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'There are so many tablets and so many wires. It creates a mess,' says Jala Alsoufi, Soufi’s general manager.

Tijana Martin

There are just sixteen seats at Soufi’s, a downtown Toronto Syrian fast-casual restaurant and no fewer than five tablets propped up on the counter. There’s the point-of-sale system (POS), which serves as the restaurant’s cash register from Square, but also individual tablets for delivery services, including Foodora and Uber Eats, and another for the mobile payment and pickup app Ritual. It’s not pretty and it’s not efficient.

“There are so many tablets and so many wires. It creates a mess,” says Jala Alsoufi, Soufi’s general manager.

Jacob Healy, the owner of Toronto’s Golden Gecko Coffee, has the same problem. “It just kinda looks crazy when you’ve got six tablets lined up at the front.”

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It’s not just visual clutter that bothers restaurateurs. For each order placed on an app, one of the tablets beeps to alert an employee, who then must decipher which tablet the noise came from and take care of the order. “When it’s busy, it gets a bit hectic if there’s a bunch of different tablets beeping all at once and we’re also serving the customer,” Ms. Alsoufi says.

Delivery is the fastest growing segment in the restaurant industry and as foot traffic to restaurants has stagnated in recent years, the influx of technology has brought an often welcome boost in business. But managing orders from so many sources can be a challenge. Each third-party service requires its own tablet, often charging restaurateurs for the privilege of another device that rarely integrates seamlessly with the restaurant’s in-house POS system.

Restaurant industry consultant Jeff Dover, a principal at fsStrategy Inc., calls this “tablet hell.” “It’s hard when the restaurant’s busy and you have to input all these orders,” Mr. Dover says.

The typical POS system serves not only as a cash register and credit-card processor, but handles customer loyalty programs, coupons, sales tracking, inventory control and more. So when third-party ordering systems aren’t integrated, restaurant staff have to manually enter each order into the system to make sure all this valuable information is accounted for in one place.

“The biggest complaint you get is the order was prepared incorrectly. If it was integrated, a lot of that error goes away, but if I’m doing it myself, I might miss the special requests or customization, which are key with this segment.”

Various tablets set up for delivery companies are photographed at Soufi's restaurant in Toronto on Thursday, June 6.

Tijana Martin

Mr. Healy agrees. “Teaching your staff how to use six different mobile apps can be crazy,” he says. “If you’re serving several customers and then have to manually input that data, that’s when mistakes happen.”

But unless you’re a high-end restaurant charging premium prices, restaurant owners feel pressed to offer delivery to boost sales and third-party services now dominate the market. “The economics don’t work if you do it yourself, so these third-party guys are the way to go, but they’re also very expensive,” says Mr. Dover.

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Most delivery services charge the average restaurant close to 30-per-cent commission on each order. Some restaurateurs think that’s too much and decide to opt out entirely, escaping ordering problems but also eschewing potential profits. “The research I’ve seen shows it’s over 90-per-cent incremental sales,” says Mr. Dover, who always recommends clients join at least a few delivery services.

Ali Khan Lalani, the owner of Toronto’s General Assembly Pizza, uses delivery services, including Ritual, Foodora and Uber Eats, to power approximately 100 pickup orders and 100 deliveries each day.

“In the past six months, we’ve actually been able to integrate a few of them into our POS, TouchBistro,” Mr. Lalani says. “We still have distinct tablets, but the order comes directly into our POS and we can accept there. One person can only put in one order at a time, so making sure we have that integration really helps with order accuracy and speed.”

Full integration still seems a ways off, though. “All the big third-party delivery companies are saying they’re working on it, but they’ve been saying that for a while,” says Mr. Dover. “It’s not a priority for them right now.”

Toronto-based POS startup Nown is aiming to bridge the gap by building an all-in-one solution. The POS provider already includes mobile ordering and payment, customer recognition, loyalty features and gift-card support out of the box, but integrating third-party delivery services has been a sticking point.

“The very first thing we started hearing was ‘can you do something about my delivery services as well?’" says Kristin Dorsey, Nown’s director of sales and marketing. “We’re in the process of reaching out to the third-party delivery companies to have those included in the POS. I’ve spoken directly with four of them and two basically just said, ‘No, we have no interest unless you have a client that’s like McDonald’s.’ Two have been a little more open and willing to have conversations. I think they saw their separate tablets as something that would be sticky with the merchants, but it’s just a headache.”

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Cuboh, a Victoria-based startup, has had a bit more luck. Cuboh is not a POS provider or a customer-loyalty app – it’s uniquely focused on the issue of integrating third-party payment and delivery apps into one place. Cuboh partners with almost all the big players in the industry (Foodora is one notable exception, although a partnership is under discussion), as well as many smaller niche players, and it integrates directly with most of the popular POS systems as well. Instead of six or seven tablets, Cuboh customers receive and accept all their orders on just one.

Co-founder and chief executive officer Juan Orrego acknowledges that paying another monthly fee for Cuboh on top of the fee for your POS system can be tough, but he argues that the time savings, increased accuracy and ease of use pay for themselves.

“We’re all about helping the small guys, allowing them to focus on what they originally know the most," Mr. Orrego says, "which is servicing people, instead of having a distraction from the tablets and dedicating so much space to hardware. Now, they can focus on running a restaurant.”

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