What are the Differences Between Restaurant and Retail POS Systems?

Business Marketing

The way your business operates will determine what type of Point of Sale (POS) system best suits its needs.

Restaurants use point of sale systems for several tasks that may include recording orders, generating sales reports and processing credit card transactions. Retail businesses use point of sale systems for similar purposes such as recording sales and processing credit card transactions.

While both retail and restaurant POS systems record information about the selling process, there are several key differences between the two types of systems.


The first difference between restaurant and retail POS systems is in their hardware. Hardware in a retail POS system is designed to be inexpensive and purchasable by virtually any customer whose credit limit isn’t too low.

Retailers need systems that can run on cheap CPUs, have long lifespans (to justify the investment), and are built strong enough to handle being moved around a lot during deliveries, but not much else. Retail hardware is also much less likely to be custom-built, because the low cost means that retailers don’t need to work with any specific manufacturers, they can choose whatever makes sense for them.

Restaurants’ POS systems are completely different. First of all, restaurant owners don’t want their hardware to lose half its value as soon as it leaves the box, which is why retail POS systems are often built using cheap CPUs that aren’t powerful enough for restaurants.

The equipment used in a restaurant has to be designed with much more care, it needs to be quiet, because nobody wants clunky fans whirring while they’re trying to talk over dinner; it needs to use much less power, because restaurant owners don’t want to spend more than the bare minimum on their energy bills. It needs to be made of tough materials that can stand up to years of use by unruly children and waiters.

Not only that, but restaurant POS systems usually run specialized software which is written specifically for that particular model of hardware, or for a small number of models.


Restaurant and retail POS systems also have different software needs, though they both handle the same basic tasks: taking payment from customers, making sure waiters get the right change, keeping track of inventory and orders, etc.

The biggest difference in their software is that restaurant POS systems need to be capable of running complex, multi-page reports that are necessary for restaurant owners to make critical business decisions. Retail POS systems simply don’t need the same level of reporting capacity. They may use databases, but they’re much simpler than those used in restaurants.

Customization and Service

To interface with their environment such as their hardware, software, and employees,  restaurant POS systems are almost always custom-built to some extent. Retail POS systems aren’t complex enough to require any customization at all.

Retailers also tend to buy third-party point-of-sale service agreements with the equipment they purchase, since it makes financial sense for them to do so; they can afford to pay a premium for the convenience and peace of mind.

But restaurant owners generally don’t have that choice. Instead, they must either build service into their cost estimates when buying POS systems or else contract directly with whatever company built their system when something goes wrong.


Finally, the easiest way for one to tell the difference between a restaurant and retail POS system is in their prices.

Retail POS systems are sold as low-cost commodity items, with most manufacturers providing them at only slightly above cost. Restaurants, on the other hand, have very different needs that justify paying premium rates for both hardware and software support.

Maintenance and Upgrades

Maintaining a POS system is also quite different in the restaurant and retail sectors. A retailer either has to pay someone to come out and fix their POS, or else they have to be able to do it themselves (i.e., the devices are accessible enough that they can be easily opened up and maintained).

Restaurants, on the other hand, usually don’t have any IT staff on the premises. Because of that, they need to rely on third-party POS companies for service and support, they’re forced to buy it as part of their POS package.

Restaurant POS systems are also frequently upgraded with new versions of their software. Usually, this requires an expensive visit from the POS company’s technicians, who shut down their restaurant clients’ network to perform the updates. Retail systems are rarely upgraded at all unless there’s a major change in technology or if they’ve fallen so far behind that it becomes necessary to upgrade just to keep them relevant.


Restaurant POS systems also need to be capable of driving better performance from the people who use them, since restaurant employees frequently work under dangerous time pressure. Retail POS users can take their time; they don’t have to worry about getting fired if they’re five minutes late for a shift.


Network architecture and protocols also provide different challenges for restaurant and retail POS systems. Restaurants are simply too complex to be centralized, while retailers’ architectures are more amenable to centralization.

Restaurant owners also need their hardware to be integrated with other pieces of their business, such as kitchen displays or bartop tablets that show customers what’s available before they arrive at the restaurant.

Retailers don’t need that capability at all, since they have a huge variety of products to sell and they have less of a chance to cross-sell if customers can see the product in advance.

In addition, restaurant POS systems must be capable of interfacing with hundreds of different kitchen appliances and devices. Many retail POS systems only need to interface with a handful of cash drawers and credit card terminals.

In summary, retail businesses can find a suitable point of sale system by looking for a software package that handles basic sales recording and inventory management. Restaurant businesses need POS systems that can handle more complex tasks such as monitoring food preparation and recording accurate inventory levels.

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