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September 11, 2023

Which is more cost effective: a printer or a kitchen display system?


Service Type



POS Used

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If you’re opening a new restaurant one important decision you have to make is how you’re going to get orders to the kitchen or food prep stations. There are several options to choose from:

  • Verbally - servers or cashiers tell the kitchen what items to prepare
  • Handwritten tickets/cups - servers or cashiers write the customer’s order on a slip or on a paper drink cup then hand it off to the kitchen  
  • Printed paper tickets - servers or cashiers enter orders in the POS, which then prints a paper ticket in the kitchen
  • Kitchen display system - servers or cashiers enter orders in the POS, which then displays the order on a screen in the kitchen

In addition to considering which option makes the most sense for your restaurant’s workflow, cost will likely be a factor in the final decision. In this blog post we’ll compare the typical costs associated with two of the most popular options: printed paper tickets and kitchen display systems.

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First, let’s start with the upfront investment cost. If you choose printed paper tickets you’ll need to buy a kitchen printer that integrates with your point of sale system. The good news is kitchen receipt printers are generally less expensive than thermal printers. However, common models such as the Epson TM-T88 series, the Epson TM-U220 series, and the Star Micronics SP700 series typically start around $300. Depending on your kitchen set up you may need multiple printers, for example, a printer for the drive thru line and another for dine-in orders.

The investment cost for a kitchen display system screen may be less transparent depending on the KDS provider. Some companies bundle the KDS hardware and software into a single package, while others, like Fresh KDS, allow you to source and buy your own hardware. How much you spend on a KDS screen can vary depending on your needs. You can usually find quality 10-inch Android tablets starting around $250 or you can spend $1,000 for a steel-encased, rugged 22 inch touchscreen monitor. Like with printers, you’ll need to purchase hardware for each station that needs to see orders. You’ll also need to factor in things like mounts, bump bars, and cables.

Ongoing Costs

With printers, the main ongoing cost is buying paper and ink cartridges. How much paper and ink you will need depends on how many tickets you print. As you get busier and print more tickets you’ll have to buy more paper. We did an analysis of paper and ink usage at approximately 100 QSR locations over a 6 month period. These locations all used a single printer. On average, each location spent $18.08 per month on paper and $2.36 per month on ink. The busiest locations in the analysis spent nearly $50 per month on paper and ink.

On the kitchen display side, your monthly cost will depend on the system you choose. Some KDS providers bundle software and hardware for a one-time upfront cost. Others, like Fresh KDS, follow a subscription model where you pay either monthly or annually for a discounted rate. The Fresh KDS essentials package costs $19 per screen per month, which is very similar to the average monthly paper and ink cost. The good thing about a subscription-based KDS is that the cost doesn’t increase if your business grows.

Other Considerations

Beyond the hard costs of printers, tablets, paper, and ink, it is important to consider the side effects a printer or KDS would have on your restaurant’s costs. Paper tickets can get dropped on the floor or slip behind the steam table, and you might not realize it until you’re comping that guest’s meal. A kitchen display system can also help different stations in your restaurant stay in sync, reducing the chances of making the same item twice. This can help keep your food cost under control.

A KDS can also help increase throughput without needing to add labor hours. By increasing speed of service at your busiest times you can turn tables faster and boost your revenue. If you can increase revenue without adding staff you’ll see a lower labor cost percentage.

These “intangible” benefits of a kitchen display system can really add up and make a KDS worth the investment. We know that every restaurant is different. That’s why we put together a ROI calculator that takes into account the details of your business to determine the potential impact a KDS could have. Check it out to see if Fresh KDS is right for your restaurant.

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