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.”

Why Foursquare Is Part of the Point of Sale Industry

I’ve been running the Foursquare app on my smartphone for a few years – I use it occasionally.  Some months maybe 20 or 30 times, other months not at all.   I’ve earned badges, over two dozen Mayorships (all of which I have subsequently lost),  and had some fun along the way.  I’ve endorsed dozens of businesses and trashed a few others.  The program is mildly empowering for shoppers/consumers – and therein is the fun and the danger for retail businesses.

When I visit a location – like a coffee shop, an airport, a restaurant – I may  (if I think about it, which is less than 10% of the time) “check in” by opening the app, finding the retail location I am in, and clicking on the “Check In” button.

Foursquare has a database of almost every shop or business.   Even lots of airline terminals and gates are designated as Foursquare places, which can be lots of fun to check in at, since you get extra points for having traveled lots of miles.   Users can enter new locations; like their house, a new restaurant, or even their TV room.   When checking in, you are awarded points  – points are based on many things including how many people are checked in at the same place, whether the “Mayor” is in the house, whether you are the mayor of this place, how many other similar places you’ve been at and many other factors.   The Mayor is just a FourSquare user who is the most active recent visitor to that location. Mayorships change regularly.  I’ve checked in over 680 times in the last few years.

Your points go on a scoreboard and you can see how you are doing that week as compared to your friends who you choose to connect to on Foursquare.

The program offers very little in the way of pecuniary rewards- only alerting me to the potential for an oddball special deal on a rare occasion, but it does create psychological rewards, and for that reason alone it deserves respect and a close look.

The Psychological Rewards

Foursquare offers a level of connection. I have friends who I am connected to on the app,  and if they choose, they share where they are and what they are doing.  I find it fun, to see where some of my friends are eating, where they are traveling.  I don’t necessarily talk to all these friends often – some are in a social circle of one kind or another, but I enjoy hearing about what they’re up to.   Call it socialization, sharing, being connected – Foursquare offers all that.

There is also a level of stimulus and surprise that I get from the game.   Years ago, in a certain scientific experiment, users were rewarded at random for certain acts.  They did not know when they would get rewarded, but sometimes at random, they did and they liked it and it was part of the motivation to continue the experiment.  Foursquare intelligently includes that in the form of “badges”.  Last week I “checked in”   at a pizzeria and immediately received a “badge” for being at my fifth different pizzeria.  The badge means nothing to anyone, except perhaps as bragging rights.   I enjoyed getting it. It is a form of recognition I suppose.  Almost a throwback to my Boy Scout days.

Another psychological reward that can be earned in this “game” – is becoming Mayor of a place – like a Starbucks, school, recreation spot, that you frequent.  The formula for becoming a mayor is not disclosed, but it has to do with frequency over a period – like maybe 30 to 60 days.  I have become the mayor of a business in just a few weeks with as little as 5 check-ins, but my favorite Starbucks took over 60 check-ins and two months of diligently remembering to check-in each time to only briefly  hold the title for a week or two before I was ousted.

I don’t use the game to meet people.  If you check-in to a location and others have recently checked in, you can see them listed.  That part may be more fun for extroverts – and I can’t count myself in that group. You can also rate restaurants or any venue, and leave a tip (advice) for others.  I occasionally use the app to choose between restaurants.  (I use Yelp more though – but it’s not as much fun.)

I do use Foursquare to “ding” a restaurant or establishment for really lousy service.   I have done this three or four times. It gives me a chance to vent, tastefully though.

Downsides of this game

There are a few negatives – people you are connected to know where you are, what you eat, what you do.  It’s a little more personal then Facebook in some ways. So, just be sure that the people you are friends with are the type of people who can be trusted with this information.

Retailers and vendors should check their Foursquare comments at least once a week, to stay alert to customer feedback.

Everyone should try this free app – some of you will get hooked.

Turn Facebook into a Point of Sale

Wow Bao, a Chicago-based Lettuce Entertain You Enterprise, Inc. restaurant concept specializing in steamed Asian buns, announced the launch of a new “Online Ordering” tab on its Facebook page that allows fans to order their takeout or delivery meal right from the social media site. The application was developed by Exit41, a leading provider of web, mobile and call center ordering applications and services for the restaurant industry.

“With the addition of our Online Ordering tab on Facebook, we’ve just made it even easier for our most loyal fans to order our food,” said Geoff Alexander, vice president and managing partner, Wow Bao. “This is a tremendous opportunity for us to really engage with and reward our fans, plus attract new fans with the powerful, viral nature of Facebook.”

On Wow Bao’s Online Ordering tab, fans can browse a variety of the restaurants’ most popular menu items (everything from BBQ Pork Bao to Homemade Fresh Ginger Ginger Ale), easily add selected items to their cart, and then seamlessly complete the transaction on the Wow Bao online ordering site. The application features real-time integration with the restaurant point of sale system for up-to-date pricing, taxes and menu item availability.

Exit41 will be launching Facebook ordering for its restaurant customers, which include some of the world’s leading fast casual, casual dining and fine dining brands.

Exit41 also has aggressive near-term plans to enhance the application with features including the ability for fans to share their favorite menu items with their friends, “Like” them, and find “Top-Liked” products across their network, and the ability for restaurants to instantly reward fans based on their order frequency.

“Adding online ordering to their Facebook page opens up a huge opportunity for restaurants to gain exposure to the millions of Facebook users,” said Joseph Gagnon, chief executive officer, Exit41. “Think of it — there is nothing more social than food and with this enhancement we have now fully integrated the restaurant into the social graph.”

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.