Mobile POS Systems vs. Cash Registers: A Guide to Both

Chances are, as a customer, you’ve encountered a mix of both conventional cash registers and mobile POS systems in restaurants, coffee shops, and bars. While you may have a clear preference, the fact is that each of these types of POS system comes with its share of benefits and challenges. Further, many business owners are daunted by the prospect of potentially disrupting their teams or changing their methods to fit a new system. If you are a business owner, you may be in search of some guidance.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of both systems in these three areas:

  1. Interface/order input

  2. Payment processing

  3. Online ordering

1. Interface/Order Input

This is the area in which the mobility of mobile POS systems most comes into play. While the actual user interface or operation system can be very similar between the two systems, the ability to take orders on the go definitely adds a new wrinkle to the conversation.

Let’s examine how mobile POS systems and cash registers differ when it comes to order input.

How it works with cash registers

Anybody who has worked in service or retail is likely familiar with this aspect of cash register systems. Most interfaces are simple and offer modest levels of customization, so you are more likely to have to adapt your business to your cash register POS than the other way around.

Almost every cash register these days uses a digital user interface, often with a touch screen for input. But these systems can be slow to load new pages, and the responsiveness of the touch screen is often not up to most people’s smartphone- and tablet-level standards. 

Further, because these systems are often Unix-based, troubleshooting can be a difficult and unfamiliar process—not the kind of thing you want to be forced to deal with in the middle of a busy day.

In some conventional systems the order can be sent straight from front of house to the kitchen, but often this process relies on written notes or spoken instructions. This can easily lead to lost or incorrect orders, problems that can ruin a customer’s day, and your restaurant’s online review average in the process.

How it works with mobile POS systems

With their high customizability, mobile POS systems offer a good compromise: you can model their interface after those conventional POS systems for easing the staff learning curve, while also improving on the areas with which conventional systems struggle.

Mobile POS systems work via an app on a tablet rather than a proprietary system, which leads to a few important advantages:

  • Easy troubleshooting and customer service. If your system ever starts slowing down or crashing, you can follow the normal troubleshooting procedure that you would with any of your other favorite apps.

  • Straightforward upgrades. If your system is struggling because of old hardware, it’s easy to upgrade to the newest iPad or other tablet, install the app, and resume business; no need to buy an entire new system when you only need a modest upgrade.

  • Better touch screens. Tablet compatibility means no more struggling with that old-fashioned touch screen; your system works with the best touch screens the tech industry has to offer. 

And all this is not even to mention the central selling point for mobile POS systems: their mobility.

The ability to send orders to the kitchen straight from tableside can be a gamechanger for busy servers and hungry customers alike. The fact that the order is sent digitally further improves the process, all but eliminating missing and misread orders.

Another perk of the mobile system is the ease of use for the customer. Whether it means turning the screen around at the counter or handing the tablet over, signatures and tips become much easier to process. The touch screen means your servers will never get stuck fumbling for a pen, while the ability to display preset tip options means no more grade school flashbacks for customers trying to do quick arithmetic.

For additional context on how restaurants use mobile POS systems, see Lavu’s POS for restaurants page.

The bottom line: There are really no downsides of the mobile POS system in this area, as the high level of customizability means the interface can be catered to work for your business. Plus, its mobility can revolutionize the way you do business by offering a wealth of helpful features.

2. Payment Processing

Cash collection: the bread and butter of the conventional cash register. But is this an area where the old-fashioned way is truly better, or have the new-fangled mobile POS systems changed the way we handle cash for the better? Let’s find out.

How it works with cash registers

One of the biggest characteristics conventional POS systems have in their favor when it comes to cash collection is their simplicity. Everybody who has worked in retail or service has most likely interacted with a conventional POS, and while the details may vary from system to system, they usually amount to a relatively hassle-free cash collection process.

When it comes to cards, however, conventional cash registers often fall short. We’ve all experienced those outdated card processing machines that sometimes take minutes to make a connection and don’t take always accept your card of choice.

How it works with mobile systems 

The immobility of conventional systems works both for and against them. On the one hand, mobility would enable a more convenient process for the customer, who wouldn’t have to leave their table to pay with cash.

On the other hand, exchanging cash can be more difficult than it needs to be without the counter there to catch any falling coins or bills. Further, many restaurants that use a mobile system forsake the classic black leather guest check holder, leading to more potential for fumbled cash.

Ultimately, many mobile POS systems also offer mounted versions that can be connected to smart registers, so you don’t have to compromise on this point if you prefer a mobile system.

As for cards, mobile POS systems offer a whole new level of versatility and convenience. The ability to swipe a card tableside means no more lengthy waits for customers and no more rushing back and forth between table and register for servers. As with any system, however, you need to choose a secure payment processing solution to keep your customers’ data safe.

Bottom line: While you may expect cash registers to take the cake on this category, the versatility of mobile POS systems means that they can keep up with their predecessors with cash and outperform them with cards.

3. Online Ordering

Long an essential POS feature for pizza places, online ordering functionality is quickly becoming the standard for all food service businesses. Let’s take a look at how it works on these two types of POS system.

How it works with cash registers

Depending on the age of your conventional POS system, it may come with online order integration. But most stationary cash registers depend on the same system for online orders that they do for all orders: written or spoken instructions for the kitchen.

This once again means there is a risk of incorrect orders—a big problem when your customer expects the speed and convenience of pickup or delivery!

Another disadvantage of online ordering with conventional cash registers is that many of them don’t have the online connectivity required to receive orders themselves—meaning you have to have a computer set up in addition to your POS system. That’s a big footprint!

While newer and fancier conventional systems won’t have these problems, your run-of-the-mill cash registers can encounter quite a few obstacles when it comes to online ordering.

How it works with mobile POS systems

Mobile POS systems, on the other hand, offer substantial advantages in this category.

Chief among these advantages is their ability to integrate with your website to make online ordering a more efficient and convenient experience. Website integration comes with several perks, including:

  • Improved efficiency. Online orders can go straight from the website to the kitchen, freeing up servers and cashiers to continue serving customers.

  • Better data reporting. Online orders can be easily counted among your normal orders and included in your regular data reports. As most business owners know, data improves business, and being able to include online orders in your data reports gives you a clearer picture of where yours is doing well and where it needs improvement.

  • Better data collection. Integration of your POS with your website makes it easier to collect donor information for marketing purposes. Data will be sent straight from your website to your POS rather than having to be imported manually.

An important consideration when weighing mobile POS systems, however, is security. Customers trust you with their data—don’t betray their trust by keeping it on an unsecure platform. The last thing your business needs is a security crisis getting in the way of serving customers to the best of your ability. For more data security best practices, see Swoop’s guide to password breach prevention.

The bottom line: Unless you want to pay for a top-of-the-line stationary POS, a mobile POS system will always be the better option for online ordering.

Whether you are starting a new business or thinking about making a change, the POS system you choose will influence many aspects of your operation—likely more than you think. Use the points in this guide to make an informed decision and choose the right system for your business.