.

The Starbucks app, for those of you who are not familiar with it, is a combination of a loyalty program, payment technology, store locator, reward generator and a “stay real close to the customer” technology.

It works well and gives customers a free drink for every fifteen they buy.   To use it, customers simply open the app and tap “Pay”.  A 2D barcode appears.  I would have included a picture of mine, but some jokers would be running down to Starbucks this morning, opening their smartphones to this article, and charging their latte’s on my account.  Since I have the automatic refill option turned on, which charges my credit card and fills the Starbucks card whenever a low balance is reached, this could become quite expensive, so, you’ll have to download the free app to see what the barcode looks like.  You can get the app at the Google Play store of course, and the iPhone equivalent.

The app includes a store locator – which is fast and easy to use.

The Starbucks app can manage multiple cards by the way, so if you have given a card to your teenager, or significant other, you can keep tabs on the activity and refill when you get that urgent text (Dad, can you please refill my card) – not the worst way in the world to make sure you hear from your college kids occasionally.

Rewards!!

For every fifteen drinks I buy, I get a free one.  This is not an insignificant thing.  My usual drink is a “short Pike” – which is about $1.70 or so, and I try to keep the caffeine to a minimum.  But for my rewards drink, Starbucks lets me order almost any size, so I will usually save the freebie for a day when I’m out on a long bike ride and then order a large Valencia or other refreshing flavored drink that costs around $4.00.  I feel like I am getting a great deal.  (Kudos to Starbucks for a great program by the way.)

starbucks-rewards-point-of-sale-news

The only drawback to the program is that I don’t ever use cash anymore, and consequently don’t throw my change in the tip jar.  The employees, who turnover quite regularly, have said they don’t mind.  I hope that’s true.  Starbucks has made a big deal out of taking care of their vendors in other countries, I hope their “fair-trade” practices extend to offering a competitive salary and benefits (including a health care option or option to co-pay) in the United States as well.   Charity begins at home, some say.

Summarizing – Starbucks has a great program that keeps customers coming back.  Other retailers would do well do match this program and soon.  There is a limit to how many of these apps I am willing to carry in my smartphone – and actually use on a regular basis, and I would guess that number is around ten or less.  Right now I only use Starbucks – and keep a few loyalty cards in my car for those businesses that stamp or hole-punch them and mentally, I can only keep track of a few.  So the next few that come along are likely to get some of my mindshare.

Small retailers would do well to make sure that any point of sale system has an option to add a mobile loyalty program – including ones like App Card, that supports many small businesses at a time.

Cutting Edge POS in Japan

When I think of Japan, two of the first things to come to my mind are sushi and cutting edge technology. Guess which one this article is about.

That’s right, sushi—I mean technology. Point of sale software to be more precise. Last November, Japanese company Science Works released a POS system called RealtimeManager, which was developed specifically for restaurant chains. Like many POS systems, RealtimeManager collects data in—you guessed it—real time. But there is one important difference between this system and the majority of others: RealtimeManager is able to analyze this real-time data in order to show customers using the company’s smartphone app which restaurants currently have seating available. This means that hungry would-be diners can peruse dining options not only by rating and menu before stepping foot into a restaurant, but also by whether or not they’ll be able to be seated right away.

This is fantastic. I am not currently aware of any apps that provide a similar service here in the United States (if you know of one, please let me know in the comments section below), but I feel confident that a similar app would be welcomed with open arms. I can’t even count how many times my husband and I have bounced restaurant to restaurant in search of immediate seating on a Friday or Saturday night—and I’m talking about chain restaurants, just like this app serves, the kinds of places where you expect to be able to walk in and get a table without waiting.

From a business perspective, RealtimeManager has some great attributes beyond its obvious appeal to consumers. For one thing, the POS software automatically analyzes incoming data to determine availability, so it doesn’t require any extra work by restaurant staff. Additionally, the smartphone app encourages customers to come when seating is available and not to further crowd the restaurant when it is already filled to capacity; a feature that as a former member of the service industry I’m sure is greatly appreciated by staff.

As I mentioned, Science Works is a Japanese company and RealtimeManager is only available in Japan. Currently, the service is available at about 400 restaurants, but according to Akihabara News the company intends to expand significantly over the next year.

Will they expand to the United States? I’ve found no indication of such a thing, but as someone who on numerous occasions has driven twenty minutes to an Applebees only to find an inhumanly long line trickling out the door, my fingers are crossed.

Choosing A Restaurant Point Of Sale System

Selecting a Point Of Sale (POS) system for your restaurant can be one of the most important operational decisions you will make. There are literally hundreds of different POS systems to choose from.  While all systems try to serve the same basic purpose when it comes down to functionality, reliability, performance, and capability, no two systems are alike.  There are many routine factors to consider when buying a POS system.  Price, warranty, technical support, future enhancements, and after purchase care are just a few to mention.  However, the focus of this article will be on the more important but less commonly used software features that make all the difference in creating and operating a thriving restaurant.

Ease of Use

One of the most important aspects of any POS software is its ease of use.  Listed below are some features & functionalities one should consider.

  • Live System Changes – It’s Friday night at 7 PM and you need to make a menu change or add a happy hour discount.  Can you make this change at any one of your stations and have the rest updated automatically within seconds without any restarts?  Some programs can do this, but many require you to go to the back office and restart the entire system.  Live system changes managed through a quality POS system allow you to efficiently run your business from any station.
  • Terminal Flexibility – It is best to get POS software that is setup to respond to the user and not the hardware.  This allows management and staff members to perform any actions at any station, whether it consists of menu changes, employee logins, or running reports.  This would also allow staff members with certain job types, such as a bartender, to use any other station besides the one behind the bar in cases where the wait staff may need their help during peak times.
  • Menu – When it comes to menu configurations, are you able to easily create menu items in a matter of seconds without having to create a button, place them on the menu, then assign the item to the button in a complex, multi-step process?  Let’s say you have a group of three people who have ordered a bottle of wine and they all want to share the cost.  Efficient POS systems allow you to share the cost of a menu item in any proportion and split it out in any way among any number of guests.  Lastly, you should focus on how choices or modifiers are handled.  If a server creates a ticket and mistakenly selected chives for the baked potato, they should be able to change the modifiers without having to start all over.
  • Menu Firing – Many systems allow the food to be held and released to the kitchen by the server, giving them control over the order timing to ensure that each course is prepared and delivered at appropriate times.
  • Discounts – When implementing happy hours & discounts, you should be able to create these options easily within minutes.  Those happy hour sales numbers should also then flow into your reports automatically.  Some systems require you to set price levels for each item, create a schedule, and if you want reporting on those sales, to create special menu items.

Customer Database

Most restaurants cannot survive without a loyal, repeat customer base.  Many systems have a customer database that allows you to take advantage of that data.  Two features that can be very beneficial are built-in loyalty and order tracking.  The loyalty feature normally allows you to give out points, credits, or free food.  By storing their previous orders, known as order tracking, servers can order a customer’s “usual” with just the touch of a button.  You can also run reports that enable you to know who your most profitable clients are and to market to them directly.

Tableside Ordering

It is a relatively new concept but some POS systems are now able to offer tableside ordering via handheld devices like an iPad.  The technology may come at an extra cost, but for many restaurants it would pay off through improved server efficiencies, less errors, faster food delivery, and better overall customer experience.

Online Reservations

For restaurants that take reservations, many POS systems are able to handle this within the software instead of using a third party provider.  These systems usually allow your customers to create a reservation online or place a call into the restaurant where the staff would enter it directly into the POS.

Online Ordering

One of the newest POS features is the ability for a restaurant to take an order online. Some systems already offer this for an extra fee.  For now, the consumer market is in the early stages of embracing the concept, but it is growing in popularity and should be much more popular in the coming years.  You should simply ask the POS provider you are considering if they will have this feature available in the future if not already.

Scalability

How much flexibility does the system have in terms of upgrades and expansions?  Can you easily add additional stations as your business grows?  What if you decide to add tableside ordering or online reservations?  Are those features currently available?  These are all questions one should ask when considering a POS system.

Printing

There are two basic ways POS software handles the printing of the menu items.  If the software prints based on the ticket itself, the entire ticket will be sent to one particular printer regardless of what it is.  If the software prints based on the menu items, the alcohol would go to the bar and food would go to the kitchen, regardless of what is ordered on the ticket.  Obviously, the latter setup is most ideal.

Bars – Liquor

For businesses with a bar, there are several important features you should expect from your chosen POS system.

  • Fast pay – This is the ability to quickly ring up an order with only a couple touches.  For example, someone orders a beer and gives you a $20.  The server selects the beer item, touches $20 as one of the dollar denominations that shows up, and the drawer pops open showing the change due.  This feature is also very useful for any type of fast food or QSR restaurant.
  • Tabs – Most, but not all, systems are ticket based.  Whenever a server adds a menu item, a virtual ticket is created that can remain open indefinitely or until they are ready to close their tab.
  • Repeat – Some systems have a repeat feature that allows you to reorder items on a ticket, such as another round of shots, with only a press of a button.
  • Job Types – Can the system handle job types?  For example, you only want alcohol items to show up for the bartenders, while servers see only food items.  Setting up this kind of system ensures that staff are not bothered with menu buttons that are not related to their tasks at hand.
  • Credit Card Hold – If you want your customers to be able to open a tab, it is best if the software can store the credit card data.  This allows you to swipe the customer’s credit card and give it back.  When they are ready to close their tab, they simply sign for it.

Data Recovery

No one likes to plan for the worst, but there are many unexpected disasters that can happen to any restaurateur, such as power outages or hardware failure.  When this does happen, how will it affect the data in your POS system?  There are many different types of databases being used by POS companies.  SQL for example, can easily recover from most disasters without much intervention needed from technical support or any loss or corruption of data.