This article is part of a larger series on POS Systems.
Kitchen display systems (KDS) are digital screens that display incoming orders in restaurant kitchens. KDS screens route orders from the point-of-sale (POS) system to the correct kitchen station. Good KDSes streamline kitchen communication, reduce human errors, and monitor cook times. The best restaurant KDSes show a dish’s ingredients at the touch of a button and texts customers when orders are ready.
After evaluating almost a dozen options for pricing, hardware, and features, our recommendations for the best kitchen display systems for 2023 are:
- Toast: Best overall KDS for most restaurant types, especially for restaurants needing robust KDS screens
- Square: Best KDS for food trucks and restaurants on a budget
- Fresh KDS: Best low-cost freestanding KDS
- Epson: Best KDS for integrating with your existing POS
- Revel: Best KDS for multilocation drive-thrus
- Lightspeed Kitchen: Best for growing restaurants wanting an iPad-based KDS
Best Kitchen Display Systems Compared
KDS monthly software fees
Touch screen or bump bar
Integrated automated messaging
Compatible POS systems
Toast HD LCD touch screens
Square for Restaurants, Square POS
iPad and Android tablets; PCAP touch-screen terminals
Square, Clover, Infor, Linga, Talech, Union, Lightspeed, TouchBistro
Varies by reseller
Controller with ticket printer (you choose monitor)
Cake, Focus, Future, Lavu, PosiTouch, Revel, Revention, and more
iPad or smart display
iPads, or monitors with bump bars
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Toast: Best Overall KDS for Robust Kitchen Display Screens
- Inventory and vendor management require third-party integration
- Underlying POS requires a two-year contract
- Must use Toast POS and payment processing
What we like:
Toast POS is our top-rated cloud-based restaurant POS system, and its KDS offering is likewise a top performer. Toast’s KDS is the most customizable system on this list. You can highlight individual ingredients and common allergens. Plus, users can choose their font size and how information is arranged on order tickets. This system also sends text messages to customers when their orders are ready and alerts servers in the POS app when they have food waiting in the kitchen.
It earned an excellent 4.5 out of 5 on our rubric, with perfect scores for order management, advanced functionalities, and our expert score, which includes ease of use. Pricing was the only thing keeping it from a perfect score. While competitively priced, you will need to pay extra for the KDS system, and it requires a two-year contract.
Flex for Kitchen (wall-mounted)
Flex for Kitchen (on stand)
$499 + $25/ month
14-inch HD LCD, IP-54 rated touch-screen kitchen monitor
Toast’s KDS software is currently offered at $25 per screen monthly. If you need multiple screens, however, Toast will likely work out a lower per-terminal kitchen display system price for you. To get the best pricing, reach out to the Toast sales team for a custom quote.
The underlying POS ranges from $0 to $165+ per month, with pay-as-you-go options for terminal hardware. However, it requires a two-year commitment.
- Restaurant-grade hardware
Rather than relying on iPads, Toast offers touch screens that are designed for the heat and humidity of a large kitchen, with an IP54 durability rating, meaning it’s protected from dust and water sprays, making them more durable than others on our list. (Epson also has industry-grade hardware.)
- Highly customizable interface
You can customize alert colors for ticket status, item modifiers, and allergens. Text size and colors are also customizable. You can also route dishes with complex components to multiple prep stations.
- All-day count view
Toast’s All-Day count screen shows your all-day counts at a glance, so your kitchen team is never second-guessing what orders they have on deck. This is great for quick-service restaurants with small orders and large volumes.
- Auto-firing by prep time
Your Toast KDS can organize newly ordered items by their cook time to ensure all dishes on a ticket are ready at the same time.
- Automated order-ready messages
Your Toast KDS can send automated messages to customers or servers when you mark an order as complete on the KDS. These alerts help keep your kitchen flowing smoothly and keep cooked food from dying in the window.
- Rush button
Toast’s Rush order button automatically shifts rush tickets to the front of the order queue, marked with a red RUSH label. As such, your expediters and cooks can quickly get on the same page when plans change.
Nearly half of readers say that they want highly-customizable KDS with industry-grade hardware. If you are considering switching, Toast consistently tops this KDS ranking.
Square: Best for KDS for Restaurants & Food Trucks on a Budget
- Industry-grade screens are expensive
- No recipe lookup tools
- Tied to Square for payment processing
What we like:
Square for Restaurants is a cloud-based POS system best suited for restaurants on a budget, as the POS software has a forever-free plan and an advanced plan that’s just $60 per month. Higher-tier subscriptions include KDS software for free, while Free Square users can add the KDS for just $20 per screen monthly. In particular, we recommend Square for Restaurants for food trucks, quick service restaurants, cafes, slice shops, and bakeries. It offers several hardware options, from inexpensive tablets to industry-grade screens that can take the heat.
Overall, Square earned 4.3 out of 5. If you subscribe to Square for Restaurants Plus or Premium POS, you get free KDS use for multiple screens. It lost a few points for not having quite the same customization or versatility as Toast, but still comes out well ahead of the competition, especially with the new software that gives a greater choice of KDS screen. (The Elo screens are pricey, however; Toast is cheaper.)
Square KDS Is Now Android-based:
Since our last update, Square has moved to Android for its KDS system. This has increased the number of KDS screen offerings it has, including the Elo I-series, which is rated for high temperatures and humidity.
MicroTouch Kitchen Display
Elo I-Series 4.0
Lenovo Tab M10 Plus
Samsung Galaxy Tab
$599–$699 (+ $79 for wall mount)
Starting at $189
Wall-mount screen, 15.6” to 21.5”
15.6” to 21.5”, temp rated to 104 degrees F, 80% humidity
Square for Restaurants Pricing
If you’re using the Free version of Square for Restaurants, the KDS is just $20 per device. If you’re on Square for Restaurants Plus or Premium, KDS software for unlimited devices is included for free.
The underlying Square for Restaurants POS is available at three subscription levels: Free, Plus, and Premium. Free has no monthly software fees, Plus costs $60 per month for a single terminal (additional terminals are $40 each, monthly), and Premium requires a custom quote. There are no long-term contracts at any level.
Square for Restaurants Features
- Top-notch restaurant system, sales, and HR ecosystem
Square for Restaurants is one of our top-rated restaurant POS systems because of its price and functionality, but also because of the Square ecosystem. Not only do you get an excellent restaurant POS software with ingredient-level tracking, but can also expand to appointments, marketing, payroll, and even banking.
- Choice of hardware
While Toast has proprietary hardware and others work with iPads, Square lets you work on tablets or use industry-hardened screens that can take the heat and humidity of a busy kitchen or a food truck on a summer’s day.
- Customizable views
On each Square KDS, you can individually adjust the text size, the number of tickets displayed per page, and notification settings for new orders. This way, your cooks can view orders the way they prefer. Like others on this list, Square also has an all-day count view.
- Free online ordering
All of the systems on this list display online orders in the KDS. But Square for Restaurants is the only POS that includes a free online ordering site. In addition to receiving online orders directly in your KDS order stream, Square users have the comfort of knowing they aren’t paying any extra fees for those orders.
Apart from industry-grade hardware, our readers are also interested in iPad KDSes. Square now gives you that choice, with tablets or industry-grade Elo touchscreens. However, if you need text messaging capabilities, any of the other KDS systems on this list are good choices.
Fresh KDS: Best for Low-cost Freestanding KDS
- Offline mode is limited
- Text message functions require pricier subscription
- Fewer POS integrations than Epson
What we like:
Fresh KDS is a standalone, iPad-based KDS system that, like Epson, integrates with several popular POS systems—like Square and Clover. With pricing starting at $19 per month and a seven-day free trial that allows you to test the system before committing, Fresh KDS is a strong choice for restaurants that need a low-cost KDS that integrates with their existing POS system.
Fresh KDS earned 4.18 out of 5 on our rubric, with excellent scores for order management features and a perfect expert score because of its flexibility and ease of use. It lost points for not having recipe lookup like Toast and for needing a higher plan for messaging.
Fresh KDS Hardware
Fresh KDS operates on iPads running iOS 13 or later and Android 6.0 or later tablets. It can use earlier versions of Lenovo and Galaxy tablets than Square does.
Simply download the KDS app from Google Play or the Apple App store onto tablets you already own. For industry-grade hardware, Fresh KDS supports projective capacitive (PCAP) touch-screen monitors and offers an optional bump bar.
Fresh KDS Pricing
Fresh KDS Pricing Update: Fresh KDS has changed its plans and pricing, which are reflected in this article.
Fresh KDS offers three subscription tiers. You get 20% off if you purchase an annual plan. Unlike most on our list, Fresh KDS adapts to other POS systems and is a favorite with Square users who don’t use Square KDS. There’s a seven-day free trial.
- Essentials ($19 per location monthly): One to four screens; move, hold, or recall orders, custom caution and late times, speed of service report
- Premium ($25 per location monthly): Essentials Plan plus track and communicate order status between screens and POS, and customer notifications
- Unlimited ($109 per location monthly): Premium plan, plus unlimited screens and 24/7 priority support. Meant for restaurants needing 5+ stations
Fresh KDS Features
- Customizable colors
As with Toast, Fresh KDS lets you customize virtually every color on the screen. Choose which colors you want to label your ticket status, order type, and order modifications. You can even choose a light or dark mode for the entire KDS screen.
- Customizable screen views
Choose to arrange your Fresh KDS tickets in neat, individual columns or squeeze tickets into all available screen space with the Tile view. Split View allows you to separate your screen into two order streams, helpful for separating eat-in orders from to-go or pickup orders from delivery orders.
- Custom text notifications
Like Toast and Revel, Fresh KDS sends automated SMS text alerts when you mark orders as complete. With Fresh KDS, however, you have even more messaging options. You can set messages for when new orders are received and when your team begins preparing orders. You can also set custom messages for different order types—eat-in, curbside, pickup, or delivery.
- Customer-facing order tracking screen
Like Revel, Fresh KDS includes a customer-facing order tracking screen. This is ideal for counter-service restaurants with a high volume of takeout orders. When your kitchen marks a KDS ticket as complete, the order status on the tracking screen automatically updates to show customers their food is ready.
Over 45% of our readers want a KDS that works right out of the box. FreshKDS gets pretty close. It also integrates with several restaurant POS systems. If you need a POS system for your business, see our rankings of the best restaurant POS systems, quick service POS systems, and best delivery POS systems.
Epson: Best for POS Integrations
- Must purchase through a third-party reseller
- Upfront costs can be high
- Setup requires a lot of administrative time
What we like:
Epson’s KDS integrates with practically every restaurant POS. Since the KDS is printer-driven, any POS that supports Epson kitchen printers can connect with the Epson KDS. Those kitchen printers can print paper ticket backups when needed, or even print sticky labels for labeling to-go orders on the fly. Epson works with bump bars or touch screens, and offers industry-level hardware.
It earned 4.04 out of 5 on our rubric. The fact that you have to purchase from resellers was a benefit and a problem for scoring, as prices and some features depend on the software you purchase. Still, it had a perfect score for order management, and a high expert score, losing some for value because of the price of the hardware.
Epson’s kits vary by reseller. You have a choice of monitors. For some, any VGA monitor with 1680×1050 resolution will do. You can use Elo touch screens, many of which are rated for the heat, humidity, and “dust” (dry food particles) found in busy kitchens.
Basic KDS Kit
OmniLink TM-L90 Plus-i Intelligent Printer
KDS screen, wall mounting bracket, bump bar, KDS driver-enabled impact kitchen printer
Bump bar navigation panel
Prices vary by resellerLinerless label printer with built-in KDS driver
Prices vary by reseller
You cannot purchase the Epson KDS directly from Epson; you’ll need to go through a third-party reseller. This might be one of the many POS brands that integrate with the Epson KDS, or it might be a standalone POS hardware seller like POS Guys. Pricing and terms will vary from seller to seller, but you can typically expect to pay between $1,400 and $2,500 upfront. There may be additional monthly service or software fees.
- Strong offline functionality
Epson’s KDS does not need the Cloud to operate; it uses ethernet connections. If you lose internet connectivity, your KDS will still function fully.
- Commercial-grade hardware
Like Toast, Epson’s KDS operates on commercial-grade hardware. Epson monitors are rated IP-54, the same level of water and dust protection as Toast’s hardware.
- Label printing
Epson’s KDS screens are driven by the printers they are attached to. You can print paper tickets on demand, or even linerless sticker labels—which are ideal for labeling takeout and delivery orders.
- Touch-screen and bump bar options
Whether your kitchen team prefers bump bars or touch screens, you can satisfy them with Epson. It offers bump bars but also has touchscreens with color themes and customizability. Fresh KDS does not have bump bar capability.
- Recipe lookup from KDS
Like Lightspeed and Toast, Epson allows your staff to access recipe information directly from the kitchen screen, so there are never any mistakes from the kitchen. You just need to be sure to attach a recipe to each dish.
About two-thirds of our readers say they are looking for a KDS that integrates with their existing POS. Epson is a great fit for those readers. If you prefer a self-installable touch-screen KDS system, look at any of the POS-built KDS kitchen display systems on this list: Toast, Lightspeed, Revel, or Square.
Revel Systems: Best KDS for Multilocation Drive-thru Restaurants
- Underlying POS requires three-year contract
- Kitchen display system price and POS is expensive
- Integrated SMS messaging requires a third-party integration
What we like:
Revel Systems is a hybrid POS that operates on iPads, though, like Toast, Revel users have the option to use a touch-screen KDS or rely on the Epson KDS integration if they need more robust hardware or bump bars. Revel’s KDS only operates on the Revel POS, which has the strongest drive-thru management tools of any cloud POS on the market. It’s on our list of best quick-service restaurants, where we praised its streamlined drive-thru capabilities.
For kitchen display systems, Revel earned 3.59 out of 5. Pricing was the biggest issue because it’s the most expensive on our list for starting price and requires implementation. However, it got perfect scores for order management and advanced functions, and a high score from our restaurant experts.
ViewSonic wall mount
24” smart KDS display
20-button, sealed bump bar
Full motion tilt arm for KDS display
Revel Systems Pricing
Revel does not publicly list the cost of its KDS hardware and software. You’ll need to contact Revel for a full-price quote.
The underlying POS starts at $99 per terminal monthly, with a two-terminal minimum and an installation fee starting at $674. You can choose your payment processor, but Revel usually asks for a three-year contract.
Revel Systems Features
- Multiple screen views
Revel Systems’ KDS offers several viewing screens: Expedite, Expedite Tile, Kitchen Screen, Production View, and Order Display, so cooks and expeditors can choose their preferred view. Timers and prioritization/rush order tools help keep your staff organized.
- SMS text integration
Revel integrates with the third-party messaging app Twilio to support automated text messaging from the kitchen screen. You can create custom messages for in-house, takeout, curbside, or delivery orders.
- Order Ready screen
Revel’s built-in Order Ready screen is customer-facing and shows real-time order status. This is an excellent tool for communicating with delivery drivers or for keeping things organized in a high-volume, quick service environment. Orders can be flagged with order numbers and customer names and will be color-coded by order type.
- Drive-thru tools
Revel’s Drive Thru XT module condenses order and payment screens to reduce button presses and logs vehicle information to ensure the correct orders are given to the correct customers. You can also track drive-thru orders separately from in-house orders on the Revel KDS.
If you prefer a lower-priced POS with a KDS, look at Toast, Square, or Lightspeed. If you need a KDS that integrates with your existing POS, try Fresh KDS or Epson.
Lightspeed: Best iPad KDS for Growth
- Less customizable than competitors
- No “order ready” text messaging
- iPad only; no industry-rated hardware
What we like:
Lightspeed’s KDS (also called Lightspeed Kitchen) is an iPad-run system, just like Lightspeed Restaurant. While iPads are not industry-rated, it does make for a less expensive system, and the Lightspeed POS itself offers multiple plans that make it easy for businesses to add capability as they grow. Lightspeed ranks No.1 for best iPad restaurant POS system.
Here, we give it 3.75 out of 5. The lack of a free plan hurt its score in pricing, and we didn’t find it quite as feature-rich as others on our list, which also hurt the expert score. However, it is very easy to use and has recipe lookup, something Fresh KDS and Epson lack. Like Epson, it also has a bump bar option.
Varies by seller
Touch-screen iPad KDS terminal
Optional 23-button bump bar for KDS navigation
Lightspeed Kitchen is a paid add-on to the Lightspeed Restaurant POS. The add-on is offered at a custom-quoted price from Lightspeed. Previously, it was priced at $12 per screen monthly. Contact Lightspeed’s sales department for full, current KDS pricing.
The Lightspeed Restaurant POS varies in price from $69 to $399+ per month, depending on your subscription level.
- Large number of device options
Lightspeed offers a huge number of options for configuring your KDS screen. Set up what accounts can send orders to the station, like Happy Hour or Take-Away, and what centers have printing, and whether the transaction is applied to the bar or the POS. Lightspeed has some custom options you can contact Support to enable.
- Color-coded order status
Tickets in different stages of the preparation pipeline appear with pre-configured colors: gray for New or Archived, orange for Preparing, green for Done, and red for Voided. There’s also a time bar that changes from green to red at 50 minutes. Unlike Toast, Revel, and Epson, however, you cannot customize these colors; they are programmed into the KDS.
- Order tags
Lightspeed labels online orders with the name of the referring platform. And—via a Deliverect integration—Lightspeed integrates with virtually every third-party platform you can imagine.
- Show and Tell function
Lightspeed Kitchen’s KDS includes a Show and Tell function that shows a detailed image and item description on the kitchen screen when a cook clicks on the menu item. This stops short of the recipe look-up function supported by Epson and Toast, but ensures your cooks are reminded how to plate a dish and review a list of its ingredients.
Lightspeed is another great option for an iPad KDS system. However, if you want more robust hardware and are willing to pay the higher price, consider Epson or Toast.
Methodology—How We Evaluated Kitchen Display Systems
We compared nearly a dozen of the most popular kitchen monitoring systems based on the most frequently cited kitchen pain points. We weighed each KDS’s available hardware, offline functionality, ticket layout, and customization options. We also considered each system’s overall price.
Click through the tabs below for our full restaurant KDS evaluation criteria:
25% of Overall Score
We rewarded KDS systems that are included in the cost of your restaurant POS. For systems that operate with more than one POS, we looked for free trials, free baseline subscriptions, or a monthly cost of $20 or less for the KDS software. Square ranked best with 4.13 out of 5, while Revel had a zero.
30% of Overall Score
We considered how much each KDS can be customized, and looked for systems that accept in-person, online, and third-party orders. We awarded points for systems that allow you to recall whole tickets and individual menu items, as well as systems that track all-day counts. Epson, Revel, and Toast all had perfect scores.
20% of Overall Score
We prioritized tools that send automated text updates to customers when their orders are ready or support multiple hardware types. We also looked for kitchen monitoring systems that include recipe lookups and menu images at the click of a button. Toast and Revel tied for first place here with perfect scores.
25% of Overall Score
Finally, we considered our restaurant expert’s evaluation of each system’s overall features, value for money, and ease of use. Both Toast and Fresh KDS earned 5 out of 5.
Benefits of Using a Kitchen Display System
The main benefits of a KDS are seen in reduced preparation time and confusion, leading to happier staff and customers. Below are more specifics:
- Increases efficiency: A KDS can improve workflow not only by prioritizing orders but also by sending orders to the proper stations for fulfillment.
- Reduces confusion: Tickets include time put in and often have a timer so you can see how long an order is taking. Everything is listed clearly (rather than in someone’s handwriting) and can even be color coded.
- Improves accuracy: With a kitchen display system, you know exactly what orders should be completed in what order, and how to prepare a meal. There is no fudging how long a dish takes to prepare.
- Training assistance: The best KDS screens even let you pull up recipes to be sure you’re cooking everything correctly.
- Green: A kitchen display system reduces paper waste because everything is run digitally.
- Reports: The KDS collects data on orders as they are filled, rejected, or redone. You can use this to see training opportunities or ways to make your kitchen more efficient. You can pull reports that show how many orders are sent to certain cook stations through a shift, which might indicate that you need to spread your prep more evenly through the kitchen line. Or you might notice that a certain cook is slower than others, so you can train them to bring them up to speed.
How Kitchen Display Systems Work
A KDS functions much like a kitchen printer system. Rather than print a paper ticket, the order information is displayed on a screen, reducing paper consumption, and giving you a lot more data about how orders move through your kitchen.
In addition to the items ordered, however, it prioritizes by pickup time, rushes, and course times. Many even let you check on recipes and see photos for presentation. Color coding can give the kitchen staff clues for prioritization or see when an order is canceled or running late.
As menu items are completed, your cooks mark them as done on their KDS screen. Your staff can track each ticket from a central expediting screen so that they know when a full order is complete. Many KDS systems will send text alerts to customers or to your staff when orders are ready for pick up, so your food never expires under the heat lamps.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
A kitchen display system is a digital system that lists orders taken from the front of a restaurant so the kitchen staff can prepare the food for serving. It replaces printed tickets or handwritten orders. A KDS is dynamic, programmable, and usually color coded to give visual cues to help your staff prioritize food preparation.
KDS system costs range widely; some are available for $20–$110 per month for the software, while others require a custom quote. A few, like Square, include them in your POS subscription. If you use a cloud POS, you can typically operate your KDS on iPads that you may already own.
The biggest costs will be your KDS screens. A tablet-based system that runs on iPads or Android tablets will run you $400 to $600 per screen, depending on the tablet model you choose. Industry-grade touch screens can run from $800 to $2,000 apiece.
A KDS expeditor is a central KDS screen that faces the dining room side of your kitchen’s pick-up window. The expeditor screen shows all active orders. This screen provides a bird’s eye view of all your current orders and keeps your food runners and expeditors (if you have them) organized. If you don’t staff expeditors and food runners, it is still a good idea to purchase a KDS expeditor screen. It reduces back-and-forth questions with the cooks during the heat of service.
Toast POS has our favorite KDS module. With options like text message notifications, customizable alerts, and kitchen-specific features like all-day counts, Toast’s KDS supports the widest range of restaurant styles. Combined with Toast’s excellent online ordering, delivery management, team management, and reporting functions, the Toast KDS creates a full spectrum restaurant management solution at a competitive price. Visit Toast for a demo, or to get started for free today.