Toast vs. Square: Which Is Right for Your Restaurant?

Each company offers a wide range of hardware options and has a point-of-sale system filled with features.
Kurt Woock
By Kurt Woock 
Updated
Edited by Sally Lauckner

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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.

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.

Deciding factors

Toast

Square

Better for

Restaurants with complex needs.

Restaurants on a budget.

Payment processing cost

  • 3.09-3.69% plus 15 cents per transaction, if you choose a pay-as-you-go plan.

  • 2.49% plus 15 cents for card-present transactions, if you pay for hardware upfront.

  • 3.50% plus 15 cents for card-not-present transactions, if you pay for hardware upfront.

  • 2.6% plus 10 cents for in-person transactions.

  • 2.9% plus 30 cents for online transactions.

  • 3.5% plus 15 cents for manually keyed transactions.

  • 3.3% plus 30 cents for invoices.

Monthly fees

  • $0 for Starter Kit plan.

  • $69 Point of Sale plan.

  • Custom plans available.

  • $0 for Square POS, Restaurant, Retail and Appointments Free plans.

  • $29 for Square Appointments Plus plan.

  • $60 for Square Restaurant Plus plan.

  • $69 for Square Appointments Premium plan.

  • $89 for Square Retail Plus plan.

  • $192 and up for Square Restaurant Essentials Bundle.

  • Custom pricing for Square Retail Premium plan.

Hardware cost

  • $799.20 for Handheld Starter Kit (but $0 if you agree to a higher processing fee).

  • $1,024.20 for Countertop Starter Kit (but $0 if you agree to a higher processing fee).

  • $1,339.20 for Guest Self-Service Starter Kit (but $0 if you agree to a higher processing fee).

  • $0 for Square magstripe-only card reader ($10 for each additional reader) or if using Tap to Pay for iPhone (iPhone not included).

  • $49 and up for Square Reader contactless and chip card reader.

  • $149 for Square Stand iPad POS or Square Stand Mount (iPad not included; monthly financing available).

  • $299 for Square Terminal mobile card reader with built-in printer (monthly financing available).

  • $799 for Square Register two-screen system (monthly financing available).

Contract length

Two-year contract for payment processing as part of starter kits.

No contracts. Pay monthly and cancel without penalty.

Customer service

24/7 phone and web messaging support for all plans.

Email, chat and online knowledgebase. Phone support (1-855-700-6000) available Monday to Friday, 6am to 6pm, PST.

Overall winner: Toast

Photo courtesy of 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.

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NerdWallet rating 

5.0

/5
NerdWallet rating 

5.0

/5
NerdWallet rating 

5.0

/5

Payment processing fees 

0.40% + 8¢

plus interchange, in-person; 0.50% + 25¢ plus interchange, online.

Payment processing fees 

2.6% + 10¢

in-person; 2.9% + 30¢ online.

Payment processing fees 

2.7% + 5¢

in-person; 2.9% + 30¢ online.

Monthly fee 

$0

Monthly fee 

$0

Starts at $0/month for unlimited devices and locations.

Monthly fee 

$0

Pricing

Winner: Square

Photo courtesy of Square.

Prices for Square software, hardware and payment processing are clearly shown online and are generally easy to understand. The payment processing cost 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.

Toast also offers different software packages and hardware, but there’s a contract. Toast’s Starter Kit does have transparent costs and is easier to compare, though it might not be the right fit for your restaurant. 

Online ordering

Winner: Toast

Photo courtesy of Toast.

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

Winner: Square

Photo courtesy of Square.

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. Square also offers Tap to Pay on iPhone, which lets merchants accept card payments using only a regular iPhone with the Square POS app. Customers hold their cards or their own iPhone wallets near the merchant's phone to pay.

Most powerful features

Winner: Toast

Photo courtesy of Toast.

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.

Hardware

Winner: Toast

Photo courtesy of Toast.

Both companies have desktop terminals, handheld devices and kitchen display systems, or KDS. However, Toast wins this category because:

  • Square’s handheld device can accept payments and run Square’s standard POS, but 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.

Customer service

Winner: Toast

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

Lightspeed

Pricing:

  • 2.6% plus 10 cents per in-person transaction.

  • 2.9% plus 30 cents for online transactions.

Why we like it: 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. It also uses data creatively to identify which servers stand out and who might need more training.

TouchBistro

Pricing: TouchBistro doesn’t offer payment processing services, though it does have a partnership with Chase Payment Solutions and other processors for customers who want the option. That route is available to U.S. customers only and integrates with the TouchBistro POS system. Other payment processing partners include Square, Barclaycard, Moneris, Worldpay, TSYS and Chase Payment Solutions (Canadian customers only). The processing fees you pay depend on the payment processor you pick.

Why we like it: TouchBistro is packed with useful features, including some that Toast doesn’t have. It comes with reservation management software (for an additional fee) — 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.

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