How to Buy a Cash Register

Buying a cash register can be pretty straight forward or it can be intimidating if you don't know what you need. By making a list of needed features you can quickly determine the cash register hardware and software that is needed before making a cash register purchase.

Traditional Cash Register

You may discover that all you need is a traditional cash register where all of the hardware and software is contained in the cash register itself, and it usually consists of a printer(s), keyboard(s), display(s), and cash drawer(s).

Cheap cash registers, or for a better term, less expensive ones, can be purchased from office supply stores. The more durable cash registers can be purchased through an authorized cash register reseller. These tend to cost more, but they are usually much better quality.

Otherwise, you may realize that purchasing a cash register system with external devices (printers, cash drawers, etc.) and back office software is a better choice. Cash register systems typically have more features, but they tend to cost more than a traditional cash register.

Cash Register System

A typical cash register system is made up of several pieces of hardware, and each device typically attaches with an external cable. Cash register systems are commonly referred to as a point of sale system, POS system, cash register POS system, POS cash register, or restaurant POS system.

Things to consider before you buy a cash register or cash register system are:

Cash Register Printers

How many printers will you need? Do you need a one station (receipt printer) or two station (receipt and journal) printer? If you're buying a cash register or POS system for your restaurant, how many kitchen printers do you need? Will you need a printer at the grill station, fryer station, salad station, or at the bar, etc.?

Thermal printers are very common these days. You don't need to purchase ribbons with direct thermal printers, so you'll save money on the ribbon costs. Just be sure the thermal paper is not an odd size making it more expensive.

Dot matrix printers and type wheel printers were very common years ago and you would need to purchase ribbons for these types of printers. Drum printers were also popular and they typically used an ink roller.

Tip: Before you buy a cash register find out the cost of supplies for the printers (paper and ribbons). The price of supplies varies greatly, and this is something you should research in detail before buying a traditional cash register or cash register system. You can save a lot of money over time if you spend a little time now researching the supply cost. I would strongly consider buying a printer that uses a popular size of paper, and ribbons, if needed. Some office supply stores carry common sizes of paper and ribbons and you can usually cut your supply costs drastically.

Cash Register Drawer

Traditional cash registers have the cash drawer attached to the cash register itself. They are typically made of metal or plastic.

Some cheap cash registers, or better yet, less expensive ones, are available with plastic cash drawers. Cash registers with plastic cash drawers cost less, and can usually be purchased from an office supply store. They are meant for small businesses that have a low volume of sales, or more specifically, low number of daily transactions.

Metal cash drawers are more durable and a much better choice for businesses with a higher volume of sales, or more specifically, daily transactions. In most cases, buying a metal cash drawer is a better idea than a plastic cash drawer. Some plastic cash drawers cannot be repaired.

External Cash Drawers

External cash drawers attach via an external cable, and in some cases, will be mounted underneath the counter. They come in different sizes, colors, voltages, and connections. Sometimes the cable will attach to a printer, terminal, or other device. You should research this before you purchase a new cash register system.

Note: A metal cash drawer is more durable than a plastic cash drawer, and in most cases repairable. Over time it will end up costing you less, as the parts tend to last longer and usually requires less service.

Tip: If you are going to mount the cash drawer underneath a counter be sure the outer shell can be removed from the cash drawer. This will help make the installation easier. You can mount the shell to the counter, and then attach the drawer back to the shell.

Maintenance: A very common problem with both types of cash drawers is the bearings in the drawer rollers go bad. The drawer will no longer open and close smoothly. Be sure to pack the drawer rollers with grease every few months and you can possibly extend the life of your drawer rollers by years.

Cash Register Keyboard

Cash register keyboards come in different styles, sizes, connections, etc.

There are raised keyboards with individual keyswitches. These can be replaced individually when they go bad. There are flat keyboards that use a keysheet to make contact and record the keystrokes. When one or more of the keys malfunction you need to replace the entire keysheet.

Flat Keyboard

A flat keyboard is usually preferred in a restaurant environment, bar, or in an area where the keyboard may get wet. A plastic cover is placed over the keyboard for protection, and can be wiped off if it does get wet.

Raised Keyboard

Raised keyboards will usually have individual keyswitches and they are typically used in a retail environment, supermarket, or similar type of business. They make plastic covers for raised keyboards too. If there is any chance the keyboard can get wet, I strongly recommend you consider getting a plastic keyboard cover to help protect the keyboard.

Touch Screens

Touchscreens are becoming more popular these days. These usually cost more and they cost more to repair. You can do minimal common repairs yourself such as calibrating the touchscreen, or maybe increase or decrease the sensitivity, etc., but other than that you’ll probably need to call a technician or purchase a new one.

Tip: Cash register keyboards vary in cost and the cost to repair. In some cases, you’ll be able to replace an individual keyswitch if it malfunctions. However, in some cases, such as with most flat keyboards, you'll need to replace the entire keysheet or key membrane instead of the individual keyswitch making it more expensive to repair over time.

Cash Register Display

Cash register displays are pretty straight forward. Display tubes are commonly used in traditional cash registers and they usually solder to the display board. Most displays these days can display alphabet characters, numeric numbers, or both (alpha-numeric displays).

Most display lenses contain symbols on them (triangular lamps or status lamps that illuminate). These symbols or indicators will help you determine the current condition of the transaction or action being performed.

Typically a cash register will have two displays. The front display is for the clerk, cashier, or server, and the rear display is for the customer. The rear display will either be in a fixed position or will be able to move freely. In some cases, a pole display can be raised or lowered, and turn to the left or right, so the customer can easily see it.

Tip: If your cash register will be in a location where it is difficult to see the back of the machine, then consider buying a cash register with a pole display. This way your customers will be able to easily see what the cashier is ringing up.

Do You Need Additional Hardware?


If you have barcoded items you will likely need a scanner. There are two types of scanners. Hand held scanners allow you to move the scanner next to the item. Slot scanners are fixed and they sit in the counter. You slide the item’s barcode over the scanner.


If you need to weigh an item and charge by the ounce or pound you’ll need to purchase a scale.

Note: If you need both a scanner and a scale you can purchase a scanner/scale together in one unit to save space.

Cash Register Features:


How many tax rates do you need to keep track of? Depending on where you do business, you might have a separate food tax, non-food tax, liquor tax, tourism tax, city tax, county tax, stadium tax, etc. This would be a good question for your accountant. In a lot of cases, a food tax and non-food tax is common. Will you need a tax exempt feature? If schools, churches, non-profit organizations, etc. purchase from you, you’ll need a way to remove the tax from the sale.

Food Stamps

Will you be accepting “food stamps” as a form of payment? If so, be sure the cash register you buy is capable of keeping track of food stamps. This will usually require at least two more buttons on the keyboard (FS/M food stamp modifier, and FS/TL food stamp tendered).

Cashiers, Clerks, or Servers

How many clerks, cashiers, or servers will you need to keep track of? Will they insert a cashier key to operate the cash register, or will they enter a secret code to ring up sales?


How many departments will you need? Some typical departments in a restaurant are “appetizers,” “burgers,” “beverages,” etc. Some typical departments in a grocery store are “produce,” “dairy,” “deli,” “meat,” etc.

PLU’s or SKU’s

How many items, PLU’s, SKU’s or barcodes, etc. do you need to keep track of? Some cash registers and point of sale systems will allow you to purchase additional memory which will allow you to keep track of more items, PLU’s, or barcodes. If you have a large number of items, make sure the cash register you purchase is capable of keeping track of all the items.

PLU’s will typically link to a department. Some typical PLU’s in a restaurant might be “breadsticks,” “wings,” “nachos,” and the department they link to might be “appetizers.” You can run a PLU report to see how many breadsticks, wings, or nachos you sold; or you can run a department report to see all of the combined “appetizer” sales added together. Some typical PLU’s in a grocery store might be “turkey,” “ham,” and “salami,” and the department they link to might be “deli.”

Buy a Cash Register With All the Features

More Cash Register Features:

Coupons: How many coupons or discounts do you need? Store coupons and vendor coupons are two common coupons. The tax status is usually different between the two. Some typical discounts are “employee discounts” and “senior citizen discounts.” If you want to keep track of these discounts separately, you’ll need two discount keys on the keyboard. Each discount can be preset with a different percentage off, etc. Otherwise, you could have one open discount key on the keyboard and you can manually enter the percentage off. The disadvantage of having one discount key is you won’t get separate totals for each discount, and you have to rely on the cashier or server to enter the correct dollar amount if it’s not a preset discount.

Paid out, received on account, refund, item correct, void, cash, check, charge keys, etc.

There are many other common features available including a paid out key, received on account key, refund key, item correct and void key, tendering keys such as cash, check, and charge keys, etc. Do you need one charge key or do you need to get a separate total for each credit card (M/C, Visa, American Express, etc.).

Conclusion: Make a list of all the hardware and features you need, and then be sure the cash register you are going to buy offers all of it.

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