Dram Apothecary is an odd little bar and bitters shop in Silver Plume, Colo. that has an antique 1880s affect, recalling a time when people sipped cocktails while chatting with witty, nonchalant bartenders. But it's still part of the fast-paced world of commerce and required a point of sale system that could keep up. 

When owner Shae Whitney was selling bitters at farmer's markets for a year and a half, she used Square's mobile card reader to accept payments. But when she opened a retail location with her partner in June, she switched to Groupon's iPad-based point of sale system, Breadcrumb.

Square's "interface wasn't working for us, especially for things like saved tabs," Whitney says. "It was great for single purchases but we just grew beyond that."

When she used Square, Whitney kept hand-written tabs behind the bar to ring customer purchases up at the end rather than using the software to keep a running tally of orders. Groupon began offering a tabs feature on Breadcrumb as part of a software update in July.

Square has also aggressively updated its technology, often with a focus on hardware. This year, Square introduced Square Stand and Business in a Box, which are meant to make its iPad app more practical to use as a replacement for a cash register. Square did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

The July Groupon update also modified Breadcrumb to accept payments even when the tablet's wireless signal cuts out. Other updates include several navigation-related features, such as item modifiers and expanded menus, plus merchants can validate, redeem and apply Groupon offers with the front or back camera on the tablet.

Whitney has also made use of the item modifiers. For example, previously the bar had one button for margarita, but needed modifying buttons to differentiate between "on the rocks" or "double," since some of the modifiers have price increases, she says.

"The end of day reports feature allows us to easily see how much money you made on cash and credit," says Whitney. At Whitney's request, Groupon allowed the reports to be sent each night via email, so "the accountant can then tie it into QuickBooks…which makes that really streamlined."

While Whitney says she's very happy with Breadcrumb, it's not perfect for her needs. She's waiting for an option to split tabs within the app. Currently if two friends want to split a tab, Whitney has to create a new tab, add half the items and then delete those items from the first tab, which is inefficient, she says.

But Groupon is working on adding that feature to the app soon, Whitney says.

Dram Apothecary is a beta tester for Groupon, so the vendor sends it early updates and Whitney relays how the features worked and makes suggestions.

The menu editor is one of Whitney's favorite features because it allows her and her staff to edit items themselves, quickly and easily, she says.

"With Aloha or Server Point or any of the other more traditional terminal [makers]…usually you have to have a tech guy come in and do that stuff," she says. Breadcrumb "is a really efficient way for us to manage our point of sale system without getting technicians and credit card companies involved. We're just a really small business that wants things as simple as possible."

The Breadcrumb POS app is free to download, and merchants pay 1.8% plus 15 cents for swiped Visa, MasterCard or Discover transactions. American Express pricing varies by merchant category. Groupon lowers its fees by keeping its own costs low, such as by relying on its internal sales force instead of hiring independent sales organizations.

Dram Apothecary and smaller merchants are usually more willing to experiment with new payments technology, whereas major retailers are sometimes hesitant to risk time and money on untested applications. 

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