A modern point-of-sale (POS) system will help you do far more than take orders and process payments. But to get the most out of your POS, you need to understand how to use it properly.
If you run a small business, using a POS system can be as easy as downloading an app onto your iPad and linking it up to a card reader. However, for larger businesses with more advanced hardware and software needs, using the POS might be a little more complex.
Fortunately, whether you run a food truck or a multi venue restaurant, the learning curve isn't likely to be too steep. From setting it up to making that all-important first sale, this guide breaks down the process into easy-to-follow steps to get you live and trading in no time.
Read on to discover what a POS is, to learn the difference between its hardware and software, and to figure out how to install and use your small business POS system.
Alternatively, you can skip to specific sections using the menu below.
How to Set Up a POS System
After you've settled on your point of sale system, it's time to get it live. No matter which type of POS system you've opted for, by following the simple steps we've outlined below, your system will be up and running in no time at all.
Setting up a POS:
1. Install and Launch Your Software
How you launch your software will largely depend on which system you decide to use: on-premises or cloud-based.
If your POS solution is cloud-based, simply start by downloading the app onto your device, connecting it to the internet, and entering your account credentials. Then, you should be ready to connect your POS system to the rest of your business's hardware. If you're setting up a traditional POS, the software will already be installed into your server.
In both cases, the point of sale will then ask you to create an account or enter your credentials, so it's useful to have these on hand before you launch the software.
2. Connect Your Hardware
If you run a pop-up, on-the-go, or card-only business, your POS hardware needs are likely to be minimal. Usually, a basic iPad and card reader setup will be enough to help you fulfill orders. However, receipt printers, iPad stands, and cash drawers may also be useful add-ons, depending on your business's point of sale needs.
If you're only opting for a smartphone or tablet-based POS, connecting the hardware should be pretty straightforward. Most card readers are Bluetooth enabled so are able to be linked to your tablet without wires.
If your business is in need of a slightly more robust POS system, begin by connecting these devices to a power source and Wi-Fi. Then, follow the instructions listed on each device when connecting them to the central POS system.
3. Set Up Your Inventory
Once you've set up your hardware and created an account, it's time to enter your product details.
If your business offers a limited selection of products, you can enter these in manually. If you manage a larger or more complex inventory, however, you should be able to upload these items in bulk to save time.
Lots of solutions will also allow you to add products using a comma-separated value (CVS) file too. This can be a great time-saving measure because it lets businesses import a large number of products at once.
4. Enter User Accounts and Permissions
During your software setup, POS users should be created. These accounts ensure every employee can log in to the system and be given the correct permissions.
When completing this step, you need to create a user account for each employee that will be using the POS. In doing so, you'll need to enter their first and last name, before assigning them to a user group based on their position or level of seniority. Depending on the provider you're with, you may also be asked to add a profile image to each user.
5. Set Up Payments Methods
Most payment processors will be able to integrate directly into your point of sale. To link them up, you usually need to go into your settings to select, edit and remove payment methods. If you're only looking to accept major credit cards, you should be fine. Most POS systems and card terminals accept these as default.
If you're interested in accepting cryptocurrency or web payments through platforms like Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Paypal, however, we recommend seeing which payment solutions are permitted on your system before you invest in the software.
6. Integrate Your POS With Other Software
Also known as an add-on, a POS integration is a direct connection between your point of sale and another piece of business software. Every business will require slightly different software integrations. However, some common add ons include payroll, analytics reporting, accounting, and customer relationship management (CRM)
Integrating POS software like Toast and Square into your existing network of tools and apps should be super easy, especially if your system has an in-built (application programming interface) API system. It's normally as easy as downloading an app and syncing your programs.
7. If Needed, Seek Help From Your POS Supplier
Most businesses will be able to set up POS systems themselves. However, if your business is larger, has more complex requirements, or operates over multiple venues, it might be best to seek external help from your provider.
Most point-of-service companies will offer a service to help your system get up and running. This could include help with configuring your settings, moving over data, uploading products, and managing integrations. Besides assisting with setup, many vendors will also offer training options and help you integrate the solution with other applications.
If this is something that might interest you, it's definitely worth getting in touch with your supplier.
What's the Difference Between Hardware & Software?
A POS system is comprised of two basic elements: hardware, and software. If your business is using a point of sale for the first time, you might be unaware of the key differences between the two.
Simply put, POS hardware refers to the physical components of the system, such as the tablet, touch screen monitor, terminal, card reader, cash drawer, receipt printer, or barcode scanner.
POS software, on the other hand, is the program that your business relies upon to manage orders and take payments. Aside from these core purposes, POS software also allows businesses to carry out more advanced functions like sales reporting, inventory management, employee training, and multi-store management.
While every POS system includes software, not every business will require hardware. For instance, if your enterprise is online-only, you won't need any physical devices to help you manage and process card payments – e-commerce software will be enough.
How to Use POS Software
POS software lies at the heart of your point of sale technology – just think of it as its core operating system. Learning how to use your POS's software is the most instrumental part of mastering the tech. When using a point of sale system, here are three steps most business owners will need to follow.
- Logging orders – To ring in an order, you simply select the designated items from your system, adjust their amount if necessary, and then they will be logged into the system.
- Taking payments – While accepting payments is more of a hardware step, your POS system can help you cash orders off and calculate change if necessary. You can also adjust which payment methods you take in your POS's settings.
- Printing receipts – How you print receipts will depend on the software you are using, but you'll normally be able to carry out the action by checking the ‘last receipts' section of your system.
These are the basic steps involved in using a POS system. Since most businesses have different POS needs, however, we break down how to use industry-specific point of sale systems below.
How to Use a Retail POS
Retail POSs are the most commonly used systems in the US. Due to the needs of retail operations, this type of point of sale is generally designed to manage and process sales.
Aside from ringing through orders, retail POSs can also help you to carry out a number of useful functions including:
- Inventory management
- Customer tracking
- Sales reports
- Online ordering
- Customer relationship management (CRM)
- Quick keys
- Returns, refunds, and store credit
To use a retail POS, you simply need to scan the barcode of a product or log it into the till. Then, once the order is placed, you can take the payment and finalize the transaction.
If you choose to utilize its additional functions, how you use them will depend on the needs of your business and your chosen software. For more detailed guidance on how to use them, we recommend referring to user instructions or getting in touch with your provider.
How to Use a Hospitality POS
A hospitality POS is a point of sale solution that's been designed with restaurants, bars, or cafes in mind.
Since service businesses operate differently from retail businesses, hospitality POSs are less centered around products and more around menu items. They're also normally hooked up to the kitchen to improve order fulfillment and communication across the venue.
Lots of hospitality POS systems will let you customize menu items, split tabs, and enter additional information like table numbers. To facilitate these extra functions, some hospitality-specific POS features include:
- Fast order taking
- Menu management
- Table management
- Kitchen displays
- Tab payment
- Pour control
Learn more about sector-specific capabilities in our comprehensive guide to POS features and the best hospitality systems on the market in our guide to the best restaurant POS systems.
How to Use POS Hardware
POS hardware refers to all the physical elements of your POS system. From printing receipts to storing cash, hardware can be used to extend the use of your point of sale in a number of ways.
While most businesses will benefit from hardware components, every business has slightly different needs. With this in mind, before purchasing and installing hardware devices, it's important to factor in the unique requirements of your business.
Here's a summary of the main types of POS hardware available, as well as guidance on how to use them.
- Touch screen monitor – Whether you decide to use a specialized POS terminal or a tablet or smartphone, to use your touch screen terminal you need to install or launch POS software before connecting it up to other hardware devices.
- Cash drawer – Cash drawers are removable trays that keep your money organized. If your business takes cash payments, you can use them to store your money and keep it safe throughout the day.
- Card readers – To use a card machine, you enter the correct amount into the terminal, press enter, and then take the payment from the customer. Most card readers will then generate a receipt that can be used as proof of sale.
- Receipt printers – Before you use your receipt printer, you need to fill it with a roll of paper from the top of the machine. Then, once it's connected to the rest of your POS setup, press the ‘start' button and it should produce receipts automatically.
- Barcode scanners – To scan an item, you simply take the hand-held scanning wand and point the red LED light at the selected barcode. Once the barcode has been successfully scanned, it should be registered in the system.
What are the Key Benefits of POS Systems?
Thankfully, the days of bulky cash registers are long behind us. From restaurant to liquor store-specific POSs, modern point-of-sale systems can now help all sorts of businesses to do far more than sales processing. Here are just some advantages of using a POS system:
- Save time – With a streamlined POS, orders can be taken in seconds, improving convenience for staff and decreasing customer wait time. In fact, research from TouchBistro estimates POS systems can save businesses 35.15 hours a week on average.
- Increase earnings – By improving the efficiency of your service, and using smart features, it's likely your business's bottom line will increase.
- Monitor your performance – By utilizing smart insights, you can keep an eye on your business's performance and adjust actions when necessary.
- Improve customer service – Customer service can become a greater priority with the help of specialized CRM tools. With 70% of customers never making a return visit to the same store or restaurant twice, these capabilities shouldn't be slept on.
- Manage employees – Looking for an extra way to keep an eye on staff? By using employee management software, POS systems can help you to do just that.
What's the Best POS System to Use?
Every business is unique and will have slightly different point-of-sale requirements. Therefore, while some POS options may be stronger overall, it's important to factor in your business's specialism, size, budget, and needs when landing on your ideal solution.
With this being said, if you haven't yet settled on a POS system, we would recommend using Square. According to our own research, Square POS trumps its competition in both affordability and usability. Moreover, its streamlined features and add-ons also make it suitable for just about any business – from convenience stores to wine bars.
If it's a retail-specific POS you're after, however, Vend POS is another great option. With the point of sale boasting powerful CRM and inventory tools, it is one of the most popular options out there for traders. Clover POS also provides slick, feature-rich systems for retail and hospitality businesses, but its support options aren't as strong as Vend's or Squares.
For a more thorough summary of the solutions, their prices, and their pros and cons, read our guide to the best POS systems for small businesses.
Best Restaurant POS for:
Tech.co's verdict to help you identify the most suitable choice for your restaurant
The typical lowest starting price. The lowest price available for your business will depend on your needs.
Any additional costs you'll need to pay to get started
Best overall for restaurants
Great customer loyalty app
Best for food trucks
Best Android hardware
Best for ecommerce
Best for retail businesses
Best help and support
Best for a quick initial set up
Marketing, customer loyalty, and employee management features all cost extra
Accounting integrations cost $19.95 per month
First card reader costs $29, and Zettle docking station costs $49
Hardware costs $899+
Shopify POS Pro is available for $89 per location, per month
Extra registers cost $49 per month
Reservations cost $229 per month, online ordering costs $50 per month
Single training costs $175 or $35 per month for unlimited sessions
Unlimited — but each till requires a new license
Unlimited — but each till requires a new license
Unlimited user limit
Unlimited user limit
Single user per license across all plans
1 (Lean) or Unlimited (Standard/Advanced)
1 (Solo), 2 (Dual), 5 (Team)
Single user per license across all plans
Need a Quote?
If you're in need of a small business POS and don't have tonnes of time and resources to invest in your search, we might be able to help. We've designed a unique POS comparison tool that's able to match you with a provider in minutes. It also provides you with bespoke quotes to save you from having to figure out the cost of a POS system yourself.
The form is simple and quick to fill out. And the best thing about it? It doesn't cost a dime.