What Is POS Menu Decay, And How You Can Avoid It?

Franchisee Columnist Todd Michaud has spent the last 16 years trying to fight IT issues, with the last six years focused on franchisee IT issues. He is currently responsible for IT at Focus Brands (Cinnabon, Carvel, Schlotzsky's and Moe's Southwestern Grill).

At one time, changing a button on a cash register involved Wite-Out and a pen. Today, it's one of the most complex of the processes that I manage on a day-to-day basis. This "simple" little thing requires people from supply chain, operations, marketing, research and development and, of course, IT to make it happen correctly.

A poor decision now can easily mean the difference between "easy to maintain" and "get me the hell out of here" within a few short months. The key is to think through the long-term impacts carefully before making a short-term decision.

First, consider the operational flow of the cashier. How does the cashier interact with the customer, and how can the register's menu and button layout be done in a way to make that interaction as simple and efficient as possible? What screens will the button appear on? What will its size and color be? Will there be an image?

Second, consider how the business will want to view the data created when the button is pushed. In my world of QSR, the result can mean a few different things, such as determining if the item will be sold standalone and/or as part of a combo. Do you need to show the number sold in both combos and al la carte? Do the modifiers to the item need to be tracked separately? (For example: Do I need to track how many Homewrecker Burritos were sold on flour tortillas versus those on whole grain tortillas? What about burritos that add jalapenos versus those that don't?) Knowing how you want to use the data is very important.

Third, consider the inventory and supply chain side of the business. In the QSR space, an item sold is likely made up of several different inventory pieces. For example, a ham sandwich could be made up of "two slices of wheat bread, 5 ounces of ham, one slice of cheese and 1 ounce of mayonnaise." The back office needs to deplete the inventory of items sold, so pressing the "Ham Sandwich" button must reduce all the components from the restaurant's inventory. That means most buttons on the POS need a recipe associated with them.

Some restaurants also have to think about routing. After the order is placed, it is sent to a video screen or a printer, where someone else views it and prepares the food. The way a POS routes orders can play a big role in how items are set up. (For example: If the order is sent to a video screen with each button push, what do you do when the customer changes his bread choice to wheat at the end of the order, after the cook has already put mayo on a slice of white?)

It gets really fun when you start to think about promotions. They might be national promotions or something done at a single store. The first challenge is that most marketing teams or operators want to track the success of each promotion, so reusing keys is typically a no-no. Second, some promotions are close but not quite the same. (For example: "Kids Eat Free Tuesday" is different than "Kids Eat Free Wednesday.") Another consideration with promotions (and this is the really tricky part) is determining how you want to track each one. Is it a discount, a coupon or a special item? Does the promotion apply to an entire ticket (for example: "$1 off your order") or only to a single item (for example: "Get 50 cents off of an Iced Tea").

Sometimes the answer is any of the above. Let's say I want to offer a sandwich for $3 as part of a promotion. I have the option of setting up a "Sandwich Discount" button that reduces the cost of the sandwich by the difference between the normal sale price and the $3 promotional price. Because pricing varies by location, the discount must be adjusted at each location.

You can do the exact same thing with a coupon. (In some systems, discounts apply to entire tickets while coupons apply to individual items. In others, either option may be used.) Or you could set up a "$3 Sandwich Special" button.

Many organizations would chose a $3 Sandwich Special button, rather than dealing with various discounts and coupons. But this option requires the creation of an additional recipe (although it's a copy of the regular sandwich). It also creates a big problem when it comes to reporting the data. How do you plan to track how many sandwiches you sold for the year? Will you remember to add up the regular sandwiches with the Sandwich Special?

Other restaurants may choose to do a coupon or discount. Depending on how you operate your cash stations, discounts may require a manager over-ride. Are you really likely to have the manager approve each and every one of these transactions?

A coupon may be the best option. For anti-fraud reasons, many POS systems require certain items to be on the check for the coupon to be available. (For example: A sandwich coupon can only be added after a sandwich has been rung on the ticket.) Make sure you are aware of all the variations of the program and plan for them. (For example: Will some markets offer the promo only on chicken sandwiches while another market offers it on chicken or ham sandwiches?)

It's enough to make your head spin. Here are some tips on how to make the button creation process easier:

  • No matter what your business partners tell you, someone is going to want to see details broken out at the lowest level. If they tell you anything else, they are wrong.
  • Take great care with things defined as "items," "combos" or "modifiers" and be consistent in your approach. If a sandwich has five different bread options, three different protein options and comes with or without cheese, how many "items" do you create? How many buttons?
  • No matter how much data your business wants to see, the crew will ring it up in the fewest number of strokes possible. Ask for too many button pushes (to get more data), and you are likely to get garbage. Try to strike the right balance between speed and data.
  • Create a special area in the POS for local coupons and discounts that can be managed at the store level. Only allow coupons and discounts, not new items (otherwise you will create issues with recipes and inventory).
  • Make sure all functional parties participate in the button adding process. You'd be amazed how many times my IT team has had to tell the supply chain they were low on inventory for a big product special. (For example: "The marketing team is doing a $1 Ham Sandwich special all next week." "What!? We are out of ham at the warehouse!")

      Although it will never be perfect, the more you think about future needs, the more manageable the system will be.

      Term Of The Week: "Dirty Pool"--when a restaurant manager lets several people work out of the same cash drawer. "I can take home a few extra dollars each day because the owner lets us play in a dirty pool."

      What do you think? Leave a comment, or E-mail me at [email protected]. You can also follow me on Twitter: @todd_michaud.

      I have decided to cut back my Ironman training and take a different approach. Read more at www.irongeek.me.

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