Modern EPoS - getting to the point
Modern EPoS systems do so much more than simply tot up the bill. Nigel Huddleston looks at how new technology can boost business efficiency and effectiveness As the range of products and services offered by pubs grows, along with customer expectations of professionalism and quality, the role of technology in making things run smoothly and efficiently has taken on greater importance.
The earliest EPoS systems were nothing more than electronic versions of old-fashioned tills that totted up prices. Nowadays those are little more than museum pieces, superseded by kit that can integrate table plans, look at stock control, provide customer feedback, capture orders and take payments.
But while newer systems offer an increasingly dazzling number of functions, they often use high-street consumer hardware such as iPads and other tablets, bringing with them inbuilt familiarity for new staff who often use the same technology to stream music or update their social media feeds, which, therefore, helps to minimise training time.
Part of the infrastructure
Stuart McLean, chief executive of technology specialist Zonal, says that modern EPoS systems should be viewed holistically rather than in isolation. “For operators to get the most out their EPoS it should be part of the overall technology infrastructure and shouldn’t be viewed as a standalone system,” he says.
Zonal’s kit integrates an EPoS system with a suite of software tools that do all of the above. Its Purchase to Pay tool manages stock, matching delivery notes to invoices and providing real-time business information, particularly useful for multi-site operators.
The Tables tool provides visit history and loyalty information on individual customers, allows venues to make table turnarounds more slick, and assists in planning staff rotas.
The iOrder function is described by Zonal as a “virtual waiter”, allowing customers to order and pay through a secure connection from their table when there’s a rush at the bar. The handheld iServe EPoS solution improves customer service by increasing time spent at tables through reductions in time spent going to the bar or kitchen.
“Every facet of a Zonal system is designed to enhance the guest experience from start to finish and support businesses, from small to large multiple site operators, to manage their business as effectively and efficiently as possible,” says McLean.
The company provides on-site training and tailored e-learning modules targeted at multiple operators.
Channel Islands-based Liberation Group used Zonal for a high-tech loyalty programme which has generated huge growth in customer numbers.
Liberation business support manager Francis Falvey says: “More than half our trading business is now achieved through our loyalty scheme. We have become much more productive as a result. Investing in Zonal’s loyalty solution has paid for itself already.”
An integrated EPoS system represents a major investment for any pub business, and there are key considerations to take into account when deciding what to go with.
Stuart McLean, boss of technology specialist Zonal, thinks one of the most important considerations is for pubs to take a long-term view when buying technology solutions. “Operators need to be sure that any EPoS system will be fit for purpose not just today but in five and 10 years’ time. An effective system drives efficiencies and reduces costs.
"It is there to enhance the customer experience at every step of their journey — from website to booking a table, to being served and settling a bill.
“Happy customers drive loyalty, sales and profits, so investing in an integrated EPoS system is essential to business growth.”
Ease of use
Casio Electronics supplied the Stadia venue in Norwich, which includes a sports bar and the Bierhaus German pub, with its V-R7000 Hospitality Cloud EPoS solution.
Venue managing director Steven King said ease of use was a major plus point in choosing the Casio option.
“Accurate finger recognition and tracking is key to fast and precise order taking,” says King. “We found that Casio’s touch-screen sensitivity backed by its larger, vivid screen was far superior, so we placed an order for eight across the venue.”
Installation was handled by EPoS supplier MicroTill and the “plug and play” design of the system meant there was no awkward PC set-up involved.
The cloud-based approach allows managers to access business reports both on- and off-site and King uses the information it supplies to offer staff incentives.
“Not only can I sit in my office six miles away and see how sales are going, or call up that day’s top-selling item, I can view who the top servers are and reward them accordingly,” he says.
Venue manager Kerry Hale adds: “The back-of-house system is simply amazing. It’s just a couple of clicks to upload new items, add a promotion for the night, or change prices.
I can do it remotely by accessing the management console and even via my phone while sitting in the bar.”
Events in the bar can also be uploaded straight to Facebook or Twitter using the system.
Cloud technology takes flight
One of the top buzz-words of the technological world of today is the cloud.
It’s a word that creates an image of files and data being stored somewhere in the ether, but what it actually means is a service that uses the internet to transfer and keep information on vast shared servers.
It provides the advantages of keeping space free on users’ individual PCs and provides an automatic backup, so that files can be retrieved should anything go wrong with the kit on site.
Many big web-based businesses offer cloud-based services, including Apple’s iCloud, Microsoft Onedrive and Google Drive, on which many readers may already store personal files such as music and photographs. But we’re also seeing the emergence of bespoke cloud services that are specific to the pub trade.
One such service is Intelligent POS, developed by Robin Knox and Paul Walton as a low-cost, iPad and cloud-based EPoS system which is operated through a free-to-download app.
“Intelligent POS allows business owners to remotely monitor their commercial activity and stock, manage staffing levels and alter products and offers in a timely, on-demand basis,” says chief executive Robin Knox.
The main benefit over a traditional pub-specific EPoS system is cost, he adds. Prices start from £39 a month for a single iPad terminal and £29 a month for additional devices. “The software comes with UK-based support which runs seven days a week,” adds Knox.
“The programming team behind the app is made up of the best Scottish talent available which means it is continually improved to adapt to the needs and demands of customers while remaining ahead of the curve in technological skill.”
Intelligent POS claims to have been the first British company to launch an iPad-based till system, though others have followed. Big technology companies from the US and European operators such as Germany’s Orderbird and Russia’s Tillypad XL have also attempted to take flight in the UK.
Knox thinks Intelligent POS’ size is a benefit, not a drawback. “The Intelligent POS software now competes alongside large American EPoS providers, but it is a much leaner operation than its larger competitors and as such is able to boast a much more resilient and adaptable market position should a price battle occur.
“The majority of Intelligent POS customers to date have been young and start-up businesses in the hospitality and retail sector looking to minimise initial business costs.”
But Knox also says the system is scalable for multiple operators and “can be used in high turnover businesses with 100 sites as well as high demand businesses with 50 tills in one location”.
He adds: “EPoS is essential for any customer-facing business,” and offers general pointers on what pubs should look out for.
“The right system is quick and efficient — it can monitor sales, GP percentages, manage stock, check staffing levels, alter products, and offers, all remotely. It is the means to access vital data and information to manage a business and make informed decisions in real time.”
But as well as fledgling outfits knocking on the door with cutting-edge software, there are others where marketplace experience may say as much about their suitability for use in a pub environment.
The Stonegate pub company, along with other hospitality operations such as The Restaurant Group, Pret a Manger and Costa Coffee, uses Toshiba EPoS systems.
Toshiba says its products and services come with a “retail-hardened design and robustness” that offers reliability in “mission-critical”
The kit is especially suitable for multiple operators, the company says, with design that can complement branding, a wider screen than normal to increase display options, and an intuitive, quick-to-learn operation which makes the most efficient use of staff time. It also puts forward durability as a plus point, with a cash drawer that can last for more than seven years.
Essex-based 3R Telecom has been in the EPoS business for 16 years and puts heavy emphasis on its kit’s reporting functions, which enable both multi- and single-site operators to access real-time data to monitor the performance of the business.
It helps companies to observe trading patterns to allow them to make quick decisions on products, prices and promotions to maximise their effectiveness and profit potential.
Managers can personalise their screen designs and integrate products that are unique to their business, such as promotions, daily specials and local dishes
on the menu.
The company also offers a Safeguard system which can monitor staff activity to identify any financial irregularities.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution for technology functions for pubs, but the range of companies offering different takes on cost, versatility and business control means most pubs should be able to find a system that suits their needs.