NerdWallet’s Best Restaurant POS Systems 2021

Restaurants should look for inventory tracking features, employee management tools and strong reporting capabilities.
Hillary CrawfordOct 21, 2021

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For restaurants, point-of-sale systems do much more than just accept credit and debit card payments. They also help with communication between the front and back of house, table and menu management, inventory tracking and sales reports.

The best options, listed below, are reliable, easy to use and packed with features that make day-to-day restaurant operations go smoothly. All of NerdWallet's top picks are also equipped with 24/7 customer support and tools for inventory management, table management and employee management.

Toast: Best overall

Software: Free and up.

Hardware: $799 for Toast’s Starter Kit, which includes a Toast Flex POS terminal, contactless card reader and router (no tablet required).

Payment processing: Quote-based.

Pros:

  • 24/7 support.

  • Free plan available for restaurants with one or two POS terminals.

  • In-house payroll software available.

  • Online ordering and customer loyalty programs are included in some plans.

  • In-house delivery platform available.

  • Built specifically for restaurants.

  • Offers 0% interest financing, subject to approval.

Con:

  • Closing your account before your contract term ends can be expensive.

Why we like it: Every element of Toast's POS system is designed in a restaurant-first way. Hardware options are made to withstand spills, grease and heat. These include self-serve kiosks, kitchen display systems, handheld POS systems and guest displays that let customers view orders. Its free plan also offers 24/7 support via email, live chat and phone, just like its higher-tier plans do.

Among other restaurant-specific features, Toast lets restaurants compare actual versus theoretical performance and add Toast Delivery Services to subscription plans. The in-house delivery service platform charges a flat fee for each order instead of a percentage of the order.

Toast runs on an Android operating system and recommends that clients use its hardware instead of their own tablets.

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Square for Restaurants: Best free plan

Software: Free and up.

Hardware: $1,269 and up for a Square Register Kit, which includes a Square register, cash drawer, receipt paper and receipt printer (no tablet required); tablet accessories are also available.

Payment processing: 2.6% plus 10 cents per in-person transaction; 2.9% plus 30 cents for online payments.

Pros:

  • Free plan available.

  • Compatible with iOS and Android devices.

  • Can pay for hardware in installments.

  • Plans are month-to-month and can be canceled without penalty.

  • In-house payroll software available.

  • Online ordering included.

Cons:

  • Free plan doesn’t include 24/7 support.

  • Customer loyalty program is an add-on for all plans.

Why we like it: The free version of Square for Restaurants comes equipped with a comprehensive list of features, including inventory management, menu management, table management and employee time tracking. Its site also recommends different hardware setups depending on the type of restaurant you have. The flexibility to scale the system, cancel your plan without fees and pay for hardware in installments makes it an exceptional option for new restaurants, even though the free plan doesn’t include 24/7 support.

Though Square can operate on Android tablets, the tablet accessories offered on its site are mostly compatible with iPads.

Square Restaurant POS

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on Square's website

Clover: Best for quick-service restaurants

Software: $69.95/month plus $9.95 per month for each additional device for table-service restaurants.

Hardware: $1,649 for the Station Solo, which accepts payments, prints receipts and includes a monitor screen (no tablet required).

Payment processing: 2.3% plus 10 cents per in-person transaction; 3.5% plus 10 cents per keyed-in transaction for table-service restaurants; can also choose from third-party payment processors.

Pros:

  • 24/7 customer support.

  • Plans are month-to-month with no cancellation fees.

  • Can pay for hardware in installments.

  • Table Service Restaurant plan lets you create a customer loyalty program.

  • Table Service Restaurant plan includes online ordering capabilities.

Con:

  • Cannot use existing tablets that weren’t bought through Clover.

Why we like it: Clover’s sleek hardware options make it a strong choice for quick-service restaurants that take customer payments at the counter. The handheld Clover Flex is ideal for curbside and delivery orders. Because employees can walk around with the device and accept payments, it can help shorten long lines too. The Table Service Restaurant plan also includes features like a customer loyalty program and online ordering that some competitors treat as add-ons. The company doesn’t offer its own kitchen display hardware, but you can sync information between front and back-of-house via a third-party app.

Clover runs on an Android operating system and does not let clients use tablets that weren’t purchased through the company.

Upserve POS: Best reporting capabilities

Software: $59/month and up plus $40-$60/terminal.

Hardware: $1,350 for a POS terminal with a monitor and card reader (no tablet required); tablet accessories are also available.

Payment processing: A flat-rate, quote-based fee.

Pros:

  • Compatible with both iOS and Android devices.

  • 24/7 support.

  • Offers 0% financing on software, hardware and implementation for qualified buyers.

  • Customer loyalty program comes with Pro and Pro Plus plans.

  • Built specifically for restaurants.

Con:

  • Upserve Inventory is an add-on in the Core plan.

  • Online ordering is an add-on for all plans.

  • Contract required; early termination fees apply.

Why we like it: Upserve, a POS system made specifically for restaurants, features a variety of reporting options that aren’t standard on other POS systems. For example, the system can automatically email a Daily Digest to the restaurant owner each morning to keep them in the loop on the previous day’s business. Other features include Reputation Management, which will collect all of the restaurant’s online reviews and report them back, and Restaurant Logbook, which establishes a clear line of communication between employees and managers. Employees use the logbook to provide feedback and ask questions, while managers answer those questions via the Upserve Live app.

Upserve has customizable solutions for bars, breweries, coffee shops, delis, quick-service restaurants and more. Its Training Mode setting walks new employees through the different workflows they need to know, making it easy to learn. The system supports a variety of iPads and Android tablets, but the accessories on its site are mostly tailored to iPads.

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Lightspeed Restaurant: Best for customizability

Software: Starts at $59/month (billed annually) plus $34/month per additional register.

Hardware: Quote-based; tablet accessories are also available.

Payment processing: 2.6% plus 10 cents per card-present transaction with Lightspeed Payments; can also choose from third-party payment processors.

Pros:

  • 24/7 support.

  • Compatible with hardware from different brands.

Cons:

  • Accounting integrations, customer loyalty programs and online ordering are add-ons for all plans.

  • Annual contracts are required for lower pricing.

Why we like it: While some POS systems strictly limit what hardware you can use, Lightspeed Restaurant allows restaurants to combine different brands’ restaurant-specific items in their hardware stack. This is especially ideal for restaurants with an existing collection of hardware. The system is a good fit for restaurants that want the freedom to choose a third-party payment processor, too.

Lightspeed is compatible with a variety of iPads and iPhones and is optimized for use with iOS systems. Its supported hardware page doesn’t list any Android tablets.

TouchBistro: Best locally installed option

Software: Starts at $69/month.

Hardware: Quote-based; tablet accessories are also available.

Payment processing: Quote-based if you use TouchBistro Payments; can also choose from third-party payment processors.

Pros:

  • 24/7 support.

  • Can pay for hardware in installments.

  • Built specifically for restaurants.

Cons:

  • Customer loyalty programs and online ordering are add-ons for all plans.

  • Contracts are automatically renewed and can't be terminated early; canceling an automatic renewal requires 30 days' notice.

Why we like it: For restaurants that haven’t warmed to the idea of a totally cloud-based POS system, TouchBistro is a solid option. It’s a hybrid POS, meaning it’s locally installed but data is still sent to the cloud. Though other cloud-based POS systems can accept payments in offline mode, the system will maintain other capabilities, like real-time reporting, in a Wi-Fi outage.

The system also has solutions for all types of restaurants, including food trucks, catering companies and bakeries. TouchBistro lets restaurants advertise their menu on a bigger screen via Apple TV, too. And since the POS system and digital menu board are synced, staff can make changes to the menu in real-time.

TouchBistro is an iPad POS system. It’s compatible with most iPad models but not Android devices.

How to choose a POS system

A payment processor allows you to accept card payments, an important capability for most restaurants. Some POS providers offer their own payment processing services, while others give you the option to connect with various third-party processors.

All restaurants need to take, process and manage orders from customers. The best POS system for your restaurant will allow you to manage your front-of-house operations in the way that makes everything run smoothly, whether that includes tableside ordering, splitting and authorizing checks, communicating with the kitchen or managing your floor plan.

A restaurant POS system should allow you to customize the menu, track inventory and note modifications, special offers and sold-out items.

A good system allows you to set up employee access and permissions, schedule shifts, let employees clock in and out and split tips.

Strong reporting capabilities are a must. Look for actual versus theoretical cost reports on food and labor to find opportunities for improving margins. Ideally you should be able to run reports on your restaurant’s different sales channels to see how each channel is performing. This can tell you which dishes are selling best in-house versus takeout, for example.

Many restaurant POS systems allow you to connect to additional internal or third-party tools, such as online ordering apps, email marketing software and payroll services.

Consider what kind of customer support is offered by restaurant POS providers. Some providers have phone, chat and email support, as well as implementation and training services. If your restaurant is open late at night, go with a product that offers 24/7 support.

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Teddy Nykiel and Maddie Shepherd contributed reporting to this article.