Why Restaurant POS Systems Won’t Pass the Mustard for Your Community | Part 2


There are many reasons why a standard restaurant or retail POS solution won’t cut it at a senior living facility, several of which were covered in part one of this series by my colleague Gary McMullen.  This is not to say that they are unsuitable for every situation, but ultimately they cannot deliver efficiencies much beyond the food ordering process in a senior living community.  If Dining Services works in a vacuum (and I’ve seen a few that do!), and don’t care about anything more than firing orders back to the kitchen and printing sales reports, a standard POS system will work fine.  The truth is, for your community a system needs to address many operational areas beyond this including the management of Resident Meal and Charge plans, Guest transactions, employee plans and more.  Communities today need a combination of what amounts to an internal credit/debit card system, meal plan system and a POS!

Just about every community has meal plans of some sort.  Management of these plans is a time consuming process without the aid of a system like CARDWATCH that is specifically designed to automate this task.  Meal Plans are critical to most communities for at least two main reasons:

  1. There is a large investment in space, equipment and staff that must be able to handle feeding all residents in the community, even  they don’t all come for each meal.  Most communities make at least a minimum meal plan as mandatory, and Residents pay for this plan along with their monthly fees / rent.  This helps to cover the costs of the operation.  If no mandatory meal plans were in effect, the food service operation could be at risk of losing money if dining program participation drops below their break-even attendance.
  2. Meals are in most communities, the main social event of the day.  Socialization is critical not just for the happiness of the Resident, but also for the health benefits both mentally and physically.  As some seniors suffer from depression, getting them out of their rooms and engaged with others is critical part of any wellness program.  In addition, ensuring that residents receive at least one nutritious meal each day can keep them healthier longer, thereby reducing potential medical costs.

Most standard POS solutions can “fake” their way around a meal plan.  For example, we’ve seen some that give a $30 credit and charge $1/meal as their work-around for a 30 meal / month plan.  Problem is, at month end, most residents still have unused meals.  This means that staff must go into the system and clear balances for each individual’s “tab”.  With this sort of work-around, creating extra charges becomes a problem since any charges, say $8 for a guest, would be charged to the same account as their meal credits. Since this $8 charge would wipe out 8 meal credits, a second account must be created for each resident for charges.  Dining Staff must now remember to charge the correct account and billing admin staff must now clear two accounts for each resident…MANUALLY.  Dining staff must also ring up items that do not qualify as part of a meal, on a separate guest check (eg. many communities serve wine or beer but this is not permitted on a meal plan).

Next, let’s look at some numbers:

For a community with 250 IL residents (fairly common average), let’s assume that each resident has at least one meal per day and that half the residents have a second transaction somewhere on campus, whether in the dining room, café, gift shop, salon or front desk.  We’re talking about 375 transactions per day X 30 days per month = 11,250 transactions per month.  Depending on the demographics of the community and the variety of revenue locations, this number could be higher than 15,000 to 20,000 per month for communities with a successful internal campus economy.  These numbers will only grow as more Boomer residents move into our communities since this demographic demands more choice and flexibility than any generation before it.

Why are these numbers significant?  For starters, the more Residents and the greater the volume of transactions you have, the greater the need for automation of meal and spending plans beyond the simple POS system.  Without automation, the manual work load for staff to manage monthly reconciliation of accounts, clearing balances and more becomes a real burden.  Accessing reports and information based on plan types or resident types is challenging if possible at all with standard POS solutions simply because they are not designed for this.

As noted in the previous article, typical restaurant systems do not need to store large amounts of customer history nor do they typically store transaction history associated with each customer.  As such, low end databases are the norm and these databases are not designed to handle large volumes of data.  Many cap out at 2GB.  CARDWATCH employs an enterprise caliber relational database which can handle terabytes of data and supports enterprise reporting capabilities including robust report writers and data mining tools like Crystal Reports.

Most standard POS systems are not designed to export charges accumulated on account to a 3rd party billing system.  At best they will create a report for outstanding balances by account or generate monthly statements which must then be manually input into the billing system.  CARDWATCH interfaces with dozens of 3rd party billing solutions including the most of the popular billing systems in the senior living market like AOD, SOS, MDI-Achieve, Health MedX, Point Click Care and more.

CARDWATCH supports the use of multiple Resident ID types including popular door access proximity cards or fobs meaning lower costs for the community by using a single electronic ID for multiple applications on campus.

CARDWATCH also supports multiple types of revenue environments including Food Services (fine dining, quick serve café, simple meal tracking and catering), Retail / general merchandise and services, all integrated into the meal and spending plan management application, to create a truly simple payment option for residents while dramatically reducing administrative burden and costs for the community. No matter where on campus residents perform a transaction, they can all go through CARDWATCH.

With the Boomer cohort entering our communities, Choice and Flexibility will be key to attracting and retaining them. Smart communities are putting systems in place now to support choice and flexibility moving forward.   CARDWATCH can support dozens of unique meal and spending plans concurrently at each community, all managed automatically through the POS and all renewed automatically each period (month or custom date ranges) without user intervention.  Friendship Village of Schaumburg has over 20 plans in place.  In theory, 20 people, each on a different plan could walk into their dining room, order the identical meal and, while each is handled identically by staff on the POS terminal, the CARDWATCH system posts each transaction differently based on the privileges and restrictions associated with their plan. Using a standard POS solution, this would simply not be possible.

With over 20 years experience delivering solutions to the senior living market (almost exclusively), CARDWATCH has both a depth and breadth of knowledge that no other POS vendor would. It is unrealistic to expect that a POS vendor whose primary market is restaurants, will devote the time. money and human resources needed to successfully meet the very unique requirements of a senior living environment, including ongoing support and enhancements specific to your environment (ie. every change will be custom programing vs what CARDWATCH would consider a universal enhancement for all customers).  This is why CARDWATCH is no stranger to replacing POS systems from other vendors after a community’s failed attempt to make it work.  In the end, the cost of choosing an inferior low cost solution, costs many times more in the long run than just choosing the best one suited for the job. 

No doubt, CARDWATCH will cost more up front for initial implementation but ROI will be almost immediate and long lasting.  If you are a big picture, long-game planner, the early investment will be a no brainer.


Kevin McIntosh has over 12 years experience delivering POS, meal and charge tracking solutions to the senior living industry.  He is an avid trend watcher and has spoken at several industry conferences on the subject of delivering choice and flexibility to the coming Boomer market demographic.