A properly set up POS system is a simple but beautiful thing to behold during a busy shift. Every interaction at the computer is fast and efficient which allows your team to spend more time with their most important task, taking care of their guests and ringing in the next order.

If I had to guess, most of our readers are happy with their current POS layouts and don’t really have a need to change it, but like anything there is always room to improve. Small changes can add up to easier training (POS is usually one of the harder areas to train a new staff member on) , higher revenue and better customer service. Keep reading, and you may pick up a couple of new tricks to help streamline your POS.

A Word of Caution:

Something to keep in mind is that there are many different POS companies on the market. It seems like every bar conference I attend I come across a handful of new POS companies that I’ve never heard of before. Some are cloud-based, some are in-house-server based.  Whichever you choose, most likely the data structure will be pretty similar. That being said, there can be slight differences on how each POS is structured and more importantly how the POS displays its information in reports.

Before you make any changes to the POS system, make sure that the changes will not only have a positive effect on the front of house interaction with the POS, but will also have a positive effect on your ability to understand and use your data when it comes to the reports that are generated. If you’re not completely sure how your POS will react to your changes, it’s a great idea to review some of your system’s resources (I like to use YouTube) or just reach out directly to your rep. They should be able to help you understand any downstream impacts of the changes you plan to make.

The Typical POS Data Structure:

  • The restaurant level is based of the restaurant’s unique location. If you had multiple restaurants, you would duplicate this structure for each restaurant. If you were operating a chain of restaurants, I would expect there to be a few layers on top of the restaurant level for territories, states, regions, etc.
  • Revenue centers can be broken down into sections like retail, special events, Lunch, dinner, etc.
  • Categories are usually where the front of the house starts entering customer orders. When you first log into the POS the first screen you usually see is a table map or a list of open checks (depending on the POS) and a list of categories. (In the example below, we see Fast bar, Bourbon, Vodka, Gin, Cocktails A-F, Cocktails G-M)
  • Items are typically what show up on the order ticket as well as the customer receipt.

Note: Not shown are “Modifiers” which are typically tables of “modifications” that can be associated with items. For example you could have a set of modifiers that are associated with cooking temperatures for steak. That table could also be associated with cooking temperatures for Hamburgers, fish or any other item that requires taking temperatures.

Here’s a mockup of an example screen you might see when you first login to your POS:

Part of the screen will show a visual representation of where guests might be seated, and the screen may also show a list of categories.


10 Tips for Optimizing your POS Data

Understanding the POS data structure is not necessary to make changes, but it does help to have a mental picture of how everything is connected. Below are 10 tips for fine tuning your POS buttons and make you a super star of a manager to your staff.

1) Make sure all of your items are in the POS.

It’s pretty embarrassing when the bartender has to make up a price for the bourbon that is on the shelf and the customer mentions that the price was different yesterday. It could be even more embarrassing when a bartender makes up a price of $8 for Johnnie Walker Blue Label and ends up selling the whole bottle because they had to guess on the price.

2) Weed out Old Buttons.

If you have an old seasonal menu, take the buttons out of the active POS screen so your front of house staff doesn’t have to dig through retired items on a busy night. This also goes for old inventory items: beer, wine, bottles of wine, all of it! Get rid of the clutter and save your staff a few clicks.

Usually there is a way to deactivate or “archive” the button without deleting it. I would be very cautious about deleting an item or changing a button name as it will likely affect historical reports. Create new buttons for new items and archive the old. (Or if you really want to delete them, ask the owner or general manager about this first to ensure they are not still generating reports that rely on that information.)

3) Make Logical Categories

Below is an obvious exaggeration of categories, but there are a few in there that are pretty common. (See anything familiar?)

The ones above that I see pretty commonly are things like “Bourbon Cocktails”, “Tequila Cocktails” and “Rum Cocktails”. They may not seem like terrible categories, but take a moment to think about all of the knowledge that you have as a bartending professional and how long it took you to obtain it. Someone new to hospitality may not know that a Negroni is a gin cocktail, or that a Paloma is a tequila drink. They would not know what to do with themselves if someone ordered a Trinidad Sour.

Training and education are always a good idea, but you could also make it a little easier to find by organizing the categories into Cocktails A-F, Cocktails G-M, and Cocktails N-Z for example. It’s very easy to train and hopefully avoids confusion.

4) Split Up Large Categories

This should be pretty obvious, but if you have 100 different whiskies in your inventory, your main category should not be whiskey. It’s going to drive your staff crazy to shuffle through 20 pages of buttons in your POS. Think about breaking them into logical categories, Bourbon, Rye, Corn, Scotch, Etc. You could also take a different approach of dividing them into Whiskies A-F, Etc.

Even though we are talking about data structure, there is still creative freedom on how you set things up! Talk to your staff to see what makes the most sense to them, but remember that you’re looking for logical, objective, and easily trainable systems.

5) Use Color if Possible

This will definitely depend on which POS company that you are working with, but many modern POS companies will allow you to associate colors to POS buttons. One way that you can utilize colors for your POS is to assign colors to identify subcategories in larger categories. This makes it very quick for your bartender to find and select the right item. Here’s a mockup example where:

  • Yellow = London Dry Gin
  • Orange = Old Tom
  • Purple = Genever
  • Blue = Other

6) Create a Fast Bar button

Chances are you already have a ‘Fast Bar’ screen. Maybe you even pulled a report from your POS to identify the top selling bar items and used that to choose what’s on the screen. But did you actually consult your bartenders as well? It’s worth asking – changes are pretty good that they will have ideas you hadn’t yet considered.

7) Streamline the Ordering Process

Think about ways that you can eliminate as many button pushes as possible. I know this is obvious, but you’d be surprised how little changes in this area can make a difference. If you want to get a staff member excited, ask them what item they hate ringing up because there are too many buttons – and how they would improve it. Once they are on board, ask them what else. They will be excited to hear you listening to their suggestions and you’ll get the benefit of improving the system for everyone.

Be sure to check with a few different people to validate the changes before you actually implement them. The result will probably be a small laundry list of changes you can make that can make a big difference all together.

8) Activate New Buttons Before Launching

Again, this seems obvious but you’d be surprised how easily it can be missed. Be sure to activate POS buttons for any new menu items before launching the item(s) to the public. In fact, consider activating the buttons a week beforehand (or even just a few days) to get the staff used to the location of the new items. This can also also help you to test out items to make sure they have all of the appropriate modifiers associated to each item.

9) Communicate Any Changes that were made in the POS

Bartenders and servers input hundreds of orders every week and they get used to where each button is located. From categories to modifiers, an experienced staff member could most likely ring in orders with their eyes closed.

As you can imagine, it can be very frustrating for them to suddenly notice things are different – especially if they hadn’t been warned. Give them a heads up to let them know what changed so they won’t be surprised that first shift and start ringing in incorrect orders. (Granted, actually getting them to read that memo is an entirely different matter… Please let me know your tips for that!)

10) Agree on Portion Size and Price for all Modifiers

The perfect example of this is the modifier, “Add Chicken”. I know Chefs will often resist offering this modifier, but if you are going to offer it to guests, add it to the system and make it consistent. Agree on the exact price and portion size (For example, 6 oz Chicken Breast) so that when the modifier is used, it gives the guest (and the kitchen) a consistent experience.

There have been quite a few places where I’ve worked or consulted for that refuse to make this a policy. As a result the front of house staff have to size up the chef’s mood or know that the sous chef will fill the order, but the executive chef won’t do it. The result is unnecessary confusion and potential for an inconsistent guest experience.

In the bar world the most common examples of this are the “up” charge and the “double”. Whether you offer it or not, make sure that you have communicated the details with the staff and be consistent.

I hope you found these tips helpful and hopefully a little easier to understand. I’m sure you won’t be bringing up POS data structure at your next cocktail party, but I hope that you won’t go screaming out of the room when someone brings up the subject either. If you have a few tips that you like to add, I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.

Chris Tunstall

Co-Founder of A Bar Above and career bartender and mixologist. I love experimenting, creating cocktails, and drinking Green Chartreuse.