Secrets from the Guy Who Runs Your Cash Register
Installing a restaurant's computer system might sound dull, but I deal with coked-out managers, train-wreck openings, and idiots who don't understand when to check if the power's on.
Photo via Flickr user booleansplit
Welcome back to Restaurant Confessionals, where we talk to the unheard voices of the restaurant industry from both the front-of-house (FOH) and back-of-house (BOH) about what really goes on behind the scenes at your favorite establishments. In this installment, we hear from the guy that restaurants call to install their computer systems.
I work for a POS company, which stands for "Point of Sale." A POS system includes the computers and registers at every restaurant, club, bar, café, hotel, or operation related to hospitality.
It's used for daily transactions from sending orders to the kitchen and bar, to generating sales records. It also keeps track of labor and staff, maintains inventory, and produces numerous types of reports. Most restaurants these days can't run without a POS, but some classic joints still do. It's usually a pizzeria, bagel shop, or deli that still uses a regular old cash drawer.
It's like we're the Apple or Microsoft for restaurants, but we still get no respect.
The POS is the backbone of a restaurant, connecting customers and employees to each other and every facet of the dining experience. The POS services I provide and the machines I install are literally the work computers that restaurant staff are using on a daily basis. It's like we're the Apple or Microsoft for restaurants, but we still get no respect.
Sometimes, new restaurants have absolutely no idea what they want or are doing, making my job a lot more tedious. You would think that when you're opening a restaurant, you know what your menu is going to be, but that's not always the case. The problem is that they don't know. You're opening in less than a week but you don't know what you're serving? You don't have your menu yet? That's crazy.I wouldn't have believed restaurant owners would be in their own businesses smoking pot and snorting lines, but I've seen it all.
Sometimes I'll walk in on opening day and there's still construction being done. It's really down to the wire. Or I'll arrive around 1 PM to go over and double-check things knowing they're going to open their doors at 5 PM. And it's literally 4:45 PM, and workers are just finishing up painting and still cleaning up. It's like an episode of a reality show.
And there's lots of drugs. I wouldn't have believed restaurant owners would be in their own businesses smoking pot and snorting lines, but I've seen it all. So many restaurant owners smoke weed, and like any true pothead, they're always offering you a hit. There's a lot of cocaine use as well. A coworker once told me while onsite on a job, the owner got so coked-up that he had to be helped back onto a couch after he fell over in the office.
I'll ask, 'Is the cable plugged in snuggly? Did someone trip over a wire for the cord to fall out of the outlet?'
Even after the opening day, restaurant owners and management will still contact me 24/7 for help. Like any company, we have a support line, but it's sometimes difficult to get through. That's why I never turn my cell phone off and try to help out as much as I can. Their calls are usually frantic and maniacal, but opening a restaurant is stressful, so I get it—especially for first-time restaurateurs. For a POS to be down for an hour on a Friday dinner service, that's detrimental.
A lot of the day-to-day issues are usually easy to solve. One of the most common things I get is, "The machines are not working." And the first thing I always ask is, "Is the power on?" Or I'll ask, "Is the cable plugged in snuggly? Did someone trip over a wire for the cord to fall out of the outlet?" You would be surprised at the number of times this was all due to something getting unplugged. Early in my career, that was the answer to 70 percent of my phone calls.
Once I got a call about a POS system being down. I asked, "Is your power even on?" And the manager said, "Well, actually we lost power at the whole restaurant." I responded, "Well, how do you expect the POS to work without any power?" They scoffed, "Isn't there a backup system?" So I asked if their fridge was cold. After being told no, that's when I said, "If there's no backup system for your fridge full of food, then there's none for your POS system." It's after things like that where I'm really like, Woah, what just happened right now? This can't be real.
I've come to learn that the smartest restaurants always have a backup plan for everything. I've been in a situation where a system went down in the middle of dinner service. The issue wasn't from the POS, power supply, or Internet, but was from a credit card network failure. The restaurant already had a solution for this. They had a few of those old school "knucklebusters," which are those manual machines that imprint credit cards on to carbon paper. They're called knucklebusters because of what they supposedly do to your hands after continuously running cards through it during your shift.
But any well-prepared restaurant will always have a back-up plan for collecting your money, bloody knuckles and all.
As told to Tae Yoon