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Square and Toast each make point-of-sale systems designed specifically for restaurants. Both are powerful, flexible platforms that can take orders in a variety of settings, sync the kitchen with the front-of-house, process payments and grow with a restaurant as its needs change over time.
Toast is our pick: Its software and hardware both have features Square’
s products don’t. But Square is still a good choice for many restaurants, especially those needing a low-cost option.
Toast’s monthly fee typically includes hardware.
Square’s monthly fee does not include hardware costs.
Restaurants with complex needs.
Restaurants on a budget.
Hardware lineup and pricing
Hardware pricing is included in custom pricing.
Square has financing options available for hardware purchases.
Payment processing cost
Toast uses quote-based pricing.
Average. Contracts for new customers typically range from one to three years.
Excellent. No contracts. Pay monthly and cancel without penalty.
Excellent. Toast provides 24/7 live customer support on every subscription level.
Good. Paid plans have 24/7 live support; free plan has limited hours.
Overall winner: Toast
In a head-to-head matchup, Toast comes out ahead. The company only makes POS systems for the restaurant industry, a focus that shines through in a host of details like 24/7 customer service for all plans, hardware built to withstand tough restaurant conditions and a buffet of online ordering tools to employ. It’s also NerdWallet’s pick for best restaurant POS.
Square’s POS system for restaurants also comes with a solid set of features and hardware. It doesn’t require long-term contracts and its pricing is simple and transparent. The free version of Square’s POS software is a standout option and can be a feasible long-term solution for some restaurants.
Prices for Square software, hardware and payment processing are clearly shown online and are generally easy to understand. The payment processing cost of 2.6% plus 10 cents for in-person purchases is comparable to other popular payment processors. In addition, you aren’t required to sign any long-term contracts, leaving you free to walk away without penalty if you’d like.
While Toast gives price estimates for different software packages and for its hardware, you won’t know your actual costs, including payment processing rates, unless you get a quote. New customers can expect to sign contracts lasting from one to three years. Toast’s Starter Kit does have transparent costs and is easier to compare, though it might not be the right fit for your restaurant. It includes:
A POS terminal, payment and router for $799.
Monthly cost of $69 per month.
Payment processing rate of 2.49% plus 15 cents per in-person transactions (3.89% plus 15 cents for American Express cards).
Both companies offer multiple ways to connect digitally with customers, including:
Online ordering pages with access to commission-free delivery services supported by each company.
In-store ordering using table-specific QR codes.
Integration with customer loyalty programs.
Toast offers additional services, like the option to join its TakeOut app, which is similar to DoorDash or Grubhub. Toast also directly integrates with more third-party delivery companies than Square, giving restaurant owners maximum flexibility to use the services that work best for their business.
Best on a budget
While Square and Toast both have free versions of their POS system, Square’s has more features, like access to a free version of Square’s online ordering platform and basic team management tools like clocking in and out. In addition, you can keep hardware costs down if you already own an iPad. While restaurants with more complex needs might need more features, Square’s free version is a good fit for new establishments or for those with a smaller list of needs, like a coffee shop.
Most powerful features
If you need a POS system that can handle menu courses, multiple locations or highly customizable menus, both Square and Toast have you covered. But Toast has a number of unique features that can take on even more complex demands. For example, it has its own robust inventory management software, whereas with Square you’ll need to rely on a third-party integration for more advanced features, like tracking food waste. Toast also offers stronger reporting tools.
Both companies have desktop terminals, handheld devices and kitchen display systems, or KDS. However, Toast wins this category because:
While Square’s handheld device can accept payments and run Square’s standard POS, it does not run the restaurant POS.
Toast’s handheld device, called Go 2, can fit in large pockets, has a battery that can last all day and works well in outdoor light.
Square’s KDS uses an iPad, whereas Toast’s is a proprietary design built to withstand kitchen conditions. It also supports multiple languages.
Toast has a self-order kiosk. Square only supports self-order through QR codes — something Toast also offers.
Toast provides 24/7 customer support for all subscription levels, including its free version, something Square does not. Toast also offers onsite and remote setup and staff training.
Other restaurant POS systems to consider
If you rely on capturing data to make your business better, Lightspeed should be on your shortlist. It offers features like powerful inventory management software that feeds into its detailed reporting tools to track profit margins, reduce waste costs and get alerts when stock runs low. Another way this POS system uses data creatively is identifying which servers stand out and who might need more training.
TouchBistro is packed with useful features, including some that Toast doesn’t have. It comes with reservation management software — something you’ll need from a third party if you use Toast. The POS system also includes images and upselling suggestions, giving service staff useful context quickly.
The author owned shares of Square at the original time of publication.