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EPoS, or electronic point of sale, has been a reality in fast food outlets and hotel chains for many years. However, despite the best efforts of the...

EPoS, or electronic point of sale, has been a reality in fast food outlets and hotel chains for many years. However, despite the best efforts of the EPoS industry to convince the pub trade of the benefits, pubs have been slow to take up the system. According to research undertaken for The Publican Newspaper's Market Report 2000 survey, only 23 per cent of all pubs have an EPoS system. Managed estates are by far the most likely to have systems in place - out of 100 managers, 70 per cent had EPoS. Freehouse owners and tenants are least likely - for example, just 43 freetraders out of 289 claimed to use the system.There is also a link between EPoS and turnover. Pubs with an annual turnover of £400,000 or more are almost 10 times more likely to have an EPoS system than those with a turnover below £100,000. While the EPoS suppliers would love to argue that this proves its value to the business, the reality is probably more complex. Pubs with a lower turnover would probably be hard pushed to justify the expenditure on an EPoS system, and may be less likely to reap the benefits. The higher turnover pubs tend to be those with more employees to manage and a stronger food business, both of which are areas where the benefits of EPoS are most apparent. However, it may also be that many pubs, particularly those run by single operators, reject EPoS on grounds of cost or complexity without properly considering the benefits. Mark Isaac, sales manager for Zonal Retail Data Systems, believes this to be the case. The company has installed its systems in a range of pubs, from single sites to multiple operators such as JD Wetherspoon. “All pubs need EPoS to control their business and staff,” said Isaac. “If you're a one-off operator the issue is when does it become economic?” That point may come sooner than might be anticipated, and any pub with a reasonably busy trade and a number of people working behind the bar is likely to see the benefits quite quickly.

CostLike any investment, the cost of an EPoS systems is a “how long is a piece of string” question, depending on the needs of the business and the type of system chosen. However, Isaac estimates that for a single pub, as a “ball-park figure” an investment of £10,000 should provide a basic three till system. Zonal's experience has been that, depending on the nature of the business, a pub should see an annual improvement in gross profit of between 1.5 and four per cent as a direct result of the tighter business controls EPoS provides.

Behind the bar EPoS records every item sold from behind the bar, which provides very accurate stock control. There are many advantages, but most people would cite the fact that the pub knows exactly how much has been sold, what is in stock, and so what is needed. Isaac cautions that some systems only reconcile stock at the end of the session or end of the day - real time EpoS offers the advantage of knowing actual stock levels at all times“You can also negotiate with suppliers from a position of strength if you know which products sell well, and when. For example, EPoS analysis might show you that a new product with a 30 per cent margin has taken sales from an existing line with a 50 per cent margin, so although it is selling well is actually costing you money.”

Food For customers, EPoS provides the advantages of running a tab. Since all the tills are linked, customers can have a drink at the bar and then have their account transferred to the restaurant or dining area. Food and drinks ordered can be consolidated into a single bill at the end of the meal. Waiting staff benefit by being able to key in the food order at the till and have it print out automatically in the kitchen, saving time.

Cash control EPoS gives the pub the ability to take credit cards and even provide cashback if wanted. There is an instant record of exactly what money has been taken, and through which till. For longer-term financial planning, the EPoS data can be transferred into accountancy and financial software and used to help develop the business. PromotionsThe system can deal with promotional vouchers, quantifying which are most successful.

Staff controlsEPoS data tells you when the pub is busy and so enables better planning of staff shifts and rotas. The data also has traceability, providing a clear record of each transaction at every till. Staff have their own access codes, so in the event of concerns about honesty there is a clear record of exactly what cash was in the till, and who accessed it.

Business growth You can only be in one place at one time. If the business grows, the system can be extended to several pubs, and all the business data collated at a single terminal. If you ever feel confident enough to leave the business long enough for a holiday you can even access the data from a lap-top on the beach!

SupportZonal recommends the following:• Use a recognised supplier• The system you buy should be capable of expansion as the business grows• The supplier should offer full after sales support for the installation.

EPoS: beyond the basicsAs well as the day-to-day advantages which EPoS systems bring to running a pub, the information which is being gathered can potentially provide you with a clear picture of individual customers - the times they visit and the types of dishes the like - as well as the overall patterns of your business - when you are busiest, the types of promotion which work best. Potentially, this information can be used in a variety of way to help develop marketing and business-building strategies - so called “data mining”

Related topics: Other operators

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