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What is a KDS? A restaurant’s guide to kitchen display systems

Restaurant kitchens are intense. Back-of-house (BOH) staff must perform skilled work in an environment that’s hot, crowded, and oftentimes chaotic. Getting dishes out fast—while making sure each one meets customers’ expectations—is no easy task. A kitchen display system (KDS) can make the work more manageable.

In this article, we’ll cover some of the main things a restaurant operator should know about kitchen display systems, including:

What is a kitchen display system (KDS)?

A kitchen display system (KDS) is a digital option for displaying restaurant orders in the back of house as they come in. KDS products connect with a restaurant’s point-of-sale (POS) system so that every time an order is placed on any channel—in-store, online, or through a third-party delivery platform—it automatically shows up on a screen (or multiple screens) monitored by kitchen staff.

KDS products are a technological replacement for a printed or handwritten ticket system. Using technology rather than paper tickets to keep track of orders allows staff to view all orders within one central system and access features designed to help kitchens run more smoothly.

Benefits of using a KDS

Investing in a KDS for your restaurant offers some notable advantages, including:

1. Increased efficiency

A KDS enables instant, streamlined communication between front-of-house (FOH) and BOH staff. Servers don’t have to run back and forth between the dining room and the kitchen to deliver tickets. Instead, they can trust that technology will do the job of getting order details to the kitchen staff.

Many KDS products also automate some aspects of the prioritization process. The technology can determine the best sequence for prep and cooking tasks to get dishes out faster. Depending on the product you use, your restaurant might have access to task-routing features, which can assign responsibilities to specific workstations.

Plus, the technology can generate accurate time estimates for each order based on how long dishes in the queue typically take to prepare. And if a particular ticket is in the queue for too long, some KDS products provide alerts to let the kitchen staff know to move it up the priority list.

2. Reduced errors

Software is less likely to lose track of an order than staff members handling paper tickets in a small, crowded space. Having every order clearly visible on the same screen makes it easy for BOH workers to monitor what still needs to be done. And many of the smaller specifications that can be easy to overlook or misread on a paper ticket—such as substitutions and add-ons—are easier to see on a KDS.

3. Streamlined omnichannel ordering

The restaurant business increasingly offers various ordering options. In addition to welcoming customers to dine in, most restaurants now accept orders online through a combination of their website or app, the phone, and third-party delivery platforms. Trying to keep the orders straight across all channels and determine where each should fit in the queue is much easier when they all end up on the same KDS screen.

How to choose the right KDS for your restaurant

Investing in a KDS is a big decision that you want to get right. When evaluating your KDS options, you’ll want to keep a few factors in mind, including:

Ease of use

A KDS should help improve efficiency and make work easier on your staff. If the KDS product itself is difficult to set up, learn, and use, you can lose out on some of those benefits. When considering KDS options, look into what the setup process entails to ensure that your team can handle it with ease. It’s also important to evaluate whether the software is intuitive enough for staff to use easily, without much training.

Compatibility with your tech stack

To get the most out of a KDS, you want it to integrate with the other tech products you depend on, particularly your POS system. Before choosing a KDS, check which other tech products it’s designed to work with and how involved setting up integrations with the rest of your restaurant tech stack would be.

Hardware options

In order to work, KDS products require a hardware component. Some KDS brands offer the screens for displaying orders as part of the product or as an add-on. Others are designed to work with common tablet brands (such as iPads and Android tablets) that you can purchase and set up around the kitchen as needed. While the cost of getting screens from a KDS provider will generally be higher, these screens have the benefit of being designed specifically for the kitchen. That means they’re likely more durable, better equipped for high temperatures, and available in larger sizes to help with visibility.

Some KDS brands offer the option of using kitchen printers in conjunction with the screens, so that you can easily print order details in addition to viewing them digitally. And some offer a bump bar—a keypad you can use to interact with the screen—as an additional hardware feature. These bars are like a computer keyboard, but with fewer keys, all programmed with tasks relevant to your kitchen. A bump bar is especially valuable if you opt for a non-touch display screen for your KDS.


Finally, you have to consider which KDS product will fit your budget. KDS software often uses a subscription pricing model. The hardware involved may have a one-time, upfront cost or be available for a lower monthly fee. Either way, your hardware costs will depend on which types of hardware you opt for, how many screens you decide to use, and the setup you choose (such as whether screens are wall-mounted or use stands).

Examples of KDS options

The market for KDS products is vast. To help jump-start your search, below are some fast facts about a few popular KDS products.


Clover’s KDS also provides restaurant-grade hardware like heat-resistant screens and bi-directional speakers that make it easier to hear alerts no matter how loud the kitchen gets. Its KDS software includes automation features like item-level routing and prep time reporting. Clover is available in Canada, Ireland, the UK, and the US.

Who the Clover KDS is best for

As with Toast, the Clover KDS makes the most sense for restaurants that are using or considering other Clover products. The company provides a variety of restaurant technology products, including a POS, online ordering tech, and inventory management software—all of which work well together.

Fresh KDS

Fresh KDS offers the option to customize each screen you use, manage and organize tickets in real time, and send customers updates. It works on iOS and Android devices and offers compatibility with many major POS products. Plus, according to its website, Fresh KDS is available worldwide.

Who the Fresh KDS is best for

While many of the other KDS products featured here work best with other technology tools from the same vendor, Fresh KDS is a standalone product. If you’ve chosen a POS from a provider that doesn’t provide its own KDS—or if you appreciate the flexibility of having different providers for different products—Fresh KDS is designed to integrate easily with products from many other restaurant technology companies.


Square’s KDS works on Android devices and provides features to help restaurants prioritize tickets, keep orders organized, and set up notifications. Square offers the KDS as part of its higher-tier POS plans, or as a set monthly per-device fee for restaurants that use the free version of its POS. The Square KDS is available in Australia, Canada, France, Ireland, Japan, Spain, the UK, and the US.

Who the Square KDS is best for

Square is a great choice for small, price-conscious restaurants. You can use Square’s free POS and add the KDS features at a low monthly cost or invest in a paid plan and get a range of additional POS features along with access to the KDS on unlimited screens.


Toast offers a large suite of restaurant technology products that includes KDS software and hardware. Its KDS screens are designed to withstand high kitchen temperatures and are available in a variety of sizes. The software allows restaurants to customize how orders appear and what alerts you get. Toast is available for restaurants in Canada, Ireland, the UK, and the US.

Who the Toast KDS is best for

The Toast KDS is a good option for any restaurant that’s already using the Toast POS (or strongly considering it). It works seamlessly with the company’s POS and other products, which are highly regarded in the industry and provide a lot of the restaurant functionality you’ll need.

Solutions to streamline omnichannel order management

Ensuring that every order you receive across all channels (in person, online, and through third-party platforms) will automatically feed into the same system is crucial for enjoying the benefits of a KDS. A couple of options can help you do that:

Use a third-party integrator

As restaurant tech stacks get more complicated, managing integrations between products becomes more challenging. To get the most out of your KDS, you need a way to make sure all the orders you receive feed into the same system. Third-party integrators exist to help you connect different tech products. If that’s something your restaurant needs help with, a few solutions to consider include:

Work with Uber Eats

Uber Eats is designed to integrate with many common restaurant technology products. You can easily reach more customers and expand your delivery offerings with Uber Eats, while ensuring that delivery orders automatically show up on your KDS.

Restaurants can choose one of 2 options to receive orders from Uber Eats:

  1. Use the Uber Eats Orders app to manage orders, deliveries, menus, and more all in one place. The app includes an adaptive interface that enables unified viewing across all your device types, as well as useful features like smart prep time estimates and a courier map to track deliveries in real time.

  2. Set up POS integration to make sure all Uber Eats orders seamlessly feed into your existing tech systems.

Both are easy to set up and can help you add delivery options to your existing kitchen processes. Learn more about how to grow your business with Uber Eats.

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