Bar-i recently started working with a new client that has been using a free POS system with their bar. This POS system is genuinely free – there are no up-front fees for the software or ongoing fees for usage – and we’re amazed to discover that it’s been working very well for them. Most importantly, this system has considerably reduced their costs, allowing them to save a lot of money.
Choosing the right POS system is very important to the ongoing success of your bar. While there are many good options to choose from, these free systems rarely get discussed as a viable alternative. We felt it was important to share the knowledge we’ve gained from working with this new client so that you can make a more informed decision as to whether a free POS system may work well at your bar.
Background of the POS Landscape
Traditionally, restaurants and bars used paper when taking an order. However, this is a very inefficient system that offers no real benefits beyond providing a basic method to record orders. Over time, POS systems were adopted by the majority of bars and restaurants in order to leverage technological innovations and improve this aspect of their business.
POS systems offer several important automation benefits:
- They create standardized tickets that get sent directly to a printer in the kitchen. This prevents you from having to physically deliver a paper ticket to the cooks, saving your servers time.
- The standardized nature of these tickets improves efficiency and reduces the risk of errors.
- Guest checks are automatically generated meaning your customers get their bill promptly and all calculations happen automagically without the possibility of calculation errors.
- You receive detailed back-end reporting that automates a huge variety of tasks: Checking daily sales in real time or comparing sales between servers in the middle of a shift are two simpe examples. The ability to run period sales reports automates bookeeping and other important back of house functions.
Most profitable bars now use a modern touch screen POS system. In general, only dive bars and truly old-school establishments are still using paper tickets. The time savings, accuracy of POS tickets, and detailed reports you receive make using a POS system a no-brainer.
Challenges Associated with POS Systems
The majority of pain points experienced by modern POS systems are cost-related. The most popular systems from top suppliers such as Aloha can easily cost upwards of $10,000 just to get the system up and running at your bar. Periodic updates to the software and ongoing usage fees also contribute significant additional costs to your bar’s overhead.
Another challenge associated with POS systems is that their benefits often aren’t easy to measure. This can make it difficult to compare different systems when choosing a new POS for your bar.
A New Option – Cloud-Based POS Systems
Over the last 3-4 years, several companies have developed cloud-based POS systems which offer significantly lower up-front costs. POS Lavu is an example which has started to gain some traction in the industry.
Cloud-based systems work on iPads or tablets with calculations performed remotely in the cloud instead of using a touch screen linked to a server physically located in your bar.
The primary benefit to this option is that you won’t need a server and other expensive hardware since calculations happen remotely. As a result, setup costs are potentially significantly lower.
Cloud-based POS systems also work on a pricing model that charges you ongoing monthly fees for use of the software. Some of these systems start as low as a few hundred dollars a month, making them a potentially much more attractive option compared with spending upwards of $10,000 upfront just to get your POS system running.
To date, Bar-i’s experience working with bars using these cloud-based systems has been fairly limited. However, we’ve seen mixed results with our relatively small sample size.
Most high volume bars we work with have steered clear of cloud-based systems and some of the bars that use them have encountered the following problems:
- Small delay to every action – It often takes a second or so for each POS screen to load onto the iPad. This time delay gets compounded every time you need to access a new menu screen. This is frustrating for servers and very impractical in high volume settings due to the need to be fast to provide good service.
- Challenges with connectivity – Since all calculations are performed in the cloud, you’re screwed if you temporarily lose your internet connection. While different companies offer various offline options to circumvent this problem, vulnerability to internet connectivity remains a concern.
Free POS Systems
Our new client has been using SambaPOS. It is genuinely free to use. You still need a computer to run the software, but you can purchase an inexpensive PC. SambaPOS also supports common components such as touch screens and thermal printers. In most instances, you can purchase generic components that are relatively inexpensive. As a result, start-up costs are minimal compared with more traditional POS systems where you are locked into pricing.
A significant caveat with these free systems is that they typically require an IT person to install and set up your POS. Unless you’re particularly tech savvy, you’ll probably need a 3rd party IT professional to assist you with this. That said, once your system is up and running, the software is genuinely free so it may prove to be a very cost-effective option for your bar if you know a good local IT person.
Other free POS options to consider include:
- https://www.freerestaurantsoftware.com/ -- This is a “freemium” model. If you’re a brand new restaurant, you can start out with their free version and then upgrade to their premium for-fee version at a later date.
- http://floreantpos.org/ -- An open source system that is genuinely free to use, much like SambaPOS.
Bar-i would like to make the following disclaimers regarding free POS systems:
- Bar-i has no affiliation with SambaPOS or any other free system. We’re not recommending this product for all bars. We’re simply presenting this as an option to consider when evaluating new POS systems for your restaurant or bar.
- Currently, Bar-i only has 1 client using a free POS system. As a result, we have very limited experience with this model. While the bar is making this system work, we’ve encountered certain formatting issues when generating inventory reports. That being said, we’ve been able to solve these little niggling issues.
- In our extremely limited sample size, we’ve seen the free POS system to be successful and save our client a considerable amount of money. However, this is a very low volume bar. It’s unclear whether the system would be as successful with a high volume bar.
Useful POS System Resources
If you are looking to upgrade the POS system at your bar, follow the link below to view the most comprehensive list of POS providers we're ever come across:
This page contains a list of more than 50 different POS systems, and it allows you to filter by style of system. As a result, you might find it to be a useful selection tool as you’re evaluating different POS systems for your bar.
Share Your Experience Using Cloud-Based or Free POS Systems with Us
We’d love to hear some comments in the section below from bar owners who have been using either cloud-based POS systems or free POS systems such as SambaPOS. We’re very interested in hearing about your experience using these systems.
If you would like to learn more about how Bar-i can help you streamline your operations and maximize profits, please contact us today to schedule a free consultation.