One of the things I noticed consistently when I visited Victoria recently was the point-of-sale systems that every casual dining place had at waitresses. It provided a third option to the usual two that one sees in restaurants stateside, and prompted me to think about why they do things differently there and what conditions account for it. I would like to explain the three different systems that I have seen regarding restaurant point-of-sale systems, and then comment on the benefits and shortcomings of each and at least try to speculate on why different ones are found in different places. After all, the Canadian wait-centric POS devices have been used there for at least ten or fifteen years by the accounts we received, and are not frequently used in the United States at all. As someone deeply interested in the spread of technology , I find that very intriguing.
There are essentially three restaurant POS systems that I have seen. The most usual one is where there is one or only a few registers, where the wait staff will bring the bill, receive one’s credit or debit card and go back to the register, and then bring back the receipt showing the approval of the purchase where one adds the tip. The process is somewhat inefficient from the point of view of time and definitely unsafe as far as customer information is concerned because the wait staff actually has possession of the debit and credit card for a time. Yet at the same time it is efficient as far as expenditures are concerned on the part of the restaurant, because it allows for limited outlays on technology. It is likely this low cost and this simplicity that makes this model most popular for restaurants and other businesses, as it has been used for some time and even with the use of cards one can find a great deal of low cost cash registers to work with that do not require very much spending on the part of the owner or manager.
When this system is not used, though, the system that Americans tend to use is to go to the opposite extreme and have a pos system at every single table. This is a considerably more expensive problem. I have a great deal of experience in dealing with these systems and I have often found them to be less than desirable on other grounds. On the plus side, one can get along with far less wait staff with these particular units, especially when it comes to paying for one’s bill. That said, there are definitely some major downsides to these units as well. For one, they do not handle discounts of specials well, or accommodate paying with multiple cards on the same order with ease. In addition to this, the machines are full of irritating advertisements and attempts at inducing the person to spend more money playing some insipid low quality game or trivia competition, making the experience of shopping one that is burdened with more attempts at salesmanship while reducing the customer service quality that can make going out enjoyable when there is a great deal of personal interaction.
The Canadian POS system was different than both of these. For one, they were individual to the waiter or waitress rather than to the table, and were far more streamlined in that they were able to be used with chip cards or normal swipes without having any advertisement, and the waitresses were able to use them very quickly and also accommodate multiple cards with considerable ease. If they required a bit of a learning curve on the part of the user–my mother, for example, struggled with them repeatedly and I had to help her a few times to use it correctly–they were consistent and had several related models that were somewhat easy to use if one goes out to eat a lot. I do not think that they would give me any trouble to use on a regular basis, and it was interesting to see just how common these machines were, to the extent that one found them in chains as well as in one-off local restaurants, ubiquitous on one side of the border and largely unknown on the other.
The question that struck me rather immediately with this was why? Clearly there is no hostility to having more frequent POS systems in American restaurants in order to reduce the handoff of debit and credit cards and make do with fewer wait staff and fewer lines for cash registers and other unprofitable things like that. Yet the POS systems that are popular in the states are tied to places–either the single or few cash registers that are tied to locations in the business or one for each table. There seems to be a marked reluctance to have a POS system that is tied to the person–namely the waiter or waitress. I am not sure why this is the case. Is there concern about the machines being stolen, or simply no interest in training employees on how to use the systems? Clearly there is some difference between the Canadian method and the American method in that way, something that makes it more appealing to focus on the wait staff on the one hand and on locations on the other, but it is unclear why this is the case. But it is a mystery worth solving, at least.
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