Toast vs Square for Restaurants: Which Is Best?
This article is part of a larger series on POS Systems.
Toast and Square for Restaurants are cloud-based point-of-sale (POS) systems that regularly appear in our rankings of the best restaurant POS and the best small business POS systems. Both come with built-in payment processing and offer a free baseline subscription. Square offers shorter contracts with no cancellation fees while Toast has more robust industry-grade hardware and software.
In general, here’s where each is the better fit:
- Toast: Best for mid-to-high volume restaurants that need flexible hardware with restaurant-focused software tools like tip pool management
- Square: Budget-minded restaurants and mobile food businesses like food trucks, coffee shops, and other highly focused counter-service concepts
Toast and Square for Restaurants Quick Comparison
Overall Score: 4.31 out of 5
Overall Score: 3.45 out of 5
Busy restaurants, multiple locations, drive-thru, self-serve kiosks, bars
Food trucks, small restaurants, quick service restaurants
Monthly Software fees
From 2.49% + 15 cents
From 2.6% + 10 cents
24/7 year-round via phone, email, or online chat, Toast University, resource library
Monday–Friday phone support, 24/7 automated chat support, seller community, and resource library
Very good, wide-ranging
Ease of Use
Toast and Square are both excellent systems. You’ll find them both on our rankings of:
- Best cafe POS systems
- Best restaurant POS systems
- Best food truck POS
- Best online ordering systems for restaurants
- Best bar and nightclub POS systems
- Best kitchen display systems for restaurants
- Best free POS for small businesses
- Best POS systems
Alternatives to Toast and Square for Restaurant
If you want to bring your own processor or shop for the lowest processing rates, neither Toast nor Square will be a fit. Consider these alternatives, instead:
Quick service restaurants (QSRs) and detailed reporting
$69 to $399-plus
Lightspeed Payments, BridgePay, Cayan, and WorldPay
High-volume or multilocation restaurants
$99 per terminal per month
Revel Advantage, triPOS, FreedomPay, First Data, Heartland, TSYS, Worldpay, Chase Paymentech, Elavon
Cafes, coffee shops, and ease of use
$69 per terminal per month
TB Payments, Square, TSYS, and Worldpay
All three of the systems listed above are cloud-based POS like Toast and Square. But these alternative systems all offer the option of third-party processing so you can shop for rates.
If you still feel that either Toast or Square for Restaurants will be best for you, let’s look at how they performed across our scoring criteria. We’ll start with the most important factor for most restaurants: price.
Toast vs Square Pricing
If price is your biggest deciding factor: Choose Toast when you want a restaurant-focused system at no upfront cost and don’t mind a two-year contract. Choose Square if you want a free restaurant POS without long-term contracts and don’t mind some functional limitations.
Toast and Square are evenly matched on price; they both offer a free baseline POS. But they go about it differently. Toast offers its Starter Kit POS for no upfront monthly fees. Square’s Free POS subscription includes software on unlimited terminals, while Toast’s Starter Kit POS can only be used on up to two terminals. But as you’ll see in the general POS features evaluation, Toast’s Starter Kit offers more functions than Square’s Free POS.
Our Pricing Score
2.00 out of 5
3.75 out of 5
Monthly Subscription Fees
Square has Toast beat when it comes to contract terms, though. Square offers month-to-month subscriptions with no cancellation fees, while Toast generally requires a two-year contract. To take a deeper look at each system’s hardware and payments terms, expand the sections below.
If hardware is your deciding factor: Choose Toast when you need industry-grade hardware. Choose Square when you want to use hardware you already own.
Baseline Countertop Terminal
$799 plus $69 per month; or $0 with 2.99% plus 15 cents processing fee
$1,139 financing available via Square Sales
$609 plus $69 plus month; or $0 with 2.99% plus 15 cents processing fee
$299 or $27 per month with financing
$499 plus $25 per month
Software only; $20 per month Operates on iPad
$999 plus $99 per month; or $0 with 2.99% plus 15 cents processing fee
$149; or $14 per month with financing
Toast’s hardware is proprietary and rated for ingress-protection from dust, debris, and steam. Toast offers new customers the option to pay for up to two terminals with their credit card processing fees. So, if your budget is tight, you can get started with Toast for no upfront cost.
Toast’s hardware is also designed for restaurants. For example, Toast’s kitchen display system (KDS) operates at higher and lower temperatures than the iPad Square uses for its KDS. Toast ranked No. 1 in our list of best kitchen display systems. Toast is compatible with third-party hardware like Epson printers and cash drawers but does not provide technical support for them unless you purchase directly from Toast.
Square offers its own terminals but is primarily designed to run on iPads. While the baseline Square POS operates on both Android and iOS tablets, Square for Restaurants users should be aware that the restaurant POS currently only runs on iPads and Square Registers. Square’s hardware pricing is competitive―its register kits are a little pricier than Toasts, but its handheld terminals are cheaper―and it offers easy financing for hardware purchases from $49 to $10,000.
If payment processing is your major concern: Choose Toast when you want your processing fees to pay for hardware or additional software, you need pre-authorized bar tabs and can wait one to two business days for deposits. Choose Square when you want easy, flat-rate processing with no long approval process, the option for same-day deposits, and don’t need to pre-authorize bar tabs.
When it comes to payment processing, Square and Toast are very evenly matched. For some, Square’s slightly less complicated processing rates will put it ahead, though. Toast users who opt to pay upfront for hardware and software fees―rather than use the pay-as-you-go option―can get comparable rates with Toast.
A couple of limitations may be important to you if you accept online payments or use card pre-authorizations on bar tabs. Square accepts PayPal for online store purchases; Toast does not. Toast can pre-authorize bar tabs, but Square does not.
Credit, debit, check, and automated clearing house (ACH)
Credit, debit, check, ACH, and PayPal
In-person Processing Rates
2.49% to 2.99% plus 15 cents
2.6% plus 10 cents
Pre-authorized Bar Tabs
Quick Response (QR) Codes
When it comes to deposit speed, Square is a little faster than Toast. If you sign on to Square’s banking program Square Checking, you can get credit card payments transferred to your bank account on the same day the payment is processed. Toast does not currently offer same-day deposits, but if you process your credit card batch before 9:30 p.m. Eastern time, you’ll get your funds the next business day. After 9:30 p.m. ET, your deposits generally take two business days.
Toast vs Square General Features
If general POS functions are your biggest concern: Choose Toast when you need customizable, restaurant-focused reports or a free POS that does not skimp on features. Choose Square when you want the simplest possible interface, with no features that you won’t use.
Toast and Square both have all the functional POS tools covered, but Toast offers more tools in its baseline free Starter Kit POS than Square for Restaurants includes in its Free tier. For example, Free Square users cannot reopen closed checks, and only get one set of user permissions. Toast Starter Kit subscribers get unlimited user permissions and can reopen closed checks.
4.14 out of 5
3.59 out of 5
Manage Online and In-person Orders
Auto 86ing of Items
Requires Plus Plan
Requires Plus Plan
Requires Plus Plan
Robust and customizable
Basic and templated
Square’s Free plan also does not include server shift reports and close-of-day reports, which can limit restaurants with more than a couple of employees. But if your restaurant is a micro-operation that doesn’t need these tools, Square for Restaurants is about the only POS that offers such a streamlined system, so you won’t pay for tools you don’t use. If you otherwise like Square and need these tools, however, you can get them in the Plus and Premium subscriptions.
Toast vs Square Niche POS Features
If your niche POS tools are your deciding factor: Choose Toast if you have a bar or are a high-volume restaurant, or if you need high-level tip management support. Choose Square if you need free online ordering and prefer to pay-as-you-go for delivery management tools.
Both Toast and Square for restaurants offer additional features for specialty restaurant types. With Toast, most of these tools are built in, although some, such as online ordering, come with additional costs. Most of Square’s niche features require third-party integrations. Square is also missing a couple of key features that support high-volume quick service operations: dual cash drawer tills and drive-thru management.
4.58 out of 5
2.58 out of 5
Dual Cash Drawer Tills
Pre-authorized Bar Tabs
Robust; best in class
Basic tip tracking
Loyalty and Marketing
Excellent (included free)
Via third-party integration
Toast offers many refined features for tip pool management, including automated tip pool calculations and the ability to pay employees’ earned tips before payday via the Toast Pay Card. This feature is an industry standout. Toast is the only cloud POS to offer such robust tip management. Square tracks individual tips and―if you add Square Payroll―can speedily add those tips to employee paychecks. This may be all small restaurants need.
Toast’s high volume tools are also stronger than Square’s. Toast offers basic drive-thru management, dual cash drawer tills, and extensive nested modifiers for complex combo building.
Meanwhile, Square includes a free online ordering site in all subscriptions, even the Free POS. Toast’s online ordering tools are great, too, but they come at an additional cost―typically around $50 to $75 per month. Both systems include built-in tools or delivery management. With either system, you can accept third-party orders and in-house orders, dispatch deliveries to third-party drivers or dispatch a team of in-house delivery drivers. However, driver management tools on both systems cost extra.
Both Toast and Square have some of our favorite KDS screens to streamline operations and track kitchen productivity. And you can get excellent ingredient-level inventory management with vendor and purchase order management on both systems via integration. However, Toast owns the xtraCHEF inventory platform, and that integration on Toast works slightly more seamlessly than any of Square’s inventory integrations.
Toast vs Square Ease of Use
If ease of use is your primary concern: Choose Toast when you need one-on-one support to learn and troubleshoot extensive POS features and don’t mind a long lead time for setup. Choose Square when you don’t want to learn a lot of bells and whistles and need to get started quickly.
Both Toast and Square’s POS interfaces are user-friendly. Toast’s back office is more robust and restaurant-focused than Square’s, so it takes more time to learn. But Toast’s customer service is also more robust than Square’s, so you’ll have the support you need to learn Toast’s more customizable system. Meanwhile, Toast setup takes more lead time than Square’s. Most users can set up their Square POS in less than a day using Square’s setup wizard.
5.00 out of 5
3.44 out of 5
Self (free) or Professional (fee)
Good (can take weeks)
24/7 year-round via phone, email, or online chat
Monday to Friday phone support, 24/7 automated chat support, seller community, and resource library
Online Help Articles
Overall User Reviews (Averaged)
4.10 out of 5
4.2 out of 5
User Ease-of-Use Score
Real-world users rate Toast and Square’s ease of use and customer service pretty closely on popular software review sites. This matches our experience with both systems. They’re both easy to use in different ways. It depends on what you mean by ease of use. If you want a system that doesn’t require any assistance to use, then Square is your winner. If you prefer a system that comes with 24/7 support, then you’ll find Toast much easier to use.
Toast vs Square Expert Score
Toast and Square for Restaurants are both excellent POS systems. You can’t go wrong with either one. They are both popular systems with excellent user reviews and free baseline subscriptions.
Toast stands out a bit ahead of Square sheerly because it offers so many niche restaurant-focused software tools. But if you’re not going to use things like automated tip pool management, dual cash drawers, and spill-proof KDS screens, then Toast may not be worth the two-year contract. Square is a better choice for restaurants that want a month-to-month contract with no cancellation penalties and easy self-installation.
If you want to explore these POS systems in greater detail, see our full Toast POS review and Square for Restaurants review.
Are you still undecided? If neither of these systems seems like a fit, take the quiz below to get our expert recommendation. You won’t need to enter any personal information, and your results will appear on this page:
Find the Best POS System for Your Restaurant
Methodology: How We Evaluated Toast vs Square
Multiple times throughout the year, we score both of these systems on more than 20 criteria that are important to restaurant owners. We consider price, functionality, ease of use, and the opinions of our restaurant and retail experts who have used each system.
Click through the tabs below for a full description of our rating system:
10% of Overall Score
We first considered whether each POS system offers a free plan or free trial, and entry-level software subscription under $75 per month. We gave high marks to POS systems that support multiple payment processing options. Finally, we considered hardware costs and subscription length. Systems that allow restaurants to bring their own hardware or avoid long-term service contracts earned the highest marks.
30% of Overall Score
Every restaurant needs to track employee hours, process contactless payments and gift cards, and quickly access sales and labor reports. Because many restaurants process tips for employees, we looked for systems that have robust tip-tracking functions. We also considered advanced workforce management features like built-in employee scheduling and enforced clock-ins to keep costs in line.
30% of Overall Score
We compared the number of restaurant-specific functions that apply to various restaurant types. We looked for functions like cash management and credit card preauthorization. We also rewarded POS systems with customizable reports, ingredient-level inventory tracking with physical counting tools, integrated online ordering, and dynamic loyalty and marketing tools.
15% of Overall Score
We prioritized restaurant POS systems that offer 24/7 customer support. We also awarded points to POS systems with hybrid installation or an offline mode, so it is still operational if your internet goes out. We also considered how much installation support each system offers and whether it is cloud-based, enabling mobile access to management and reporting dashboards.
15% of Overall Score
Lastly, we evaluated any standout features that individual systems may have. We also considered whether the system offers good overall value for its price and judged each system’s popularity among restaurant businesses. Then, we awarded points based on our personal experience interacting with the software and the company’s customer support representatives.
When choosing between Toast and Square for Restaurants for your POS system, Toast is generally the better option for most restaurants (but just by a nose). Toast takes a little longer to set up, but it has the depth of features and more rugged hardware to stand up to the heat of a kitchen. It also offers more in terms of restaurant-specific workforce management and reports. Plus the bar tab, drive-thru, and self-serve kiosk tools are superior to Square’s workarounds. Sign up for Toast’s pay-as-you-go program and see for yourself.